Recent TV specials, like the Framing Britney Spears documentary and Oprah’s interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, have people reexamining the horrible ways that the media and paparazzi have treated women over the years. Now, many of today’s young starlets are speaking out. In a new Vogue cover story, Selena Gomez opened up about being followed by the paparazzi as a teenager, when she was just getting her start on the Disney Channel show, Wizards of Waverly Place.
In the interview, published on Tuesday, March 9, Gomez said that photographers started showing up to the Wizards set when she was just 15 years old. Her onscreen brothers, David Henrie and Jake Austin, felt protective and wanted to raise concerns, but had to restrain themselves. “We were all new to this, and they wanted to say things to the paparazzi, but you can’t, because that’s exactly what the paparazzi want,” she said.
Things only got worse when the paparazzi started following her off-set and took inappropriate pictures when she was still underage. “I remember going to the beach with some family members who were visiting, and we saw, far away, grown men with cameras—taking pictures of a 15-year-old in her swimsuit,” she said. “That is a violating feeling.”
Despite the photographers’ clear violation, Gomez said she wasn’t focused on how invasive they were being or addressing the issue at the time. “I think I spent so many years just trying to say the right thing to people for the sake of keeping myself sane,” she said. “I’m just such a people-pleaser.” The interviewer and Gomez agreed that the tendency to people-please is “almost impossible” for female performers to avoid.
The singer and actor has long been open about how the press and social media have affected her well-being. She has checked into treatment centers three times, in 2014, 2016, and 2018, to address her mental health; she told Vogue that the help was crucial in helping her understand and address her feelings of being burned out and depressed. “I knew I couldn’t go on unless I learned to listen to my body and mind when I really needed help,” she said.
She still deals with anxiety regularly, especially late at night. “I start thinking about my personal life, and I’m like, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ and it becomes this spiral,” she said.
But she has also taken steps reduce unnecessary mental strain. Despite being one of the most followed people on Instagram, Gomez no longer uses the app herself, instead sending photos and words she wants posted to her assistant. “I woke up one morning and looked at Instagram, like every other person, and I was done,” she said. After she made the call to avoid it, she added, “it was instant freedom.”
Lately, Gomez has found that talking about her struggles is a valuable tool in dealing with them, especially after sharing her bipolar disorder diagnosis with fans in early 2020. “Once the information was there, it was less scary,” she said. “Once I stopped, and accepted my vulnerability, and decided to share my story with people—that’s when I felt release.”