Your hands shake. Deep in the pit of your stomach every organ feels like it’s going to explode. Another foot, and then another. The person you’ve admired for so long is now arm’s length away. It’s your turn to speak. Tears well in the back of your throat. You open your mouth and –
Before you say what you’re going to say, let’s take a moment to discuss what you shouldn’t say. Common courtesy dictates there are subjects off-limits, like abortion and religion and, before Donald Trump, politics. But somewhere along the way – between the growing popularity of celebrities speaking openly about taboo subjects, and the judgmental, terrifying world of Twitter – we’ve taken advantage of what we think we’re entitled to.
Celebrities are people. At the core of it, they breathe and pulsate just the same as you and I. And, just like us, there is only so much they can handle before they break. Take a look at Justin Bieber. Just recently, Bieber canceled all meet and greets during his tour. On Instagram, he writes, “I always leave feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted to the point of depression … The pressure of meeting people’s expectations of what I’m supposed to be is so much for me to handle and a lot on my shoulders.” Whether you like Bieber or not, the kid has point.
We need to stop telling celebrities they saved our lives.
The appeal is strong – romantic, even. Standing in front of a celebrity, expressing the emotions coursing through you, finally telling them they are the reason you are alive today. It all sounds so melodic. The problem, however, is we don’t account for how draining this is. We don’t account for the pressure this puts on these human beings. There’s a difference between saying, “You helped me through a hard time,” and, “You’re the reason I didn’t kill myself.” The pressure is immense, and for some reason we feel we’re entitled to tell celebrities about it.
With more and more famous people being open about things like mental illness, we’re connecting in a way we never could before. When Jared Padalecki, star of the CW’s Supernatural, started a campaign to bring awareness to mental disorders, he opened a door to his fans and invited them into his life. He dreamed of a world where people could discuss diseases like depression without the stigma that normally comes along with it. But this open door allowed a rush of people who would, for long after, find themselves under the belief it is appropriate to share these often burdening stories with people who are – let’s face it – strangers.
In the case of Padalecki, who tours the United States throughout the year doing fan conventions, the emotional baggage can take its toll. A user on Twitter, who goes by the handle “princesscortese”, made a long post discussing the effect these interactions have on Padalecki. After seeing a tearful fan approach him during his autographs, she states, “I watched him take a moment, take a deep breath and run a hand over his face, sort of gathering himself and then he pulled a smile back onto his face and talk[ed] to the next person.” Interactions like these have caused Creation Entertainment, who runs the fan conventions, to buckle down on the rules. They lowered the numbers of autographs available and now have trained personnel stationed in photo op rooms to snatch any crying fans away and calm them before they reach Padalecki.
It’s clear these situations are causing emotional distress, so why are fans still approaching celebrities and confessing their life stories?
The answer, plain and simple, comes from two places. The first is that no one has told them not to. No one has come forward and told these people that the thing they are proud about – meeting their idol and expressing the impact they’ve had – can be emotionally draining. Bieber said it best: “The pressure of meeting people’s expectations of what I’m supposed to be is so much for me to handle and a lot on my shoulders.” Telling someone, especially someone constantly in the spotlight, that they are the reason you are alive is distressing. What if they do something wrong? What if they do something that upsets you? What if they aren’t enough to stop you from hurting yourself? Are they then the reason you’re not alive?
The second answer, one that may come as a surprise, is some people simply don’t care. Why? Because, unfortunately, they feel entitled. When a fan asked a personal question to Padalecki that made him cry, people on social media stated they had a right to ask him their question because he decided to be open about his depression in the first place. These people fall under the assumption that celebrities can handle the situation themselves if they are uncomfortable. But they fail to realize celebrities tend to cater to peoples’ desires so they don’t ruin their image. A famous person who refuses a picture with a fan or won’t answer a question is painted as rude and uncaring. It doesn’t matter if they were uncomfortable or not.
Celebrities are not therapists. The desire to emphasize how their work has helped you in life is one that is strong and appealing. Before you step in front of your idol, think about the burden you will cast on them if you tell them your life story. Consider how many crying fans approach them during the day. Consider how emotionally draining it is on them. There is a difference between saying someone helped you through a hard time and saying someone is the reason you’re still here today.
Let them know you appreciate what they’ve done, but please, please, stop telling celebrities they saved your life.