November 28, 2021
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ColumnsPopped Culture

Column: What obsessive media coverage does to a star’s mental health

Pop culture has taken an active role in covering the deeply personal aspects of celebrities’ lives without care or compassion. In most cases, this takes a huge toll on their mental health without much acknowledgment or wariness from the public. 

The “Free Britney” movement has recently reestablished public attention after the “Framing Britney Spears” episode in “The New York Times Presents” documentary series. The documentary, released on Hulu and FX on Feb. 5, highlights Spears’ rise to fame and the struggles that came with her stardom. Her first album “…Baby One More Time” was released in 1999, when she was only 17 years old. It saw extreme success at the top of the charts. Amid the crazy changes that superstar level fame brought to Spears’ life, her father was not present in her life, largely shrinking her support system. 

While Spears was pulled into the public eye as a result of her music, her private life followed her into the spotlight. Her success quickly led to a nationwide obsession with her personal life and the inappropriate details of it, considering that she was barely of age. When Spears went on tour with NSYNC, she began her relationship with Justin Timberlake. The media became obsessed with the concept of Spears’ virginity and what she must have done wrong when the relationship ended. She quickly had to learn how to answer uncomfortably personal questions, despite just about everyone in America trying to tear her down.

Instead of leaving her be, the media put her upheavals on a pedestal. She had no room to deal with her heightened mental health issues that came with her fame. Under extreme pressure, Spears had multiple public outbursts, like the infamous shaved head hairstyle or the event with Spears using an umbrella in an attack against a paparazzi’s vehicle. 

This is a story that is all too familiar for many female celebrities, especially those thrown into the spotlight at a young age.

Often for young female stars, media coverage is predatorial, misogynistic and extremely unhealthy. In 2008, Miley Cyrus’ MySpace was hacked, leaking revealing pictures of her onto the internet. The media characterized the event as “scandalous” and “dirty.” Despite Cyrus being a child, she was ruthlessly sexualized by the media, and Cyrus found herself having to defend her “wild child behavior.” Deemed crazy by the media for everything she did, she was unable to grow up in privacy without judgment.

Similarly, Lindsay Lohan has had her share of harsh media coverage. The media had a disturbing fixation on her weight, and in 2006, Lohan admitted that she struggled with an eating disorder and drug use. Attempting to recover, Lohan took several trips to rehab, returning each time she had a relapse. But of course, she was mocked in the process. Rather than being left alone or supported in her recovery attempts, the media thrived on her weaknesses without concern for her wellbeing. 

The media’s fixation on body image has always been an issue, and the dangers have been felt by Taylor Swift as well. Swift discusses this issue and other mental health problems that formed alongside her rise to fame in the Netflix documentary “Miss Americana.” The company was well aware of the harm that misogynistic media content has caused for Swift. But on Netflix’s recently released series, “Ginny and Georgia,” there is a misogynistic joke explicitly about Taylor Swift. Despite speaking out against aggressive media, she has been ignored, proving that even if a female celebrity voices concerns, they are not taken seriously. 

Until the media stops criticizing women for everything they do and gives these women the space to talk openly about their mental health, female celebrities will continue to be victims of this horrible treatment. Time and time again, audiences have watched the media dehumanize and exploit female celebrities. Some people eat it up as a form of entertainment, and some are disgusted by the dystopian nature of it all. If the media won’t stop, audiences need to at least think critically about the media they are consuming.