In conversation with

Sophia Jennings

Head of Content at I Weigh

Introduction

Introduction

I Weigh – founded by actor and activist Jameela Jamil – started as a commitment to champion body neutrality and today has a cult following around the world. Turns out thousands of people are tired of their worth being measured by their weight.

As the movement grows, so does its community. I Weigh’s Head of Content Sophia Jennings has been tasked with producing their podcast and YouTube channel, commissioning editorial content for their allyship platform, and developing longer-form television projects with Jameela. This is all in service of raising awareness not only around body neutrality, but more broadly around mental health, gender equality, and disability rights.

We spoke to Sophia about mobilising activism, community-driven movements and how tone of voice can inspire and educate.

Question and Answer

I Weigh started as a movement that was spearheaded by Jameela Jamil. What have been the challenges of growing I Weigh from an individual cause into a community-driven brand?

With every new platform we introduce to our community, the challenge is always about maintaining our voice, leading our audience out of Instagram, and making sure we provide resources for tangible action in everyday life.

When I first joined I Weigh, we had 700k Instagram followers, great press, a few petitions, and an interview series. We knew we wanted to provide longer-form content and resources separate from our social media, but we also didn’t feel a magazine would be the most effective. We decided instead to design the website as a hub for resources and evergreen content, most of which is found through our social and newsletter. To make sure there was an active element to the platform, we introduced an “Impact” page with bios and links to the different organisations we support.

As a producer, I use the website as an incubator of community talent. If I see potential in a writer, I can invite them to do a YouTube video or appear on the podcast. If they’ve created any IP we’re interested in, we can option it for tv or film. It’s a way to build relationships and test conversations before we invest in larger ventures. Looking back, I think the greatest obstacle was making sure our contributors understood the difference between writing for a publication, and writing for our platform.

Sophia Jennings

Can you tell us about the podcast and YouTube channel that you’ve just launched?

A month into quarantine, we launched our new podcast to give our community something new during a troubling time. I’m really proud of the podcast. The fact that a listener can find the show because they love Demi Lovato then end up hearing about loneliness from Dr. Vivek Murthy is the epitome of what we do. Accessible content to make all of us more informed, better versions of ourselves.

Most recently, we started our YouTube channel, which I see as a new sort of celebrity channel. While it is technically Jameela’s channel, we’ve invited community members to create their own videos and introduce themselves to her audience. There’s a huge range in experience with our collaborators. Some of our guests present at the Oscars while others have never appeared on camera before. The challenge is making sure every video feels like a part of a larger conversation.

We’re still in the early days of YouTube, but so far our approach has been to ground every I Weigh shoot in empathy and transparency. It has to feel like a project for and from our community. I like to brainstorm every video with the talent, making sure to adjust our scripts and questions depending on their notes. Visually, we work with Social Q Agency in New York to implement the visual brand originally developed by Sail Creative and Toyfight, two agencies based out of Manchester and Newcastle. We want to maintain the scrappy, hyper-intimate energy our Instagram has always had, while also making sure we give our contributors proper, professional exposure.

How would you describe I Weigh’s tone of voice, and how has it grown from Jameela’s own voice to one that encompasses an entire brand?

I Weigh’s tone of voice is spirited, conversational, and at times, blunt. We speak like we’re your friend who did a bunch of research and can now explain things to you that maybe you’re afraid to talk about. I like to say that we use ordinary language to tackle the extraordinary. Opening up areas of discourse that might at first seem intimidating.

At its best, our tone is a flat surface which our community can bounce off of. We’re a genderless, nation-less voice, though we do have a bit of Jameela’s London roots in our visuals.

Jameela’s number one concern with I Weigh is making sure we never become pretentious. She hates anything hyper-intellectual or snobby. When I’m working with contributors, I often tell them to write as if they’re writing an email to a 16-year-old and that kid’s mom. Nothing should be too complicated to understand.

In terms of how we compare to Jameela’s tone, well….as a brand we don’t swear! We try to be a safe and welcoming space on the internet. Jameela can start a fire with someone she feels is attacking our community, but our page is where you’ll go for resources and allyship on whatever issue is at hand.

“"I Weigh’s tone of voice is spirited, conversational, and at times, blunt. We speak like we’re your friend who did a bunch of research and can now explain things to you that maybe you’re afraid to talk about."”

How do you create content which mobilises activism and encourages actual change?

Across every area of my job, the goal is to create platforms where contributors can speak honestly about their experiences, whether that is on our YouTube, podcast, Instagram, or website. It’s all about giving people an audience and the resources to open up a dialogue about the issues they care the most about. I know that following Jameela, YrFatFriend, Ayishat Akanbi, Jamie Windust, and Stephanie Yeboah has had a major impact on the way I see the world. My goal is to give that experience to our audience members. Creating content which mobilises activism is just about creating content that tells difficult truths, and making those truths accessible to people of all backgrounds and abilities.

About a month into working for I Weigh, I flew to Chicago and Minneapolis to lead walks as part of our I Weigh walk series alongside our Head of Operations Erin Finnegan. This was a great education in the type of impact our content can have. A lot of the people who showed up to the walks were educators who use our Instagram to talk about mental health with their students. If we can help teachers better understand their students, we can create real change in the confidence of our next generation.

What does ‘radical inclusivity’ mean and how does that come through in your content, communications and tone?

When I aim for radical inclusivity, I’m looking in two directions. Accessible distribution, so anyone can experience our content no matter their sensory ability, background or education level. Then inclusive storytelling, so making sure the message we put out has intersectionality at its core.

In terms of our distribution, we subtitle our videos and podcast, then make sure it is available on multiple platforms. Our podcasts are uploaded to Stitcher, then the text is uploaded to the Earwolf website, and the videos with subtitles are uploaded on YouTube. If you have a shorter attention span, maybe the best way to experience the podcast is through the clips we upload to our IG feed. I’ve learned a lot about accessibility through following and talking to Daphne Frias, an NYC activist working across disability rights, gun violence and the prevention of sexual assault.

To me, it’s about serving every audience member. I have friends who are brilliant, but can’t read more than three pages of material. That’s fine, maybe they’ll understand a YouTube video better. In terms of geography, we put a special focus into spotlighting international community members so that their communities are led to our platform.

In terms of storytelling, radical inclusivity means rising above our labels. I studied a lot of scripture as a kid. Our message to accept ourselves and each other as spirits separate from our bodily form is a message found in many religions. We’re just taking a secular, fluid approach to the cause.

Truthfully, part of our radical inclusivity is staying away from politics. We’re not a platform that will tell you who to vote for, but we do want everyone to get out and vote. Jameela isn’t even a US citizen. She’s a supporter of progressive politics but has never claimed to be an expert in that space. There are other people doing news and politics who I learn from. Generator Collective, Crooked Media, Teen Vogue. We leave that space to them.

Sophia Jennings
“I keep old articles and photos on my desk to remind me of where I’ve been. I supplement them with quotes that show me where I want to go. In this case, it's a line from Tracee Ellis Ross, who I admire so much."

As a brand that chooses to teach rather than to punish, how do you balance calling out injustices and helping people learn from their (or others’) mistakes?

We’ve spent so much time talking about this! I think the most important thing for us is to live by the motto of “progress, not perfection.” We celebrate people learning and try to champion that process wherever we can. On our platform, we never call people out. That isn’t our place. Again, Jameela can start that fire, but we’ll be here to provide the post-convo resources. We do share our successes, like our role in getting Instagram to change their rules around promoting diet products, but we won’t go announcing the problem if we don’t have the solution.

If you could describe I Weigh in three words, what would they be?

Listening
Adapting
Challenging

 

Photos by Margaret Jennings

Sophia's Storylist

Books

  1. Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall
  2. Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom
  3. Fleabag: The Scriptures by Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Magazines

  1. Riposte
  2. Sunday Times Style
  3. Fruitcake Magazine

Newsletters

  1. Salty
  2. Soho Theatre
  3. The Greater Conversation

Podcasts

  1. Gyals on Road with Ayesha Charles and Maya Egbo
  2. Why Won’t You Date Me? With Nicole Byer
  3. Daddy Issues with Angharad George-Carey

Digital Platforms

  1. Gal-Dem
  2. Stylist
  3. Playboy
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