I don’t know if you’ve noticed but an awful lot of starlets have been talking about their battles with anxiety. Everyone from pals Emma Stone and Jennifer Lawrence to Selena Gomez and Bella Hadid, in an apparent effort to seem more relatable, have laid claim to panic attacks. At first, I loved when celebrities revealed their anxiety; if she can be an anxious mess and successful then so can I! Right?
But recently it feels like it’s a good PR move to hop on the anxiety bandwagon. It makes these otherwise alien women “relatable”. I don’t know Bella Hadid’s medical history, obviously, I don’t even know much about her, to be quite honest. And I don’t believe this narrative is being meticulously crafted in a publicist’s office somewhere. Nor do I believe that this “confession” is entirely genuine. Or maybe it is.
I like Emma Stone because she’s been open about her struggle with mental illness. Her panic attacks started at age 7 (mine started at 5), and she’s not ashamed of it. I admire that. Anyway, Emma’s anxious childhood became a major component of La La Land’s marketing campaign last year. Stephen Colbert brought it up during her Late Show interview, it was the headline of her Rolling Stone cover story and reported on by every entertainment outlet. And it worked! When was the last time you heard someone say, “I can’t stand Emma Stone”? Never. Everyone likes her. She’s a relatable, approachable Oscar winner.
Emma, at least, uses her experience to help others. She’s a spokesperson for Child Mind Institute to help kids learn ways to cope with their emotions.
Having a childhood anxiety disorder works well for her career. And thus, a trend was born.
Selena Gomez, Amanda Seyfried, Jennifer Lawrence, Lena Dunham, and even everyone’s favorite Insta-Famous models, Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid started opening up. Look, it’s great that these women are sharing their stories, helping to remove the stigma, and letting people know they aren’t alone. I just don’t know how much of it is genuine. Are they trivializing a very real mental disorder?
There is a real difference between being nervous and having an anxiety disorder. Everyone has anxiety. It’s an evolutionary survival instinct. It helps your body react to danger before your brain has processed it. Fight or flight. Meeting a blind date? Getting on stage in front of thousands of people? Giving a presentation at work? Of course you’re going to be a little nervous! But having that experience isn’t a panic disorder. It’s situational anxiety that abates once your body knows you’re safe. Imagine speaking in public. Your heart is pounding. You’re uncomfortable. A bead of sweat drips down the back of your neck. You flush. The butterflies inside you jump around. Eyes pounding into you. You give the talk, sit down and five minutes later those sensations are gone. An hour later and you’re onto the next part of your day.
Now imagine that you sit down after speaking and those sensations don’t leave. Ever. They ramped up before and during speaking, but they aren’t going anywhere now that you’re done. Your mouth is still dry, you replay the moment you stumbled over a word over and over and over again in your mind. You never feel like you can take a true deep breath. The room tilts a bit. You’re dizzy.
All. The. Time. The anxiety stays with you. It’s a shadow that you’re always aware of, following you around and making you second guess every single thing you do and say, all day. Every day. Over and over and over. That is a panic disorder. And don’t even get me started on when it escalates to a full blown panic attack.
So, when Bella Hadid tells a contestant on a reality show, surrounded by a film crew of course, that she would “Literally start crying and shaking if I had to do interviews at red carpet events” and it’s pushed by the media as her “struggle” with anxiety disorder, is that just making light of it? Does it make people think, “Well, panic disorder might be a mental illness but it’s no big deal and Bella Hadid overcame it so my sister/friend/co-worker is just a drama queen who isn’t trying hard enough”? That’s just as harmful as labeling someone “crazy” in my opinion. But at least Bella is more likable for having said it?
Listen, if that is Bella’s true experience than she should talk or not talk about it however she wants to. Everyone is different and just because my experience of panic disorder is one way doesn’t mean it’s hers or yours or anyone else’s. I know that and I don’t want to diminish or invalidate a person’s feelings or story. I just don’t think it’s okay to use something that maybe you don’t truly experience as a way to market yourself as a “real” girl.