Growing up, I had few role models. Audrey Hepburn was my idol from the moment I first saw her at around 5, then James Dean was a big inspiration during my own “Rebel Without a Cause” years, but it was Audrey who accompanied me into adulthood, and there have been few others since. The reason there are few people I’ve really looked up to in my life is probably because I’ve always been all too aware that at the end of the day we’re all human, we all struggle, that nobody is perfect and that great qualities inevitably come with great imperfections. So lately, my strange little obsession with Robbie Williams, while thrilling in some way, also has me wondering if it isn’t indicative of some kind of regression.
In an article about Beyoncé Knowles in this month’s Vogue there was a mention that she created the persona of Sasha Fierce (also the title of her latest album) so that she could express parts of her personality she normally suppresses to keep up her good girl image, being all too aware of the countless young girls around the world who look up to her as a role model, a responsibility she takes seriously. I hadn’t bought Vogue in a number of years now as it tends to annoy more than inspire me these days, but I made an exception because of Beyoncé. Gorgeous photos of a gorgeous woman of course, and the accompanying article was pretty much as expected, painting the portrait of a young woman who’s energy, ambition, talent, dedication, drive, decency, complexity, reputation, destiny, inner and outer beauty are unparalleled. I was hoping to find out more about the ubiquitous superstar when I bought the magazine—but I should have known what to expect from Vogue—after reading the article I truly wished I hadn’t bothered—it left me mostly feeling inadequate and vaguely (or not so vaguely) envious. She seemed too perfect, and I just couldn’t relate to that. So I looked her up in Wikipedia to see if they’d have interesting tidbits, and along with great detail about all her fabulous accomplishments, there was this:
“During the turmoil of Destiny’s Child in 2000, Knowles had admitted in December 2006 that she had experienced depression from an accumulation of struggles […]. The depression was so severe it had lasted for a couple of years, while she had kept herself in her bedroom for days and refused to eat anything. Knowles stated that she struggled to speak about her depression because Destiny’s Child had just won their first Grammy Award and she feared no one would take her seriously. All of these events had made her question herself and who her friends were, describing the situation she said, “Now that I was famous, I was afraid I’d never find somebody again to love me for me. I was afraid of making new friends.””
The thing about depression is that it makes not a bit of difference how beautiful or talented or friendly or successful (or not) you are. Depression has and never will discriminate. We all feel like we don’t have a right to be depressed once we find ourselves there—somebody somewhere is always worse off than we are. That I could relate to. Now the following bit in the Vogue article makes sense to me: the journalist says “When I tell her that I think of her as basically a sunny person and that her ability to express anger on-screen is a real surprise, she shoots right back, “Everyone has it in them. You know what’s so great? I have made the choice—because it does take effort—to be happy. I mean, I am happy. But it’s hard. Sometimes… you don’t want to be that way. And holding all of that stuff in, holding the anger in and always being so composed…. it was so great for me to be able to release everything. Imagine! I always have to be so put together, I always have to be pleasant. But sometimes I want to scream and holler, and I’m able to use the characters to release whatever pain or frustration has built up in me.”
That’s how we want our superstars. We want them to be perfect in some ways so we can look up to them, but we love them even more when they show us they’re fallible too. And the great thing about Beyoncé, unlike so many of her contemporaries, is that she’s got class. She has the decency to hide away when she’s got the blues—unlike that tart I won’t name here—our Beyoncé isn’t likely to lose it completely, shave her head and show us her beaver in front of the paparazzi anytime soon. I may yet become a true fan.
All Photos by Mario Testino