Trigger warning: I touch on the topics of mental illness, addiction and eating disorders in this piece.
Watching Demi Lovato’s docu-series on Youtube ‘Dancing with the Devil’, which chronicles their journey with addiction and their road to recovery, got me thinking this weekend about just how fragile we as humans are. We are flawed, often egotistical yet constantly learning as we navigate each stage of life. Why is it then that we love to put fellow humans on pedestals, elevating them to a standard even they themselves often feel they cannot reach?
This is one of the things Demi touches on during the documentary, as over the years they have become somewhat of a role model for many when it comes to mental health advocacy. However, what no-one knew was that they were battling with addiction on the side lines; making the public perception of them and what the real Demi was like as different as night and day.
I honestly could not imagine the amount of pressure such expectations can place on a person. You have 5,10,15-year-olds saying your art has changed their lives or got them through a hard time and that one day they want to be like you. It would be impossible to shrug that off without feeling some sort of burdensome weight of a duty to live up to this fantasy they have moulded of you.
Humans were not designed to be worshipped (for several obvious reasons.) A key one being we don’t have it all together, we don’t possess the perfection that is exclusively associated with God. Being idolised can definitely build ego but it can also create a quick path to inner destruction. Celebrity worship is often reductive – individuals are often being lauded all the time for a carefully crafted perception of themselves they and their teams have worked hard to portray. Or more simply, it could be because of looks alone or a talent like basketball or singing that makes people all googly eyed. Unfortunately, such talents are fleeting – they can take years to build and be gone in a matter of minutes.
So, in other words, we’re never really worshipping celebrities for who they are because we’ll never be privy to the real them, we’re in love with who we think they are. The unrealistic expectations of others become internalised which can then manifest themselves in toxic ways – for Demi, for example this was through disordered eating. This coupled with the toxic nature of cancel culture means there’s also a pressure to never step over the line. Making mistakes (whether publicly or not) is part of growing up but nowadays, one wrong step and your career is in jeopardy.
Demi isn’t the only one who has recently grappled with mental health in the public eye. Naomi Osaka recently withdrew from the French Open after being forced by event organisers to since they wouldn’t allow her to pass on media interviews for the sake of her mental health. Jesy Nelson, former member of the British girl band Little Mix recently left the band, stating reasons related to the protection of mental health. Similarly, in the past many other celebrities have been open about their struggles with mental illness – Billie Eilish, Kanye West and even Mariah Carey, to name a few.
Of course, fame hasn’t been the direct cause of mental health struggles for many celebrities but it can certainly exacerbate them, especially if they previously existed before fame. For Naomi and Jesy it seemed as if they had reached the point where mental wellbeing and peace could not exist alongside the environment they were working in, so an ultimatum was reached. The fact many people, famous or not, have to choose between their work or mental wellbeing is very unfortunate. It shows – despite or the lovely ‘discussions’ we are having around mental health – we still have a long way to go in properly providing the related support people need for recovery, treatment or prevention.
Thanks for reading! If you’re interested in reading more on celebrity culture I wrote about some thoughts after watching the Framing Britney Spears documentary which you can read here.