Today is a very big day in Pop Culture Land: the Vanity Fair issue with Caitlyn Jenner on the cover hit newsstands. The cover made the internet rounds last week, so I’m sure by now you’ve seen it, as well as commentary on it from many a source. Admittedly, I’m pretty selective as far as what comes up in my various feeds (the internet can bring you down, man!), but the vast majority of what I’ve read regarding Caitlyn’s cover story has been supportive. Many have been cheering her on for not only making the change she felt she needed, but also for being open about her story in the hopes of helping others. Watching all this unfold sparked me to reflect on some of my other favorite celebrities who attempt to use their fame-power for good. Today seemed like a great day to acknowledge them.
One of my absolute favorites is Demi Lovato. Over the past few years she has become an outspoken advocate for mental health. In a number of interviews – including this beautiful recent on HuffPost Live – she has opened up about her own struggles with bipolar disorder, addiction, and eating disorders. She often uses her well-followed social media accounts to speak out on relevant cultural issues. Above and beyond all that, though, she’s teamed up with a few organizations that support mental health: she created the Lovato Scholarship with CAST to help those who need mental health treatment access it, and she has also partnered with Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health to educate individuals on how to access mental health care for themselves and advance it within the community. I admire Demi because she goes all out for what she believes in.
Taylor Swift, my favorite musician of all time, has taken the top spot of DoSomething.org’s “Celebs Gone Good” list for the past three years. Part of what makers her so “good” is her commitment to donating to charity. She’s even donated her music, so to speak; all the proceeds of “Welcome to New York” go to the NY public school system, and all the proceeds from “Ronan” are donated to cancer charities. One of the things I enjoy about Taylor most, however, is how far she goes to connect with her fans. There were the 1989 secret sessions. Then there was Swiftmas. Best of all, though, are the times she reaches out to fans on social media that are going through something, be it a bad breakup or even the death of a parent. Taylor certainly has a knack for returning the adoration to her most devoted fans.
Last, but not at all least, one celebrity who has been on my radar lately is Zendaya. That girl is so smart, and she’s not afraid (or doesn’t appear to be!) to speak her mind. Most recently, she took to social media to say a few words about makeup (and the right we each have to wear it or not). But what really struck me was her eloquent and intelligent response to an offensive joke made by the “Fashion Police.” She could’ve just snapped back, but instead she used the opportunity to educate – and ultimately, forgive. She seems to be the type of person who turns “bad” things into opportunities, and I admire that.
Here’s the thing: it’s entirely reasonable to be skeptical of celebrities, even when they’re doing good. The celebrity world is a very fun one to observe, but it’s also meticulously crafted, and at times, fake. So it’s healthy to take it in with a proverbial grain of salt.
But beyond that initial side-glance, I have a few thoughts on the matter. My first is, I get it. No, I’m not a celebrity by any stretch of the imagination. But when I first started writing, I had two driving impulses. The first one, the initial spark, was that I wanted to write things that would help people the way things I’d read helped me. The second was, Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if my stuff reached lots and lots of people? If in the process of helping others, I made a name for myself as well? And that’s the reality. I don’t think impulse #2 takes away from the good of what I’m trying to do. If anything, it’s become a good checkpoint: am I writing this because it’s a message I believe in, or primarily because I think it’s very social-media-sharable? And I think, or would like to believe, that for celebrities like the ones I’ve mentioned, the sentiment is fundamentally similar. In fact, Caitlyn Jenner has already addressed potential skeptics head-on:
“I’m not doing it for the money. I’m doing it to help my soul and help other people. If I can make a dollar, I certainly am not stupid. [I have] house payments and all that kind of stuff. I will never make an excuse for something like that. Yeah, this is a business. You don’t go out and change your gender for a television show. O.K., it ain’t happening. I don’t care who you are.”
Perhaps I am overly optimistic. Even if that’s the case, my next thought is this: doing good is doing good is doing good. If someone reads Caitlyn’s story, or watches one of Demi’s interview, and feels more educated or prepared to fight their own battles, great! If a Disney Channel fan follows Zendaya on Instagram, and feels inspired to speak up for themselves the way she does, awesome! And I have no doubt that tears and happy dances have been the direct result of Taylor reaching out to her fans. If celebrities get a publicity boost from their do-good endeavors, that’s fine. We can always use more good in the world, so whatever motivates someone – celebrity or not – to go out there and provide it, well, I’m all for it.