Celebrities are spokespersons for everything from tangible objects like makeup to issues like women’s rights and combating domestic violence. They are even reaching out to the general public about health issues and even psychological disorders.
But is it always helpful when celebrities talk about their own struggles with these conditions, or in some cases does it encourage others to pursue an unhealthy lifestyle to become famous?
Demi Lovato is a recent example of a celebrity who has come out to the public about her psychological issues, including her struggles with bulimia and self-mutilation, according to an ABC News article.
“When celebrities confess to eating disorders, consumers may become more aware that there is a high price to pay for trying to live up to the ideal body image portrayed in media,” said Melanie Greenberg, a clinical health psychologist in California, in an email.
“If celebrities talk about negative effects, such as decreased fertility, this may be particularly educational and helpful. Also, if they discuss warning signs, this may help to make girls, families and friends more aware of what to look out for and when to seek help.”
Since many young women look up to celebrities, it is a positive choice in many situations when celebrities share their experiences.
“Some research also shows many young women emulate celebrities or media role models,” Greenberg said. “Therefore, if the celebrity confesses and seeks help, this may help young girls to feel less ashamed and make them more likely to also seek help.”
Stacey Rosenfeld, a psychologist who specializes in eating disorders and body image, agrees with Greenberg.
“Overall, I think it's helpful for the public to understand that celebrities struggle, too, particularly when their looks are often portrayed as effortless,” Rosenfeld said in an email.
“I think the more celebrities come out about struggles [with eating disorders], the more of a public voice there is about these disorders, which can help [individuals] recognize symptoms in themselves, and possibly promote a culture of identification and treatment.”
Although there is not much research about celebrities and eating disorders, Nancy Anderson Dolan, who has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and started the website www.wiseheartwellnessworldwide.com, said in an email that sometimes education about eating disorders can backfire.
“It is not uncommon that when young women are exposed to information about eating disorders meant to educate and prevent, a number large enough to generate concern actually pick up the practices,” Anderson Dolan said. “This is makes it difficult to address these issues in the traditional ways.”
Brooke Miller, a psychotherapist and pop culture columnist, said in an email that sometimes when celebrities talk about having eating disorders, they can reinforce the wrong message in some women’s minds.
“Often I think people assume that hearing someone else's struggles will help with their own, which could be and often is true - the problem arises when someone feels that their path in an eating disorder is justified and even celebrated, as it parallels the path of someone they admire,” Miller said.
Many people talk about feeling stronger because of their struggles, but Miller said it’s important with eating disorders to bring up the negative toll it has on one’s life as well.
“When a celebrity says something along the lines of 'I had an eating disorder and now I'm such a better person [because] of it,’ it's also important for that celebrity to be responsible enough to talk about where they might be had they sought help sooner, what they lost along the way of not seeking support or help, etc,” Miller said.
Basically, when celebrities talk about having eating disorders, their confessions can have both positive and negative effects depending on the audience and the way the message is delivered.
“Those with eating disorders often have an emotional space inside of them that feels either unfulfilled or unheard and being spoken to by a celebrity can help them to feel included - it can also push those who don't have an eating disorder to a place they wouldn't naturally go ... just to be involved,” Miller said.
Johnston, Janice. Demi Lovato Interview: Teen Star Opens Up on Bulimia, Cutting Issues. Demi Lovato Interview: Teen Star Opens Up on Bulimia, Cutting Issues – ABC News. Web. October 4, 2011.
Greenberg, Melanie. Email interview. October 4, 2011.
Anderson Dolan, Nancy. Email interview. October 4, 2011.
Rosenfeld, Stacey. Email interview. October 4, 2011.
Miller, Brooke. Email interview. October 4, 2011.
Reviewed October 5, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith