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Selena Gomez may be far from her Disney days, but the 28-year-old is opening up about how the pressure that she faced from the network to be a role model has stuck with her throughout her career.
"That was my job in a way — to be perfect. You're considered a figure kids look up to, and they take that seriously there," she told Vogue for the publication's March 2021 cover story. "I still live with this haunting feeling that people still view me as this Disney girl."
The singer and actor, who began her career with a spot on Barney & Friends, was just 13 years old when she secured the role of Alex Russo on the Disney Channel's Wizards of Waverly Place. Just a few years later, she was a target of paparazzi.
"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," Gomez said. "That is a violating feeling."
Still, instead of reacting to the growing infringement on her privacy, she felt more pressure to act a certain way. "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."
Ultimately, the work, the persona and her health — impacted by the diagnosis of chronic autoimmune disorder lupus — landed Gomez in a rehab facility in 2014, and twice again in 2016 and 2018. "I knew I couldn’t go on unless I learned to listen to my body and mind when I really needed help," she said, explaining that she still deals with anxiety, often 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."
What's made her feel better, she admitted, is not only learning more about her mental health but also opening up about it with fans, including her diagnosis of bipolar disorder. "Once the information was there, it was less scary," she said of that diagnosis. "Once I stopped, and accepted my vulnerability, and decided to share my story with people—that's when I felt release."
Stepping back from social media and the negativity that comes with it also helped. "I woke up one morning and looked at Instagram, like every other person, and I was done," she said. "I was tired of reading horrible things. I was tired of seeing other people's lives. After that decision, it was instant freedom. My life in front of me was my life, and I was present, and I could not have been more happy about it."
Gomez experienced a slight shift in her relationship with social media in 2020, as she felt inclined to use her platform to speak about out racial injustice and politics. Still, instead of communicating much with her audience of 215 million Instagram followers herself, she often passed her platform to activists in these spaces to give them the opportunity for their voices to be heard.
"I feel guilty for my position a lot," she shared. "I feel like people are hurting, and I feel responsible with my platform to do something about it. To share that it's hard for me, too. To cheer them up. I know that this wasn’t just given to me, I know that I’ve worked so hard to get here. I know that all of this is my purpose. But, because of the way I was raised, I just can’t help but think, I wish I could give people what I have."
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