Do celebrities speaking out about illness help the public?

There are a few certainties in life. We are born, we live and we die. Within those major parameters there are a few variable guarantees, one especially is that we all suffer some form of illness at one time or another. Every animal and every human being are prone to disease and has been well documented on this site, celebrities and their illnesses also often make the headlines.

There is however a question that hangs over that very subject; what do we learn from celebrities publicising their diseases? One thing all celebrities do to some extent or another is seek recognition or publicity. Some are more subtle, Sufjan Stevens for instance who quietly goes about his business of writing songs and performing them with humility, others, like Lady Gaga will stop at nothing – even using the death of another celebrity – to garner maximum exposure.

[adsense]Many cases of alcoholism, drug abuse or sex addiction have surfaced down the years and the media has always been quick to blame the victim for their own problems or make them a point of ridicule just to sell a few papers. Amy Winehouse’s death and her addictions prior to that were a media feeding frenzy but not once did a major newspaper ask the question, “What can we do to help?” Or better still, “What can we do to stop this happening to someone else?”

Betty Ford made radical changes to women's health care by speaking out about breast cancer.

They of course do nothing because they are only interested in selling newspapers or grabbing key demographics on news channels. As long as there is an ailing celebrity there is money to be made. Through all the stories of sickness, addiction and death only a relative handful of celebrities have ever spoken publicly of their struggles. Betty Ford was the first public figure to speak out on the subject of breast cancer and as a result sweeping changes were made to women’s health. Her own battle with the disease led her to alcoholism and prescription drug addiction, illnesses and experiences which gave birth to The world famous Betty Ford Center, a clinic used by countless celebrities to straighten themselves out or seek help with addictions.

Jane Fonda was one of the first women to speak openly about bulimia after she suffered with the illness for years. She blamed the stresses of the film world and the pressure put on her to keep ‘slim and sexy’ as the reason for developing the eating disorder in the first place. Of course Jane Fonda has become a symbol of fitness and healthy living since then and her continual line of exercise DVD’s, along with her story are an inspiration to thousands of people.

Jane Fonda became a fitness guru after battling with bulimia.

In more recent times Demi Lovato has also spoken out about her experiences with eating disorders in the hope that she can deter young people from falling victim to the difficulties she encountered.

Eating disorders are more widespread these days due to a media which is obsessed with thin and attractive. The real world is not like that and unlike Hollywood movies not everyone in the world is beautiful or charismatic. There is something Hitler-esque about the film, television and news industries in that they seem to be promoting an almost Aerian ideal with their propagandist films, shows and other paraphernalia.

Michael J Fox campaigned with congress for research funding to investigate Parkinson’s disease after he was diagnosed with it. They are just a few who have taken the bit between the teeth and run with the incentive to try and help improve the minds and lives of others through education and research.

Micheal J Fox has campaigned tirelessly for research into Parkinson's disease.

Sadly so many people will read about such things in the office or over the coffee table and say, “isn’t it terrible about [celebrity x] and their [disease x],” then promptly turn the page and pour all over the latest ‘Victoria Beckham handbags’ or, ‘which latest celebrity blow up doll looks great in which bikini’.

The real question should be, does any of this achieve anything positive in the long run, or are celebrities with diseases nothing more than another form of entertainment for a largely somnambulant public?

Your opinion is valuable to us so please leave a comment with your thoughts on this subject.

Read about other well publicised celebrity illnesses like Isabelle Caro and anorexia, Bill Hicks and pancreatic cancer, Errnest Hemingway and depression, Lady Gaga and her addiction to publicity and David Arquette with alcoholism.

images: cbc.ca, tv.popcrunch.com, anorak.co.uk, mtv.com, guardian.co.uk

2 thoughts on “Do celebrities speaking out about illness help the public?

  1. I am doing an A-level in research into the public reaction relating to a celebrity illness, looking at the effects after a celeb has publisised their illness, I am trying to figure out the answer to that question myself.

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