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How 'Celebrity Worship' Can Be a Coping Strategy for Trauma

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced domestic violence or emotional abuse, sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering.

You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

“What does your therapist think about your obsession with Céline?”

”I’ve heard of ‘celebrity worship syndrome’ but have never met anyone with it.”

“It’s not like you really know them; how can they be so important to you?” 

• What is PTSD?

These are all things I have been told relating to my love of Céline Dion. I’ve written about having met her and what that meant to me, and the unique connection her music has to a teacher who changed my life in high school in a previous article, so I won’t regurgitate that here. However, I wanted to address the idea that there is something inherently pathological about celebrity worship or fandom. 

For the vast majority of people, there’s not. Sure, there are instances of people stalking or otherwise harassing celebrities, but that’s the exception, not the rule. I’d argue that virtually everyone has something they are passionately fond of. For some it’s sports teams, for some it’s a historical figure and for many it is a celebrity. Fan clubs, souvenirs and expensive tickets exist because there’s a demand.

Fandom offers a much-needed distraction from the often harsh realities of life. People escape into their sports, music or movies to help calm themselves down and to find a sense of community with others who like the same team or celebrity. Never has this been more apparent than this past year, when all we had during lockdown was our hobbies and entertainment. A majority of my friends commiserated about their stresses by comparing notes about their favorite Netflix binge, and there was a palpable collective sigh of relief that came over so many when sports returned to television.

In my case, I’ve had a penchant for idolizing celebrities, specifically women, ever since I was a child. I can almost track my childhood development by which actress or singer I was obsessed with at that time. From Shirley Jones to Diana Ross, Susan Sarandon to Céline Dion, each of these women were central figures in my life for the duration of a couple of years, or decades in the case of Céline.

In disentangling this particular behavior, my therapist and I determined that through these women, I was seeking a “mother figure,” someone to look up to that represented the kind of stability, personality and character I so desperately lacked in my own mother or father. In a way, my idolatry was a powerful coping strategy for dealing with the trauma and dysfunction I was experiencing at home with an absentee father and a mentally ill mother who was inconsistent at best and covertly incestuous at worst.

But it’s not like they were actually in the room with me or communicating with me, so how could they represent such a central figure, such as a parent, in my life? Well, for one, I spent more time in the virtual company of these women than with any actual caregiver. Their presence, actual or imagined, brought me solace in my pain, security in my fear and taught me how I wanted to be as a woman in this world. I emulated them and tried to behave in ways that I perceived they’d behave: strong, independent and intelligent. Through the examples of these women, I basically parented myself, deciphering qualities of personality and behavior that I deemed somehow redeemable and functional. 

Another way in which these women have played an important role in my life is by providing me with companionship when I felt isolated and alone. I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up and tended to be sick a lot, so watching my favorite actress or singer on TV was the closest thing to human interaction I was getting. I literally rewatched certain movies or music videos hundreds of times, memorizing them, as though I was actually a part of the story. They became my family, for better or worse. 

But perhaps the most important thing I gained from my fandom was a sense of emotional intelligence. I could see and hear the vast range of human emotion through their performances, particularly the ones that were taboo in my own life. Sadness, anger, fear and distrust were frowned upon within my household, so I generally stifled these feelings within myself. I could live vicariously through my favorite celebrity and get a kind of emotional catharsis that was too dangerous to actually experience myself within my own life. 

As my therapist often says, “You’re not hurting anyone with your love of Céline and your passion for her is infectious.” My celebrity worship is a huge part of my identity and a powerful source of emotional regulation for me. Anyone who knows me for any period of time learns to associate me with Céline Dion. At first, it may seem silly or over the top, but they soon discover the depth of what my love for her provides both my adult self and my inner child. There’s nothing nefarious about my fandom and I don’t expect others to be as fond of her as I am. All I expect is a modicum of tolerance for the fact that she’s deeply important to me and that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. Enthusiasm is joyous and we could all use some more joy in our lives. Mine happens to be in the form of a tall, thin, Québécoise woman who is goofy, talented, adores her family, had a passionate love affair with her now-deceased husband, is humble and generous with her fans. She makes my heart and soul go on and on.

Originally published: May 17, 2021
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