By Meghan Aslin
Art by Hallie Anderson
On Feb. 16, 2007, paparazzi frantically yelled, “She’s bald!” in a frenzy to capture arguably the most iconic pop culture picture of the 2000s: Britney Spears’ newly shaven head.
After watching Samantha Sparks’ documentary, “Framing Britney Spears,” with my family, I asked my sister Molly Aslin (‘17) to reflect on the public’s reaction to Spears’ “breakdown,” as I was only four years old at the time. She said, “For a couple days it was all anyone talked about at school — we all thought she was crazy because we didn’t know what she was going through.”
As further explored in the documentary, despite the claims made by photographers and interviewers, the paparazzi exploited Spears for money. This heavily affected Spears and her mental health, driving her to seek out psychological help which ultimately led to her diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
Similarly, the divorce of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West has exposed the extent to which mental illnesses have affected celebrities, as well as everyday people. In an interview with NBC, Kardashian shared how much West’s bipolar disorder affected their marriage, causing her to strongly consider divorce in January 2021, only to be stopped by guilt as West spiraled into mania.
According to Kardashian, the final straw in their marriage was Wests’ efforts to run for presidential office in the 2020 election, which have been rumored to have been heavily influenced by, if not completely caused by, a manic episode. All too frequently, the media and pop culture in general have been quick to criticize the actions of celebrities without seeing the full picture: one usually painted by the overwhelming attention that comes with fame.
As incredibly entertaining as these whirlwind events have been for us “everyday” folk over the past few months, my heart has broken as they have influenced me to research the extent to which celebrities have been struggling under the public eye. Certainly not limited to Britney Spears and Kanye West, figures like John Mulaney and Demi Lovato have openly acknowledged their struggles in raw ways: Mulaney voluntarily admitted himself into rehab for cocaine use after being clean since 2003 from substance abuse, and Lovato released a movie “Dancing with the Devil” which dives deeply into her 2013 overdose as well as living as a sexual assault survivor.
As different media platforms are allowing for celebrities to feel more comfortable in sharing their own personal experiences and struggles, it will hopefully only further show the public that the progression towards a less stigmatized view of mental health is slow but sure.
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