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Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, and the Reality of Imperfection

By most measures, Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift are remarkable women. Intelligent and capable …. Both are the kind of mega pop stars who inspire convulsions of adulation and tears. They’re graced with a radiance that seems almost exclusive to celebrities, with skin so incandescent it needs no filter.

But they are not perfect. Nor do they pretend to be. A recent Apple TV+ documentary, Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me, offers an unsparing portrait of Gomez, now 30, and her experiences with bipolar disorder, lupus, anxiety, and psychosis. On her latest album, Midnights, Taylor Swift, now 32, sings about her depression working the graveyard shift, about ending up in crisis. In her song “Anti-Hero” she sings, “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me ... Sometimes I feel like everybody is a sexy baby / And I’m a monster.”

This combination of external flawlessness and emotional vulnerability feels like a feature particular to contemporary female pop stardom. On one screen we see impeccable glam, expertly choreographed and costumed performances and startling displays of luxury. On the other screen, admissions of anxiety, PTSD, panic attacks, and sleeplessness.

For today’s teens, imagine that same relentless scrutiny—if not in quite the same proportions—and self-doubt. In the recent book Behind Their Screens: What Teens Are Facing, Emily Weinstein and Carrie James document what they call “Comparison Quicksand.” They quote girls saying things such as, “On social media everyone seems like they are far better and far ahead than me, which is stressful and makes me feel behind, unwanted and stupid.” And: “I scroll through my Instagram and see models with perfect bodies and I feel horrible about myself.” For teenagers who are susceptible to insecurity, Weinstein and James write, “going on social media can activate the ‘dark spiral.’”

Possible Preaching Angle:

In our society, social media and the news elevates celebrities to become role models that are impossible to emulate. Parents and mentors should realize this and help orient our young people to scriptural maturity. Each one of them is a unique creation with gifts and abilities which they can celebrate and humbly use to serve others.

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