Pop stars being open about chronic illness will inspire a generation of young people

I don’t think any public figure is or should be a role model. No one, even the hero you place on the highest of pedestals, is perfect. Why would anyone want to live their live completely and utterly based upon the actions and values of another person? I’ve always held the view that people in the spotlight should be allowed to be themselves – flaws and all. They are just humans with extraordinary lives, and their job is not to set an example for the world or their followers. You’d hope they’d be able to make their own judgements on what is right or wrong or what they personally feel comfortable with doing in their lives, even if they are young and ‘impressionable’. 

It can’t be denied, however, that those living a very public life in front of an audience of millions around the world have a very large voice. With that large voice comes the power to make a difference — whether that is by raising awareness, changing perceptions or instigating change.

Over the past week, two high-profile pop stars — Selena Gomez and Lady Gaga — both shared stories of their battles with Lupus and Fibromyalgia, respectively.

For Gomez, her chronic illness had developed to the point of requiring a kidney transplant, with the replacement organ so kindly donated by her best friend Francia Raisa (how many people in your life do you think would give you their kidney?) In the months previously, she had appeared fresh-faced and healthy in the videos for her songs “Bad Liar” and “Fetish”

Gaga’s Fibromyalgia caused her to cancel a planned concert in Brazil on the advice of her doctor. 

Both stars have shared their news publicly, with further details to come. Gaga is even discussing her illness in a documentary to be streamed worldwide on Netflix.

Those who are extremely cynical and usually inhabit the comment sections beneath newspaper articles may argue that these are merely attention grabbing exercises to sell more records. There are millions of people around the world with the same conditions, they’d argue, who keep it to themselves. 

Well, that’s just the point. So many of them suffer in silence.

Long-term readers of my blog may know that I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome at 14 years-old and left school not long afterwards.

Being diagnosed with a chronic illness and realising that there is either a long road ahead of you, or you may never be cured of your condition, is a life-changing event. Although distressing at any age, it is perhaps most confusing for young people who have yet to properly live their lives and realise their full potential. Young people who make up a large majority of pop fans.

Illnesses like those of Gomez and Gaga are under-represented in the media. They are difficult to explain, with often a wide range of symptoms affecting some people differently to others, and most importantly they are not easily recognisable from a visual perspective. Who had any clue, as Gaga was leaping from the roof of the stadium in the Super Bowl half time show, that she had been experiencing symptoms of Fibromyalgia? Who guessed, as Selena Gomez cheerfully stepped out onto red carpets, that she was facing the prospect of a kidney transplant?

Friends of young people with chronic illnesses find it hard to understand why a person they previously spent a lot of time with is no longer around as much. They can’t comprehend why their friend is off school so much, when they look absolutely fine. For the young person in question, as it was for me all those years ago, their futures are up in the air. It’s suddenly much more difficult to study, or even contemplate a future career. The dreams you previously had become more challenging to achieve.

That’s when, tragically, some people give up on those dreams. When these young people have no support — not everyone has good healthcare or access to help groups — they begin to feel alone and lose a great amount of self esteem. They stop believing in themselves.

That’s why people like Selena Gomez and Lady Gaga, who are both extremely successful women enjoying fruitful lives, should be praised for sharing their stories. 

Just like I was comforted by Britney Spears’ recovery from her difficult times in the mid 2000s, millions of under-represented young people suffering from chronic illness around the world today will now be able to look to their idols, and think “hey, maybe it’s not all over”. Maybe they will now be inspired to go and push the boundaries of what they thought possible and conquer the world like Gomez an Gaga. And maybe their friends might start to find it all easier to understand, too.

Thank you, ladies!

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