themighty logo

Why Jameela Jamil Being Accused of Having Munchausen Syndrome Is Personal

“The Good Place” star Jameela Jamil publicly defended herself on Wednesday against a rumor started by a now-viral Instagram story claiming there is “proof” she has Munchausen syndrome — now called factitious disorder in the latest DSM. Munchausen syndrome is when a person makes up various symptoms and health conditions for attention and special treatment. 

Unlike many celebrities, Jamil is known for talking about her health a lot. She founded I Weigh, an online community that pushes for “radical inclusivity” with a large focus on body positivity. She’s been open about her past struggles with an eating disorder and body dysmorphia, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), deafness and various food allergies. Going through headlines and interviews, the Instagram user found inconsistencies in her health history and used this information to spread the “theory” that Jamil’s illnesses — and other facts about her past — were made up.

I won’t go into detail about the conspiracy theory — and there’s no doubt Jamil has a divisive track record as an advocate. But to see a woman of color’s health history torn apart and then mocked on the internet… for me, this felt personal.

A couple of years ago, I attempted to connect with an estranged relative. Our relationship had been tenuous for years, but I had greatly admired her in my youth. She, too, lives with an invisible disability. When I reached out, she responded and told me that my symptoms sounded like a disease called Munchausen, which I had not heard of.

Encouraged, I actually googled to see if my symptoms did, indeed, match. I was scheduled to see my doctor in a few days and thought maybe this was something we could discuss. When the results of the Google search popped up, I sat in silence, my cheeks flushed, my breathing shallow and rapid. Then, rage. Pure, unfiltered rage. My inner rage monster went from being content and sedated (maybe purple and fuzzy and kinda cute) to full-on Maleficient-turned-dragon-breathing-fire.

Yes, I breathed fire, for hours, at anyone who would listen. And then, I wept. Violently. All of the frustration I felt with my body, with the doctors and the hurt over my relative’s words just poured out.

What my relative didn’t know was that I spent years adapting to my body’s changes, learning how to appreciate her and understand her limitations.

What my relative didn’t see were the looks I get in parking lots and the voices I have heard audibly question my disability: “She doesn’t even look handicapped! Why does she get to park in that spot?” Constant indignation.

What my relative didn’t know were all the times I was ignored by doctors or asked to urinate in a cup when I asked for something stronger than Tylenol for my pain.

What my relative didn’t know was the time I was dismissed by a pain management specialist, who said this was “all in my head.”

For women, particularly women of color, it is difficult to get taken seriously when we advocate to get a diagnosis and live our lives with invisible disabilities. It can feel as if we’re always on the defensive, especially as we strive to live, work and enjoy ourselves in a society that is patriarchal and able-bodied. On top of that, we deal with prejudice, discrimination and racism. I keep coming back to Serena Williams, who almost died after childbirth. Serena Williams, who ended up being fortunate in a country where black women of color die in childbirth at alarmingly disproportionate rates to their white counterparts.

Jamil is a celebrity who has been open about her invisible disabilities. The fact that people think it’s OK to demean and ridicule her makes me wonder what they’d say about me, about my girlfriends of color who have invisible disabilities and have to navigate the world in ways that the majority don’t even consider.

It’s 2020. We all should be free to discuss our health journeys and express our feelings as we adapt, without receiving vitriol, false accusations and ignorance in return. As women of color, it is difficult enough to live our best lives without negative feedback. So, to my relative, and to the social media trolls and others, I charge you to do better.

Image via Creative Commons/Cosmopolitan UK