October 8, 2015


Selena Gomez and the Danger of Misogynistic Celebrity Culture

Alex Huckle/GC Images
Alex Huckle/GC Images

In January of 2014, Selena Gomez checked herself into the Meadows, a rehabilitation center in Arizona. It's a popular spot amongst the rich, famous and powerful: Tiger Woods checked himself into the Meadows in 2010 for sex addiction. Five years earlier, supermodel Kate Moss stayed at the center to overcome her cocaine abuse, as did Donatella Versace the year prior. It's the kind of place that promises the ultimate in luxury and treatment. 

When Gomez checked into the center, she offered no explanation. The media was quick to assume drugs, alcohol, all various degrees of self-harm and partying. More often than not, a broken heart over former fling Justin Bieber entered the conversation. The headlines are laughably degrading: "Selena Gomez Secretly Went To Rehab! And When You Hear The Reason Why, You'll Be Glad She's Rid Of Justin Bieber!" via Perez Hilton, "Selena Gomez—Secret Rehab Stint For Exhaustion; Disney Starlet Partied With Drugs & Booze" courtesy of Radar Online.

In a new Billboard cover story, one arriving over a year after Gomez's stint in rehab, we learn the real reason she went to the center: An autoimmune disease. "I was diagnosed with lupus, and I’ve been through chemotherapy. That’s what my break was really about. I could’ve had a stroke," she tells the publication matter of factly. "I wanted so badly to say, ‘You guys have no idea. I’m in chemotherapy. You’re assholes.' But I was angry I even felt the need to say that. It’s awful walking into a restaurant and having the whole room look at you, knowing what they’re saying. I locked myself away until I was confident and comfortable again.”

Marc Piasecki/GC Images
Marc Piasecki/GC Images

There's a lot to unpack here. The first reaction most people would have is, "Why didn't she just tell everyone about her condition? Isn't having the truth out there better than these career-alerting, vicious rumors?" Whatever the case, and however Selena feels about it, the fact of the matter is that it's not our business. Celebrities don't "owe" their fans anything, and fans (or the public at large) are not entitled to the details of her private life. It's a lesson that's taught time and time again, but it's getting to a breaking point—it needs to stick.

More than that, there's an inherent bullying in this tale, one that's happened before Selena and will happen again in the future. It comes from a place of institutionalized misogyny within celebrity culture, one that loves to paint women into the corner they've created for them. When Gomez goes to rehab, it's assumed to be because of illicit substances, ones she tracked down because of her Bieber-inflicted heartache. The reality is so much more heartbreaking, because it's so much more innocent. 

Assuming there was foul play involved in Gomez's time at the Meadows was the media silencing the singer before she could speak. Not only did her actions reflect her human right to privacy, but not telling us the reason for her time there told us a lot. Gossip mags and websites spun the tale of addiction in search of sales and page views, effectively taking Gomez's power away. They made her weak. She didn't stand for it, and she won't. The lesson here is to believe women when they speak, to show kindness for strangers as you would loved ones. Selena is a role model, and we hope her battle with lupus leaves her on top. There's no doubt in our minds it won't.