Words: Ellie-Mae Clarke
Please note that this article does discuss themes that may be distressing for some. Talk of suicide & mental health issues are discussed.
It’s no secret to many that being part of a fandom can truly transform a life. Following icons in the media has become a cultural norm in the twenty-first century, and with social media bridging the distance between icon and observer, fans are offered deeper insight into the lives of their online heroes. This, coupled with Western society’s ever-progressing attitudes towards mental health, sexuality, and personal well-being, often sheds light on subjects that traditionally were considered taboo. The very nature of fandom is simple – to connect and support one another in a community that holds common ground. For many, this is their favourite musician, actor, or social media star. These communities create spaces where fans can share their love for an artist, and encourage others to do the same.
In recent years, we’ve seen first-hand just how powerful these pop-culture figureheads can be. In 2019, Jesy Nelson shared her deeply personal story about her troubles with mental health. Praised widely for speaking so openly and candidly about her struggles with depression, it was the changing of tides in discussions about the taboo. Earlier this year, Capital FM DJ Roman Kemp also produced a similarly rooted documentary for the BBC. Our Silent Emergency delved headfirst into the subject of male suicide amongst young people, and in a similar way to Odd One Out, has been widely praised for its open approach to tackling such a sensitive subject. Documentaries such as these are the first step in changing the discussions that surround formerly taboo subjects.
But if you’re still wondering exactly how big the influence of current pop culture figureheads can be, we’re here to tell you that the answer is huge.
With the immense followings that many of these pop-culture icons have, they hold an ability to bring light to subjects that affect you and me. As fans, we tend to hold our favourite icons on pedestals, and the nature of the entertainment industry has meant that we have formerly believed that media figures’ lives are close to perfect. We naively believe that nothing we go through could possibly be happening to them. That is until it unfortunately does, and it connects us to them on an infinitely more human level.
Halsey’s pregnancy announcement at the start of the year is a perfect example of this. She made the joyous revelation on social media and later tweeted, “my rainbow baby🌈”, referring to the miscarriage she publicly suffered during a performance in 2015. Halsey has never been one to shy away from discussing her fertility struggles. She has spoken candidly on many occasions about suffering from endometriosis, a condition that can significantly impact your fertility and cause excruciating pain for sufferers. The mental health aspect of this condition is something that sufferers frequently comment upon, and Halsey has discussed this along with her miscarriage at length over the years. Endometriosis can be a dark and isolating disease for many, as women’s health is still a subject considered somewhat taboo. But by seeing someone like Halsey talk so openly about the effects of this condition creates the much-needed hope and reassurance for the 1.5 million women living with the disease (Royal College of Nursing).
On the subject of chronic pain, YouTube makeup artist Mykie aka Glam & Gore took to Instagram to open up about her ongoing health struggles. She began the post with “Let’s normalise some pain s***.” and went on to describe just a few of the symptoms she has been struggling with over recent months. She then opened the floor in the comments for her two million followers to discuss their chronic pain and the stigmas they experience, a move which resulted in an outpouring of over 3,500 comments of people openly discussing their chronic pain tales.
However, one of the most common stigmas that arose during this discussion was the argument that “you’re too young…”. This comment is something that not only applies to physical and mental health issues but other wider social issues too. When young people try to voice their opinions on taboo subjects or engage in discussions like politics or current affairs, they are often trivialised for being ‘too young to understand.’ We fangirls will be all too familiar with this notion, for our background shows us as commonly being depicted as engaging in ‘trivial’ and ‘childish’ activities or being ‘hysterical’ within our actions. Much of this relates to our gender and sexuality and its own personal history throughout the centuries.
JoJo Siwa’s recent admission as part of the LGBTQ+ community caused a colossal shake-up amongst online arenas. Fans in their thousands showed messages of support for the teen-internet sensation, but there were also those few who did not take so well to the news. Several parents objected to the young idol coming out in such a public domain, not wanting their children to look up to her or follow her anymore as a result of this action. But it asks a fundamental question – why? Is it because they fear their children might “turn gay”? This generation of children is growing up in a more liberal and accepting world – a world more progressive than any previous generation prior has experienced. But living under the roofs of those who may be more familiar with the former beliefs surrounding sexuality, identity, etc, the need for open role models such as Siwa is clear. In order to become acclimatized to the world, they are growing into, children need role models they can relate to. They need public figures that show, rather than simply telling, that they can be who they want to be, and if you don’t fit the standardised mold, then that is ok!
Whilst the narrative surrounding children’s use of technology continues to draw arguments on either side of the fence, many young people admire and aspire to be like some of their favorite media heroes. Of course, there are those celebrities that abuse their position of power, but there are equally as many, if not more, that use their platforms for wider socio-cultural good. Discussions such as those posed by JoJo Siwa, Roman Kemp, Halsey, and Jesy Nelson all shed light on topics that no longer need to be taboo. They bring these often difficult discussions to the fore, exploring them in such a public realm that their influence is truly staggering.
Pop-culture figureheads are using their status to make statements that can completely change the world. Next time you see an Instagram post that looks like any other, take a look at the caption and see if they’re talking about a wider social issue – chances are, they will be.
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