How celebrities could save the world

Siena Yates,
Publish Date
Friday, 5 October 2018, 8:55AM

COMMENT: There used to be a time in which "celebrity" was a dirty word.

They were vapid, superficial, out of touch rich listers with no grasp of the real world and who were not to be taken seriously.

Growing up, celebrities were barely even real to me. They existed on another plain, lived by their own laws and everything about their lives seemed totally unattainable. The thought of seeing one was like the thought of coming across a lion in the suburbs.

But there's been a shift in recent years and celebrities seem to have a different standing in 2018. They are real and relatable and often, they're standing up for the rest of us.

They've led the charge on #MeToo and #Time'sUp, fronted Black Lives Matter protests, fought for queer rights and not only advocated for but delivered better visibility and representation in Hollywood and beyond.

They've even fronted online movements to spread awareness around issues like mental health, substance abuse and body positivity.

I spent a good portion of my life struggling to love myself. I didn't care so much what other people thought of me - my mother made sure to get that message through - but what I thought of me wasn't too flash either.

Believe it or not, celebrities helped a lot in my journey to fixing that. Not even the icons you'd expect, but people like Kristen Stewart, Emma Watson, Michelle Rodriguez and even Sporty Spice. Then later, the likes of Ashley Graham, Queen Latifah, Ellen DeGeneres, Gabourey Sidibe, Ruby Rose, Laverne Cox and Adele.

I already knew that I should be comfortable in my own skin, but these were the women who showed me how, and proved that I didn't have to dress or talk a certain way, be a certain size or colour or follow any particular gender rules to be worthy of love, self-love or success.

More than that I've drawn strength from celebrities opening up about their mental health. I've very recently - finally - acknowledged my own battles, talked about them and taken steps toward addressing them.

I used to just tell myself to check my own privilege - what did I have to be upset about?

But then I saw stars like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Kristen Bell, Demi Lovato, Ryan Reynolds, Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj and even Beyonce talking about it.

People who I'd assumed to have perfect lives with all the money, beauty and luxury you could want, were suddenly getting very real about their mental health and so that perception too, began to shift.

They were proof that mental illness does not discriminate, that there was nothing to be ashamed of, and that it took more strength to confront it than ignore it.

And more recently I saw Charmed star Alyssa Milano, who was one of the driving forces behind the #MeToo movement - set up camp at Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court hearing, watching on, right over Kavanaugh's shoulder.

Now, a host of stars including Alicia Keys, Michael Stipe, Norman Lear, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Erykah Badu and Esperanza Spalding, have lent their support to protests against the court confirming Kavanaugh.

These are stars who have nothing to do with Kavanaugh and no business interfering in Supreme Court business, but they're doing it anyway because it's 2018 and the world has realised just how much pull that star power has.

More importantly, thanks to social media, celebrities themselves have finally been given the opportunity to prove their influence is good for more than simply pushing products and we, the public, all have access to their messages.

Even here in New Zealand, we see the difference it makes. When Lorde advocates for our rangatahi, or Taika Waititi takes on race relations, or even when The Bachelor's Naz Khanjani stands up against online bullying.

Celebrity now represents more than just a status declaration of fame or wealth, it's a platform and a responsibility and I for one am grateful that we've embraced it.