Selena Gomez and Disability Visibility

Selena Gomez and Disability Visibility

It can be difficult to live with a disability, especially an invisible disability, in a world that treats them as something to hide, mask, or be ashamed of. They’re not, and it’s high time we shifted the how we think about those with disabilities. Some celebrities are helping to shed that stigma by making their own disabilities more visible, and not shying away from being part of the public discourse. Selena Gomez is a shining example of this. 

At about 20 years old, Gomez was diagnosed with lupus. A chronic autoimmune disease, lupus essentially causes the body to attack itself, rendering it unable to differentiate between healthy tissue and organs and foreign viruses or infections. It affects approximately five million people worldwide. She’s lived as healthily as possible since her diagnosis, but there’s no stopping the disease. 

Because of her lupus, her kidneys failed, necessitating a transplant. Thankfully, her best friend, Francia Raisa was a match, and donated a kidney to the singer. “There aren’t words to describe how I can possibly thank my beautiful friend Francia Raisa,” she wrote in a touching Instagram post. “She gave me the ultimate gift and sacrifice by donating her kidney to me. I am incredibly blessed. I love you so much sis.” The photo features both Gomez and Raisa, dressed in hospital gowns and laying side-by-side in stretchers. 

“Lupus continues to be very misunderstood,” she wrote, “but progress is being made.” Simple things like her unfiltered transparency on the condition are part of what help shed the stigma. Fans have reached out saying that her transparency about her condition is what pushed them to seek the care they needed, even empowering them to ask their doctors to run their tests again after being given a false negative diagnosis.

On top of raising awareness for lupus, Gomez has also been a huge advocate of mental health, bringing mental illness into the foreground of her public persona. A year after her kidney transplant, Gomez sought help for her longstanding anxiety and depression. Treatment and therapy completely transformed her life, and she never shied away from speaking about it publically. In September, she accepted the 2019 McLean Award from McLean Hospital in Massachusetts which honoured her work advancing the public’s awareness of mental health issues. Of her experiences with an invisible disability, she said: “it felt as though all of my pain, anxiety and fear washed over me all at once, and it was one of the scariest times of my life.” Thankfully, the singer and activist is doing well now, with her physical and mental health being proactively cared for. 

It’s easy to forget that Selena Gomez suffers from lupus and mental health issues like anxiety and depression when you see her dressed up on the red carpet, looking glamorous for her industry. Thankfully, she’s aware of her position of privilege, and uses that to highlight the work that’s being done, the work that needs to be done, and the people who are doing it. 

After being honored at the Lupus Research Alliance‘s Breaking Through Gala for her efforts in raising nearly $500,000 for lupus research, she acknowledged all of this. “It feels good to actually be honoring people like you, or in my world,” she said of the doctors who saved her life, and others in need. “It could seem kind of vain, but this is really, really special. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a donor, and something as monumental as an organ transplant shouldn’t be the best treatment option available.” 

The same goes for those with mental illnesses. The resources aren’t always available to those who need them, so the efforts of public figures like Gomez go a long way to raise awareness and educate the public on what’s happening with these conditions and what needs to change to save lives. 

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