I write to you today not as a snarky pop cultural critic, but as a feminist, a mom, and a former eighteen-year-old girl. I don’t know the whole story behind your leaving the tour with the Jonas Brothers — and neither do most of the people who are blogging and writing about it. For that reason, I don’t blame you for shutting down your Twitter page, though there are many many girls out there who would like to tweet you well. (There are some sweet wishes and sound advice on DemiLovato.com, such as “stay away from guys who play mind games.”)
If you’re not aware of it, I’m sure you can guess the speculation that’s out there. The words “celebrity” and “rehab” send people into fits of schadenfreude, a great German word that means taking pleasure in the misfortune of others. Another Hollywood teen on drugs? A Disney teen on drugs? Even better! But I’m betting drugs are not the problem here. Lots of other sources, from People to TMZ say it’s the return of your old nemeses, cutting and eating disorders, that have sent you away. These symptoms are produced by the kind of self-doubt our culture produces in young women. All young women, on some level, know what it’s like to not measure up — to measure too big, perhaps, or fail to meet the standard in some other way. But most of them don’t have to pass or fail this standard in the public eye, as you do. Some would say that you chose to do so, to live your life publicly, and that is certainly true, as far as I know — though one could wonder at what age one could competently make this decision with a full understanding of exactly what public life entails in this era of instant celebrity and constant scrutiny. If one could ever have the wisdom or foresight to see what this would cost them.
I don’t know about the alleged physical attack on a dancer or threats to Joe Jonas’ girlfriend or any of that. But I do know what it’s like to be tired — really tired — and have to carry on anyway because people are depending on you. With a tour and a television show and a clothing line and everything else you do, why wouldn’t you be exhausted? Couple that with the staggering depletion of the soul produced by being watched and judged by everyone with access to the internet and I don’t know how you do it, how anyone would do it, at such a young age. You probably don’t feel young, though. I didn’t, at eighteen, and my life was much less that of an adult professional than yours is. I was a pretty typical college freshman. I made my mistakes with only friends and classmates around, and they were making their own mistakes right along with me. It’s hard crossing that bridge from kid to adult, and, sadly, some of us don’t make it. I had friends who didn’t, and the news is filled lately with stories of kids who took their own lives because they couldn’t take the pressure of what was being said about them in school, on the internet, and, they felt, just everywhere. To them, it feels like that, that the scrutiny is everywhere — in your case, it’s actually true. I cannot imagine how hard that must be.
This summer, I took my daughter and her friend to see the Jonas Brothers Camp Rock 2 tour and they loved it. They loved you. And as I hear the shallow analysis of your “case” on shows like Today and The Talk, I can’t help but also hear the lyrics to your song “LaLa Land”.* Girls I know love you for singing “I’m not a supermodel/I still eat McDonalds” and “Who said I can’t be single/I have to go out and mingle”. That’s empowering for them. The lines “Some say I need to be afraid/Of losing everything/Because of where I/Had my start and where I made my name” are cautionary, even prophetic perhaps, but I can tell you that all the girls in the audience at Hartford were right with you when you sang of bucking the “La La Land machine” and not “changing anything of [your] life.” You’ve probably already had to change so much to be where you are today. You “still have [your] moments”? We all do — you just have yours in public. I’m glad I didn’t have that pressure, and I wouldn’t wish it for my daughter.
What I do wish, as a feminist and a mom and a former eighteen-year-old girl, is that I had some wisdom to give you, something to say that would make it all better for you and other girls like you. Ultimately, the many things I could say would all boil down to something pretty simple, but something that took me a long time to learn myself: Take care of yourself. Because, ultimately, no matter how great your family and friends are, they can’t know what it’s like to be you. And they can’t always know what’s best for you. Neither can you, all the time, but you have to listen to yourself; in those few quiet moments when it’s just you, just listen. Over the years, I finally found that more often than not, I knew what I needed and wanted. I just didn’t know I knew.
Get better, first for you, and second so you can be that role model you mentioned dreaming of, so you can start that “foundation” you mentioned in People , “or something that’s for girls feeling confident, to empower them.” Because they could really use it.
Proof that Disney boxes and sells their young stars like products? Not exactly — it’s a (sadly ironic) shot from the Sonny with a Chance holiday special, coming up in December.
*music and lyrics by Joe Jonas, Kevin Jonas, Nick Jonas, and Demetria Lovato