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When Stars Get Sick: Glamorizing Illness or Bringing Awareness?

It never fails to amaze me how fired up people on the Internet get about celebrities. Like, okay … I’ve been guilty of it to an extent. I’m an admitted fangirl. I’m proudly in the “fandoms” of Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Ed Sheeran, and Oprah. I’m a Grey’s Anatomy lifer. I go hard for Sex & the City, Gossip Girl, Friends, Gilmore Girls, Parenthood, and This Is Us.  I LOVE MICHAEL JACKSON. LOVE. LOVE. LOVE. I am also a “royal watcher” (Hi, Kate Middleton!) Full disclosure: I don’t even hate the Kardashians, and I will watch the heck out of a show on Bravo or Freeform. Also,  I’m ALL IN on Game of Thrones. ALL. IN. And some people in the public eye annoy me quite a bit (hi, Katy Perry and Donald Trump — talking to you.)

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let me also say that as much as I LOVE pop culture, and as much as some stars annoy me, I don’t understand the hatred and vitriol that surrounds celebs. I just don’t get it. The hatred I see when a Kardashian, Beyonce, or Taylor Swift are brought up is mind-blowing to me. I guess personally, I don’t have the mental bandwidth or emotional energy to get that riled up about something a singer, movie star, or reality TV sensation said or did. (Unless they are the president. That’s different.) So maybe I’m not the right person to write this blog because my feelings about celeb culture don’t run quite that deep. I’m ride or die to a point, but I’m not going to tell someone to go kill themselves because they hate Britney Spears or suggest that Kim Kardashian deserved to get psoriasis.

But, okay. I have to speak my piece on this. This is my personal opinion, whether it’s right or wrong, and I’m not passing judgement on anyone who disagrees.

It amazes me that my posts about celebrities (in relation to their illnesses) often garner more hatred and bitterness, more drama and heated rhetoric than even my political posts do.

Recently, Selena Gomez has been in the news because of her lupus (a topic on which I have chatted with Teen Vogue about a couple years ago,) and a recent kidney transplant due to the disease. When rumors first began swirling about Selena and lupus, I wrote a post defending her decision for not going public right away, and then when she did confirm it publicly, I applauded that, too. It’s her business and her prerogative what to share and not share.  (But I ALWAYS appreciate when celebs do share about illness, and I wrote an open letter thanking a few of them, here.) gaga-gomez-2000

Lad Gaga was also in the news this week for being hospitalized and having to cancel part of her tour because of chronic pain. There has been a lot of speculation: is her pain related to her PTSD and depression? Is it RA? Lupus? Synovitis? Everyone feels entitled to know. But it’s really her story to share, isn’t it? She will do so when she’s ready. Or not.

And that’s what is crazy to me: these stars get SLAMMED if they do share. Everyone accused Kim Kardashian and Kris & Kylie Jenner for wanting attention when they disclosed psoriasis. (And saying they DESERVE it.)  Lady Gaga was recently slammed by some for “wanting attention” and “playing the victim,” and I saw some of the same commentary about Selena Gomez, as well.

Now, here’s the thing: these ladies would ALSO be ripped to shreds if they DIDN’T go public with their diagnoses. Maybe not everyone saw it or remembers it, but Selena got heavily criticized for not directly addressing her lupus right away. And rumors swirled about her when she tried to undergo lupus treatments privately. In the case of Gaga, a magazine irresponsibly made it look/sound like she had Rheumatoid Arthritis when she never once confirmed it. (Read more on that, here.)

Kim-Kardashian-psoriasisSo there is this culture of entitlement and speculation, of mistrust and adulation, and a complete lack of privacy that these stars have to deal with while navigating their illnesses. They really are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Becuase Gaga fell ill the same week that Selena (who is her friend, by the way) announced her kidney transplant, she is seen as competing with or trying to one-up Selena. I somehow doubt that, but, who knows. And the Kardashians: okay, yeah, we get it, you hate them, they have no talent, whatever: but they are obviously doing something right. (They do a lot of charity, too, but that fact gets largely ignored, most of the time.) They’re in a rough patch too (*note: that is a figure of speech and not a psoriasis pun,) because if they, say, partner with a psoriasis charity, they will be accused of wanting attention and exploiting the disease for publicity. If they don’t, they are accused of being selfish or vain or uncaring.

What are these celebrities supposed to do? It seems like stars with cancer usually get sympathy, but if celebs try to navigate any other illness in the public eye (lupus, fibromyalgia, etc.) then they are seen as attention-grabbing, or milking it for attention or publicity.

Here’s the thing: their motivation for sharing their illness doesn’t really concern me. The sharing is the outcome and that is what I applaud. As a patient advocate, I am glad when these conditions have any awareness brought to them. I share my story daily, as do other advocates: but I’m unfortunately not raising tens of thousands of dollars when I do it, and I’m not reaching millions of people. I think it’s great when stars speak out about their medical problems, but how much they share and how often they share is not any of our business. And sometimes, there are limits to what their contracts or their “people” will allow them to share. There are restrictions in those industries, relating to image, endorsements, and so forth. It’s pretty crazy stuff. So we should always be cognizant that it isn’t always them, and for those who aren’t at the Gaga-Selena-Kim level of fame, disclosing a medical diagnosis could be a catastrophic career move and so I respect them if they choose not to and want to keep working.

Plus, we’re all entitled to privacy in coping with illness, famous or not.  Not everyone, regardless of status, wants to go public or be an advocate. AND THAT IS PERFECTLY FINE! Why can’t we just respect that?

Just because someone is famous or in the public eye does not mean we are entitled to consume or control or judge every aspect of their life. We do not own them. (I mean, look at what happened to Princess Diana.) They are still people, and they are people who are doing their job.

Some look at them with hatred, bitterness, or envy, because they are beautiful, rich, and famous. But here’s the thing: illness doesn’t discriminate. In some ways, yes, it would be easier to be, say, Selena Gomez, and navigating lupus, than it would be to be living in poverty and navigating lupus. That is indisputable. And that is unfortunate. But am I going to hate on Selena because she has the means to provide herself with the best treatments out there? No. Because I would, too. It isn’t selfish to take care of yourself, rich or not. And she does a lot to bring awareness and raise funds for the cause. What more do we want from her?

And Lady Gaga’s recent challenge is an example, too, of specific, niche difficulties that famous people face because of their illness that most of us might not. I can take a day off and it isn’t going to cost people MILLIONS of dollars. I am not going to be disappointing MILLIONS of fans. Can you imagine that pressure? Can you imagine having your every move scrutinized under the spotlight … while being sick? A lot of money goes into curating the image and careers of these people. So a lot of money is lost when appearances are canceled or images aren’t carefully-controlled. That kind of sucks, and not everything is about money, but at the same time, that’s the industry. And, yes, they chose their career paths. But for some, their life’s calling doesn’t always feel like a choice. And they surely didn’t choose to be sick, just like we didn’t choose to be sick. So I say we cut them a bit of slack and wish them the best in their health as we would for anyone else battling illness. It isn’t a competition, and it doesn’t matter how wealthy or famous someone is. We all deserve compassion, in my humble opinion.

I empathize with anyone who is ill, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Pain and sickness aren’t easy for anyone. Easier, maybe. Sure. But easy? No. Never. And just because you don’t like a celebrity or a politician, doesn’t mean that they (or you, or me, or anyone) “deserve” to be sick.

Sending my best to Selena Gomez, Lady Gaga, and all of the stars who are battling their own health issues, whether privately or publicly. In my mind, we are ALL in this together.

Love and light to all.

lady-gaga-selgo-Pinterest.jpg

UPDATE: Also wanted to include a comment that I replied to someone on FB re: this issue, becuase I think it expands on my feelings a little bit further. To be transparent, I did edit for length and clarity:

“‘It has nothing do with being a fan or not.  I applaud any celebrity who “comes out” and chooses to discuss their illness, because many do not disclose medical problems, and feel too bound by constraints of image or the industry to do so. And I just don’t think anyone who is sick has it easy. Celeb or not.

I don’t feel like they should be judged more harshly because they are celebrities. I think everyone deserves empathy. That’s my personal opinion. I can’t hate on them just because they are rich or famous or public with their illnesses.

I wouldn’t question or judge an average person for sharing so I’m not going to question or judge a celebrity for doing so. But thank you for sharing your perspective. We all view our own lives with illness differently and we all handle being sick differently. That extends to the way we see our own situation and the way we see the health situation of others, too, and that is fine. T

Whether I like a celebrity or not I don’t think that we get to be extra judgmental of them and what they disclose about their health. They have it easier in many ways but believe it or not they also have it harder in some ways when it comes to managing illness in regards to career and public image, and how much to disclose, being bound by contracts about what they should share and what events they can legally miss or cancel and why, etc..

IDK, I might have a different perspective because I’m really interested in the industry; I’ve studied this type of topic (pop culture, celeb culture) for years and originally was going to go to school to do management or PR in the entertainment industry so I understand how bold and actually, daring, it is for them to actually share their diagnoses, regardless what that diagnosis is, and regardless of whether or not I’m a fan of them. They may have more comforts and treatments available to them because of their financial status but being in the public eye causes different consequences than that you are I would face.

And instead of being mad if someone is in a financial situation where they have the best care and treatment possible, I say good for them. All I can do is the best I can personally given what resources I have and that’s all I’m going to continue to do. What a celebrity is doing does not concern me but I do love when any awareness is brought to these grueling invisible diseases and applaud anyone, famous or not, who is brave enough to be vulnerable and freely discuss their medical conditions. The only difference is when I do it I’m not reaching millions or raising hundreds of thousands of dollars. When Selena or Gaga do it, they are. And that is a very good thing in my opinion. That’s all.”

2 thoughts on “When Stars Get Sick: Glamorizing Illness or Bringing Awareness?

  1. Ashley, I think I do not really care all that much. I am happy if they want to discuss health issues, I am just as happy if they do not. But I do think that if a person places their illness in the public space, they do so with the knowledge that they may be attacked, pitied or ignored. I suspect most celebrities make that calculation with the assistance of professionals. (Lady Gaga did not).

    I do agree no one has a right to hate on them whatever the reveal. There is no excuse for that.

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