Celebs stand up for their illness — does that make us more tolerant?
Bruce Willis’ family goes public with his dementia, Christina Applegate talks about her multiple sclerosis, Lila Moss shows up with an insulin pump. Questions about a new way to treat diseases.
Illness and advertising haven’t been seen together for a long time. Bruce Willis’s family didn’t just go public with his speech disorders. His wife also explains frontotemporal dementia (FTD) live on Instagram, his ex-wife posted current photos and videos for his birthday, and a former action hero is being supported by his loved ones.
Selma Blair and Christina Applegate have also been seen in public recently, supported by a walking stick. Both actresses have multiple sclerosis, and both now carry canes as accessories on the red carpet. Their shows presented images that were both different and similar to what is usually seen in such events – with protagonists looking weak and battered, but at the same time strong and elegant. At the Met Gala and on the catwalk, Kate’s daughter Leila Moss, who suffers from diabetes, appeared in semi-transparent dresses, sometimes with bare feet. Best known: her insulin pump.
Self-confident despite chronic illness.
Something seems to have changed: the chronically ill no longer hide themselves and their illness, they can be seen, and some appear more confident. When celebrities always talk about flawlessness. They present themselves as imperfect in the circle of the perfect. Are sick people now a normal part of society?
Victims and their relatives are initially encouraged to lead by example. Of course, some wonder if Bruce Willis had to get sick in the first place for people to want to hear about dementia, says Beatrix Friedrich, whose husband also has it and lives in a nursing home. But she feels better when she talks about it. Because most people don’t know about this disease. This is because the victims may be relatively young and unaware that not only are they forgetting and straining words, but their character is changing significantly.
Her husband did not recognize the neighbors.
Sometimes her husband did not recognize the neighbors, he could no longer laugh at jokes, he asked rude questions to acquaintances, and one summer day he beat his son because he splashed wet when he joked.
“You have a lot of explaining to do,” Friedrich says. That may change as frontotemporal dementia becomes better known. He hopes more attention will lead to more research. So far there is no cure and no improvement in diagnosis.
Advertising that you are sick is exempt. Victims sometimes say they’re “coming out” as if they’re gay. They crave openness and naturalness and want to show themselves for who they are. It doesn’t matter if they work in the insurance industry or in Hollywood. So is everything miraculously real?
You must be sick in public
Called Carola Studler, she represents numerous actors as an agent. In his opinion, openness has also increased in the German-speaking industry. Nevertheless, he would advise only to a certain extent that one’s own diagnosis should be made public. After all, it’s about professional presence. Acting jobs are very competitive and require a lot of effort, you have to stay up for weeks, do plays, learn lines, and be physically and mentally resilient. Anyone who presents themselves as ill must fear that they will receive no further orders.
At first glance, there are good reactions to the victims, in the comment columns there is talk of respect, a role model, admiration for their strength. But Studler says: “You can pay to be sick in public.” Hollywood stars are easier to spot than others.
How actively you can present yourself as ill also depends on the diagnosis. As the disease progresses, FTD sufferers are often unable to make decisions for themselves. What if Bruce Willis couldn’t control which photos appeared on Instagram?
Christina Applegate finished filming the final season of “Dead to Me” in 2021, going to the set in a wheelchair, supporting herself as inconspicuously as possible on the door frame in front of the camera. Within two years, he told the American media that he couldn’t do it anymore. She doesn’t know if she’ll ever be seen on the red carpet again.
Cancer patients were pioneers
When self-help groups emerged in the 1970s, especially among cancer patients, people talked about their own illness. Earlier, it was mostly doctors who made the announcements, sometimes withholding their diagnosis from the victims. But then patients were self-determined, and they demanded that they be informed and consent to major interventions.
Now the sick go further, they don’t just talk about their suffering, they want to be seen like many other social groups. With the important difference that anyone can get sick. Writer Susan Sontag described it in her famous 1977 essay Sickness as Metaphor: “At birth everyone is given dual citizenship, one in the kingdom of the healthy and one in the kingdom of the sick.” Everyone wanted to use only the good passport, but sooner or later they were forced to identify themselves as citizens of this other place, at least for a while.
So getting sick isn’t about the minority – it’s about the majority. Just because everyone has the flu, everyone can get chronically ill because everyone ages. And because society as a whole is aging. Walking sticks on the red carpet are also part of the future.
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