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.
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.
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.
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!