So. Demi Lovato has, apparently, checked herself into rehab to address “emotional and physical issues.” The media, of course, is all over this: another young female celebrity, crushed under the weight of the pressure of being a young female celebrity. Oh, the tragedy! Oh, the inevitability! Oh, the legacy of Lohan! OH THE DISNEY CURSE!
I think, however, that we need to look beyond the obvious press-ready, lo-the-zeitgeist elements of the story. Sure, Demi Lovato is a young performer, presumably on the rise (she’s not on my five-year-old’s radar, so I don’t know all that much about her), presumably groomed to rise. Sure, it’s tempting to look at her case and lament the high cost of fame and murmur earnestly about how the Hollywood mill pulls in innocent young women and grinds them to pulp. Sure, one has to struggle to not ask, where were her parents? How could they let this happen? But there are deeper issues at stake, and we do Demi Lovato –- and young women -– a disservice if we overlook those issues because we’re distracted by the flickering lights of the True Hollywood Story.
Demi Lovato was, according to reports, admitted to rehab to address issues that relate in some part to eating disorders, and to cutting, and it’s been suggested that these issues might have some relationship to her having been bullied when she was younger. These are psychological issues –- and in the case of bullying, a social issue -- that too many teenagers face, regardless of whether or not they have contracts with Disney. By framing this almost entirely as a situation that is unique to young celebrities, we close off the opportunity to talk about how these issues affect the young people around us, and what we can do to support them in fighting those issues. Because girls develop eating disorders even if they’ve never been up for a Teen Choice Award (I know this too well) and girls can start cutting themselves even if they’ve never dated Joe Jonas and everyone, everyone, is vulnerable to bullying.
The fact that Demi Lovato took action to help herself is important. It’s far, far less important that she’s a celebrity –- except inasmuch as her celebrity opens up the possibility for discussion about how even the girls who seem to have it all are vulnerable to emotional and psychological upheavals; that even the girls that the media deem "cute" and "skinny" can find themselves huddled over toilets, fingers down throats; that even the girls who you’d never expect could have ever drawn the attention of a bully, might have been bullied; that psychological hurt and emotional pain can hit anyone, regardless of wealth or looks; that when that hurt and pain hit, the thing to do is act, to seek help, to do whatever it takes to survive and to thrive.
We need to seize the opportunity offered here, and have those discussions; we need to sit down with our daughters and any and all young women we know and say, "look, this isn’t about Disney or celebrity or Hollywood. This is about the challenges that so many young women face." Or, "this is about how hard it can be to grow up in a world of mixed messages about body and sex and maturity." Or, "this is about mental illness, and that's okay, and we should talk about it." Or, "this is about what it was like for me, and maybe is for you, and certainly is for somebody that you know." And: "this about needing to do something if this is about you, or about somebody that you love, because when it comes to this kind of stuff, it will NOT just ‘get better,’ not on its own."
We have to take this opportunity to say: "it can only get better if you take steps to get to better.
If you ask someone to help you take those steps.
If you do what Demi Lovato did."
Catherine Connors blogs at Her Bad Mother and Their Bad Mother and The Bad Moms Club, and everywhere in between. When she's not trying to figure out what it is that all the young people are up to these days, she's struggling to find her #oneword.
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