Naomi & Serena
Naomi Osaka is so much more than a tennis player. Like her idol, Serena Williams, she is a talented, strong, compassionate, vocal leader! Plus she bodied that cover of Vogue Hong Kong… just saying.
Both Naomi and Serena have been basically unapologetic about taking time to heal from mental and physical exhaustion and the undeniable pressure and stress the press and the sport put them under. They are examples of women who were able to, by controlling their image and business, gather the reigns and do an about face before they were dragged down…Naomi by social anxiety and depression and Serena by standing up for herself amid racist and sexist actions by tennis umpires and staff and her decision to slowly come back to tennis after her life threatening childbirth. Both were ridiculed tremendously by mainly white reporters and members of the press, but supported wholeheartedly by their teams and fans. Both have been vehemently attacked when they were being held up as aesthetically pleasing… surprise surprise. God forbid any standard of beauty that strays too far from the White standard be exalted and celebrated… especially on magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.
Although these women are athletes, they are both also celebrities. Famous well beyond the tennis court, they have both managed to find safe havens for themselves away from the patriarchal judgment of their bodies and looks and unfair treatment during bouts of trauma.
Sadly, other female celebrities haven’t fared as well.
Harpers Bazaar UK recently wrote an article on Any Winehouse, and how unprotected she was during her career. The article by Ella Johnson, recalling a Winehouse performance in Mayfair, stated, “Her legs were spindly and frail and her beautiful messy beehive looked too big for her tiny head. I remember her collarbone that gave way to deep hollows. Her make-up was smudged, and she looked so terribly sad… I didn’t understand why she was there, why she wasn’t being looked after and why anyone had allowed her to get on stage. Looking back, it was public humiliation…”
The many times we saw Winehouse looking disheveled and clearly in need of emotional help, but she was just left to continue to perform is maddening now…but we just watched then. Her documentary “Amy” chronicled her downward spiral, often surrounded by boyfriends and a team. These people weren’t exactly hands off, but in some ways they sat by idly while she was unable to control her habits because she sang heartier, with more passion, overflowing with emotion. She sang her face off… while clearly facing off with her own demons. She often looked unsure of where she was, just opening her mouth and letting the notes escape. “They tried to make me go to rehab..,” she sang. But arguably none of us bothered to treat her better on this side of the rehab doors. She deserved better.
It’s Britney bitch…
After suffering from an emotional breakdown, The huge superstar Britney Spears was run into the mud by her family, temporarily lost her kids, and lost control of her finances in a conservatorship. “Don’t you know that you’re toxic…”
During that time she released albums, went on tour, and was featured in a Las Vegas residency for four years, yet she was deemed unable to care for herself and exploited by her own family, as she has recalled. Plagued at one time by severe anxiety that led to a chemical dependency, after postpartum depression and a nasty divorce, she was diagnosed as bipolar and hospitalized, leading to the removal of her children from her home. After emerging from a psychiatric hold she lost control of her finances and personal affairs. Even years after being stable, she continues to fight for her personal freedom. Only now as we are more educated, compassionate, and sensitive to mental illness are we outraged at how she’s being treated. Sadly, this is how celebrity women with emotional and mental health issues have been treated throughout history. Paraded around, humiliated, left to protect themselves, used, and often forgotten.
“Stop haunting me now
Can’t shake you nohow
Just leave me alone”-Good Morning Heartache, Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday was a troubled but wildly talented jazz singer who Winehouse was often compared to. She suffered from alcoholism and drug abuse, and memories of a traumatic childhood and traumatic heartache. Unafraid of politicizing her music, her drug use was used by the government to scare her out of performing “Strange Fruit”, her song about America’s history of lynching. A historical human victim of the same attempt to hide and erase America’s ugly racist culture… eerily similar to today’s critical race theory battle.
While she was a classy and beautiful talent, her alcohol and drug abuse were known and taken advantage of during her career. She died handcuffed, under arrest for drug possession, and denied medical care. Taken advantage of by music, men, and the law, she, like many Black women entertainers, was never protected as the national treasure she was. It could be said mistreatment and racism were largely responsible for her emotional and mental difficulties like Nina Simone, Dorothy Dandridge, Josephine Baker, and others.
Her last recording, “Last Recording” is accompanied by the iconic photo of her looking gaunt, sickly, and melancholy holding a glass of scotch and a cigarette in a recording studio, turtleneck and plaid pants not the least reminiscent of her former glamour. Her voice is much more raspy and haunted, with recording tricks used to mask it’s imperfections. This is how we often leave and allow our female icons with mental health troubles to fare. While our most troubled and troubling male celebrities….we fight for their legacies to stay intact… Michael Jackson, Bill Cosby, Robin Williams, Chris Farley, Tom Cruise always have a fan section. Male icons are exalted. Female icons all too often die broke and alone.
Or in a bathtub.
Pictures of her drug filled bathroom broadcast on tabloid covers. Put on stage to sing, body so emaciated and ravaged by drug abuse she looked like death walking. We once said Whitney Houston had the greatest voice of all time. Yet she died in a hotel room bathtub alone.
Her story is perhaps most tragic. Introduced to drugs as a child, by family. Plagued with drug addiction while simultaneously attempting to portray a public persona that was neither true nor her own conception. While we often blame drug users, addiction is a mental illness one needs treatment for, as no amount of criticism will heal it. The inability to live one’s life authentically is known to cause depression, mania, anxiety, and many other negative emotional responses. To watch this woman’s incredible talent and spirit whittled down to the nub was hard for m m those of us who sang “The Greatest Love of All” at our lung’s peak was very sad. To ultimately see her and her beloved daughter die similarly, alone, was heartbreaking.
If women are valued… we must start acting like it. We hear over and over, it’s okay for men to cry and show emotion, and it is. Yet when women, especially celebrities, are weak, sick, broke, ragged, looking less than beautiful, helpless, and in pain, we are often discarded and forgotten. That woman isn’t sexy, she’s not pretty, she’s not desirable… she’s human and should be treated as gingerly …and much more… as she is when she’s made up and fancy. If we would let the people we bestow fame upon to wither away, imagine what we do the other 98% of women. We are the bearers of life… we deserve our very best.
Update: We should be outraged the way young women are being treated in the Tokyo Olympics. In addition to archaic rules forcing them to wear skimpy outfits to compete in competitions that men are fully dressed for, and pushing them out of competition. Now, archaic and arbitrary rules are being used to penalize them for being great. When they pull out, don’t show up, and are critical of the often sexist and racist promulgation of the rules, a hush goes over the crowd. Simone Biles, Shacarri Richardson, Naomi Osaka were offered as human sacrifice. It’s so surprise these are Black women. It’s no surprise the world doesn’t understand how these constant attacks at who we are affect our mental health. But as we pull back, challenge their status quo, and avenge our trauma, we simultaneously show America and the world for the sexist and racist institutions they are and how resilient but unburdened we will be by their constant disrespect.