Thinky Post: Modern Celebrity and Mental Health and Eating Disorders a Little Bit Too

I just caught up on a month and a half of People magazines, and it gave me thinky thoughts! Most of these thoughts are courtesy of People, it really is a good morally responsible magazine. I know that sounds crazy, but no joke, they deal with mental health issues and gun violence and all kinds of things besides “Ben and JLo Together Again!”

Thanks to People, I am catching up on the recent spat of celebrity athletes saying “it’s too much, I’m taking a break”. They profiled Michael Phelps, Naomi Osaka, and Simone Biles. And they did an interview with Billie Jean King who said “I am so glad I am therapy now”. And even in their little bits of non-sports celebrities there’s started to be more “I quite acting because I had to protect my mental health” kind of quotes.

Parveen Babi - Wikipedia
Not “mental health” like Parveen Babi, but mental health like anxiety and depression and things that can be affected by life changes

I find this fascinating! The thing that leaped out at me is that Naomi Osaka quit the French Open not because of being photographed, or competing, or any of that, but because she needed to skip the press conferences and the organizers wouldn’t let her. That points to a new thing for me, and one that’s not unique to sports celebrity.

Let’s look at the growth and changes in celebrity. At first, it was just while you were doing your ACTUAL job, performing or playing sports or being a royal or whatever. And then as the popular press grew in the 1800s, it moved into the realm of coordinated stories to go along with your ACTUAL job. With the growth of international film celebrity, these stories became super coordinated and playing the role of your star persona was as much your job as the actual performing part. And then high quality candid camera technology came along and the papparazzi grew up in the 1950s and 60s. Suddenly it wasn’t 6 hours filming, 2 hours doing coordinated interviews and photo shoots, 16 hours to just be yourself. It was 6 hours filming, 2 hours coordinated interviews, 8 hours going about your real life with an awareness that you could be photographed at any time, and then 8 hours sleeping at home.

Something that is kind of unspoken, but is vital to understanding the role of social media, is that the papparazzi are now more or less controlled. Not like they are paid off or anything, but it’s far easier to hang around at designated locations where you KNOW famous people will be, then try to catch them at an unexpected place. So all a famous person has to do is just not go to those places.

Irrfan Khan, who died at 53, was successful in bollywood and hollywood —  Quartz India
Irrfan Khan, do you remember ever seeing a candid photo of him? He didn’t take his wife out to the hot restaurants, or his kids to the hot schools, or any of that.

Now, let’s talk mental health! Some celebrities thrive on attention. And thrive on the big exciting sparkly people events. So you actually want to go to the hot new club and see and be seen. And because you are the kind of person who likes partying all night at the hot new club, you are also probably the kind of person who doesn’t have a hard time being photographed and stuff on the way in.

On the other hand, not everyone is like that. Lots of athletes/performers/politicians don’t like that feeling of being looked at, of being on display. But those same people probably wouldn’t be interested in going to the hot new club where the photographers are waiting for them. So they can live their life, go to the supermarket, the little coffee shop down the block, have dinner with friends, and never feel like being on display. When celebrities say “I just want to live my life, wah-wah-wah”, that’s why sometimes you get that vibe of the media rolling their eyes. Because if you really wanted to live your life, if that was your FIRST priority, you can. But if you want to live your life and also go to the hottest club, you’re gonna get photographed.

Now I can talk social media! What I am getting from the stories about sports celebrities is that people don’t realize the hidden weight of social media and celebrity. If no matter what, no matter where you go, you have the risk of being photographed, that is an added mental weight. And so something simple, like a press conference, is suddenly just TOO MUCH.

We’ve heard a lot of talk about celebrities going off social media, but now I’m wondering if the solution is the opposite? You can’t control social media, it’s impossible. So control everything else. No more press conferences, no more interviews, cut out all the other part of the celebrity “job”, because social media is more than enough for that.

My biggest take away from these discussions is that it is both an old and new issue. Old, because Billie Jean King talked about thinking she could get rid of all her emotions on the court, don’t think about it anywhere else, and that is certainly a (bad) old habit. Repress repress, let it out in worldly success. But new because the added weight of social media is bring people to a breaking point so much faster and harder.

Amazon.com: Vintage photo of Billie Jean King with her husband : Home &  Kitchen
Look how cute she was at her wedding! And how this photo is one of very few personal non-sports photos you can find of her, despite her being the most famous athlete in the world for a time.

When I say “breaking point”, I don’t mean suicide or drug addiction (although that too). But people just deciding “it’s not worth it, I have to quite or I’m gonna break”. In India, we had Zaira Wasim. In America, less dramatically, we had Cameron Diaz, Kristen Dunst, and probably other people I don’t know about who just quietly left.

I can’t judge if this is good or bad. I mean, people leaving for mental health is GOOD. But is it good that they are being driven to it so much more quickly thanks to social media? Or would it be better if there was more of a balance available so they could hold on, keep doing their jobs, and not quite fall apart?

My main thinky thing take away, is that social media is a real mental weight on celebrities now and we need to acknowledge that when we say “what, all they have to do is wake up and go to a 2 hour press conference! They can’t handle that?”

Oh, and one other point that I couldn’t quite fit in! People had a new article on eating disorders. And the current thinking isn’t “anxiety and depression lead people to eating disorders”, but the other way around. For whatever reason, you start focusing on controlling your eating. And because you are malnourished, your brain ceases to function and you become severely anxious and depressed and “fuzzy thinking”. Which means you keep not eating because you aren’t thinking straight enough to figure out that you should be eating.

Okay, with that in mind, that means all these celebrities who are not eating enough are killing their mental health. That there is a direct correlation between anxiety and depression and changes in eating habits. So there’s another new-ish concern, as the super thin bodies came into vogue in the 90s, everyone famous who followed that trend has been slightly anxious and depressed. That changes a lot for me, if I think of every celebrity who is noticeably skinny as also moderately anxious, depressed, and struggling with “fuzzy thinking”, then no wonder social media trolling is so hard for them to handle!

6 thoughts on “Thinky Post: Modern Celebrity and Mental Health and Eating Disorders a Little Bit Too

  1. Remember Diana, Princess of Wales struggle with Bulimia ???? She said that within a year ( she was just 20) she became a wife, mother and princess of Wales. Too much too cope with, this triggered her Bulimia.

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    • I think what this new view is saying is that, whatever the trigger, the eating disorder exacerbated it because being hungry effects your mental health. So not so much “Bulimia was a sign of how stressed she was” but more “until she conquered the bulimia and got back to normal nutrition, she would not be able to lose the anxiety”.

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  2. The lack of eating leading to anxiety is interesting. As a person who doesn’t pay attention to twitter or instagram I am clearly not in the know about social media. I know a lot about Facebook, but that is it. But I do find it interesting, I associate constant posts of selfies as a sign of adolescence. So when I see adult friends doing it, I become wary. And yet it is exactly what the few celebrities I follow do – selfie after selfie after professional portrait. It is all them all the time, and that is what I think most of their fans want. So in a way celebrity is forcing people to stay in adolescence.

    It is too smokey for me to exercise outside, and in all honesty that means little exercise because I get bored after 5 minutes indoors. Outdoor exercise was my ticket away from depression, so think wet thoughts with me. We’re in year three of terrible August air quality. In year one I used to take the kids to McDonald’s to play on the indoor playground. Ah how quaint pre-pandemic life was, when an indoor playground was seen as safe. Mi Esposo says the fires will stop when everything is burned. However, I think that everything will include my town. I suppose occasionally you do see celebrities posting with sympathy quotes regarding tragedies or issues, but the quotes usually include selfies. Every SRK selfie looks the same, and it is what he wants to look like, not who he really is. I do hope that man is in therapy.

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    • The lack of eating leading to anxiety, depression, and fuzzy thinking was really interesting to me because it’s something my Mom has nagged me about my whole life. One of her firm rules was after school snacks, you walk in the door after school and you have to eat something right away before you can go play. Obviously, this is a common mother thing, right? Kids get sleepy or tantrumy or whiney or whatever else when they aren’t eating. So why do we not think of that related to dieting famous people? Maybe a lot of those “actors are so emotional” kinds of things are just because they aren’t eating enough? Maybe models taking drugs isn’t just to forget they are hungry, but to self-medicate the emotional side effects of being hungry?

      The constant need to post selfies etc. online as a celebrity must be exhausting. And it seems to be considered part of your job now, if you have a strong social media following, you will be offered better roles because you can promote them better. Like you said, trapping you in adolescence, forcing you to self-obsess over every moment instead of just letting go and living.

      But there’s the other half too, the “citizen journalist” kind of side of things. Let’s say you are at the grocery store and you’ve had a long day and you don’t want to be smiley and interact-y with the cashier, you just want to pay and be done. But then you think “if I am not my perfect friendly young movie star self to this random cashier, she is going to post on social media and it will be a story”. You can never ever EVER be less than perfect, because all around you are people ready to record and report your every moment of life. That seems like a recipe for a nervous breakdown. And we do see those stories ALL THE TIME. Not the nervous breakdown ones, the “I was Tom Cruise’s waitress at a restaurant and he cut me off before I could finish listing the specials, SO RUDE”. Even if you announce “I am leaving twitter and instagram and everything and just living my private life”, everyone around you still has THEIR instagram and twitter and everythings, so you can’t really be private. I think that’s how the photos of Aryan and Suhana keep leaking, they can put as many locks as they can on their social media, but their dumb friends or cousins or whoever just have to accidentally let their page be public for a second, and Aryan and Suhana have to deal with yet ANOTHER invasion of privacy.

      On Sun, Aug 22, 2021 at 2:13 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Yep! I think everyone has had that same experience one time or another, and yet somehow I never combined it with “why people with eating disorders don’t respond to logic”. Because they’re HUNGRY!!!!

      On Thu, Aug 26, 2021 at 7:22 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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