The higher we climb, the harder we fall…

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.

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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.

Behind #FreeBritney

I was watching the Framing Britney Spears documentary on a weekend two weeks ago and it got me thinking a lot, so I thought I would share some thoughts. In particular, it made me think of how sad a word we live in where people would start to capitalise of a person’s low points in life. For those unaware of the much talked about The New York Times documentary, its release comes at a time when the #FreeBritney movement is in full swing. Although I am aware of the rough purpose of the movement, I wanted to watch the documentary myself to learn about the wider context of how Britney Spears’ conservatorship came to be.

Conservatorships, from my understanding seem to be legally binding arrangements made when a person is deemed unfit to make decisions concerning their own welfare. The parties these arrangements concern are often mentally ill or elderly. Conservatorships cover different areas of a person’s wellbeing, in Britney’s case the documentary explains that her’s means she is no longer in control of her finances or medical care – theses are controlled by other people, which up until recently has mainly been her dad. This is where things get iffy and become quite speculative – we don’t completely know how Britney feels about the arrangement or what her dad’s intentions have been all of these years. However, the documentary does give some indication to these questions so it’s definitely worth a watch.

You want a piece of me?

People spent years taking photos of Britney Spears. But did they ever  actually look? | The Independent

“I’m Miss American Dream since I was seventeen
Don’t matter if I step on the scene
Or sneak away to the Philippines
They still gon’ put pictures of my derriere in the magazine”

– Piece of Me by Britney Spears (2007)

One magazine editor admitted that at the time of Britney’s well documented breakdown, paparazzi photos of her were going for $1 million apiece. Yes, you read that right. Can you imagine? Naturally, this has caused a frenzy over the years with blood thirsty paparazzi seeking to snap Britney in compromising positions. There were disheartening scenes of Britney’s breakdown being the question on a family game show – something I found highly shocking and distasteful.

It’s interesting that we seem to often detach the idea of personhood from celebrities which makes it easy to criticise and cuss them. They often feel so far removed from our lives that their feelings don’t seem to matter too much. We are living in a different time (supposedly) but I don’t think it would take much for this to occur again – another celebrity being hounded and pushed to breaking point by the media. We could shrug and argue that is the way the cookie crumbles but consumers are arguably the most important part of the media machine. Yes, tabloids create the horrendous content but we never fail to eat it up! They rely on us buying magazines and engaging with online content in order to create demand and make money. So, we may play a much larger part than we think in all of this…

Holding On to Hope

What does the future hold for Britney? Well, we don’t know. But I’ve been careful to not use the word ‘downfall’ since the connotations are of a point of no return. Yet, I feel that is far from where she is at the moment – she’s fighting her conservatorship and has a very loyal following behind her as she does. There’s been a recent victory in her legal battle as a professional co-conservator, Bessemer Trust has now been appointed by the courts, meaning Britney’s father, Jamie Spears, no longer has sole control over her estate. Not quite total freedom, but a small victory to celebrate in an on-going war.