Interview with Pheebs Jameson @fatpheebs

A drawing of Pheebs wearing a yellow tracksuit and playing her bass. The background is a light blue with stars on it and a wavy rainbow.

Pheebs Jameson (@fatpheebs on Instagram and Twitter) is a young activist, working to fight fatphobia, online abuse, and sexual violence alongside raising awareness of mental health problems. Ellie chatted to her about how she got started, her proudest achievements, and her hopes for the future. 

Ellie: What inspired you to get involved with activism in the first place?

Pheebs: I was around sixteen, and I saw a post on BBC Women’s Hour’s Instagram asking, “how does fat feel?”. At the time I was like “Ooh, fat, what a horrible word to describe myself.” I was fat – still am – and so I commented on that post, sharing my views, and then they got in touch. So I went on Women’s Hour, and it was the first time I was given a voice – the first time I found my voice. They gave me a chance to speak about something so personal. People’s reaction to me being fat has ruined years of my life. So I’d say that was probably the turning point for me. But another thing that inspires me is being the positive voice that my younger self didn’t have, if that makes sense. Everything I’m doing now I do for other people of course, but I’m also doing it for me, and I think people often forget that. When I post something or do something it’s empowering for other people but for me as well. 

Ellie: What achievements are you proudest of so far?

Pheebs: Definitely The Speak Up Space, which is an organisation I co-founded to support survivors of sexual violence. We started that off in June 2020 and the support has been incredible, we’re so shocked at how well it’s done. Also being on BBC Women’s Hour, which I’ve done twice now, has been amazing. I got invited back to speak live nearly a year ago and I was so nervous. But then there’s lots of other bits and pieces I’m proud of. I’m so proud of how the community I helped create has grown, and then being asked to do interviews seems insane to me! It’s like, oh my god, you want to hear what I have to say? It’s a shock. So I think I’ve got a lot to be proud of. 

Ellie: You’ve done so much amazing work for mental health activism. How has engaging in activism and having such a big following affected your own mental health?

Pheebs: In terms of having the following, it’s very surreal to have that many people. I was on the phone to my friend the other day and he said, “6533 people want to hear what you have to say?” and I was like, “oh my god! That’s weird.” It’s good because I think a lot of what I speak about is very important to get out there. But there’s a downside – the more attention I get, the worse the online abuse gets. That’s something I’ve experienced for a long time now, in many different forms from trolling to death threats. It does affect my mental health, especially when it gets really bad. Before, when it was just trolling, they were usually just pointing out things about me that I already know, so it was objectively awful but didn’t really affect me. When it’s lots and lots of people at once, or death threats, threats of violence, that’s really really tricky. I think it would be for anyone, but I live with a very debilitating mental illness anyway, so when that comes into play it makes things even worse. 

I have to do a lot to protect myself, but also balance that with not censoring myself. I had someone in my DMs recently ask me why I didn’t just go private, and I thought, but why should I have to! I’m taking a risk to be public, but that’s a risk I have chosen to take for myself. 

Ellie: It verges on victim blaming, saying that you should just go private, I think. 

Pheebs: I agree with that completely. Why tell someone to censor themselves? I’ve had to do it sometimes for my own safety and wellbeing, but you can balance it so it works for you. People do struggle to understand that sometimes, especially older generations. That’s a barrier we need to work on. 

Ellie: Building on that, where do you want to take your activist work this year?

Pheebs: I think it’s steering more into an anti-online abuse campaign. It’s still very early days and I’m not sure what exactly the main aims are, but I know it needs to stop and something needs to be changed. I think more on sexual violence and fatphobia as well. People have said I explain things in quite simple terms but with enough information that it’s helpful, so if it’s helping then I’ll carry on doing that! I’ve got lots and lots of online talks and interviews and panels lined up, which is all really exciting. I’m growing more with it, so we’ll see what happens really. 

Ellie: What other activists would you recommend people follow? I know you’re part of quite a big community.

Pheebs: Definitely! I would recommend, first off, @indiaysabel. She talks a lot about race, and her work is really easy to engage with so it’s easy to learn a lot. She covers so many topics, she’s incredible. I’d also recommend @lookingformothermax, who I’ve followed in the last month, and she’s amazing. Again she talks a lot about race and mental health, and she’s just a very lovely person as well. I’d also recommend people follow @beeillustrates; they communicate a lot of their messages through art and illustration and I think it’s very easy for people to digest. Hayley Rose Dean has a lovely podcast, and she’s very good at passing the microphone to people and asking really interesting questions. There are so many people out there covering different topics, so whenever I talk about something I tend to say, “go follow this person! They’re talking about this in a lot more depth.” 

Ellie: Lockdown Three has taken its toll on everyone’s mental health; what’s your go-to method of self-care? How have you been feeling?

Pheebs: Number one has to be playing bass. I know that’s not applicable to everyone, but it’s my personal one. I play every day to practice but it’s become even more fun lately – it’s just being in my own space, getting away from everything. Music is my form of self-care. But then there’s the simple things, like brushing my teeth, having some food for the day if I haven’t eaten. In lockdown I think a lot of us have experienced disordered eating what with our routines changing. So just having a snack or a meal can be a form of self-care. Getting out of my room is a form of self-care! Be positive with it – be like “hey, I got out of bed today!”. 

Despite the third lockdown, I’m really looking forward to what this year has in store – keep your eyes peeled for the online abuse campaign. I’m at the very start of it, and I think that soon I’ll have a more concrete understanding of what our aims are. I’ve had so many people come forward to help me put it together academically. A petition will be out soon, and a survey, because I want to get other people’s perspectives on it. I haven’t experienced transphobic online abuse, or racist online abuse, so I think it’s important to lift those voices up too. I haven’t quite worked out how yet, but something needs to change.