The Public I: How Much Should Celebrities Declare?
With more access to celebrity culture than ever before, how much personal information should those in the spotlight really share?
With social media at our disposal, we all have greater access to celebrity-dom than ever before. With a few clicks and views, we can keep up with who’s married to who, who’s not anymore, whose diets are working, and which one we think is a fad - we’re all a little nosy let’s be honest, but should there be a cut off point?
I remember sitting viewing X Factor back in 2010, watching new boy-band that Simon Cowell strung together, which was named ‘One Direction’. The 1D boys were extremely popular, singing songs like That’s What Makes You Beautiful and Best Song Ever, but to our disappointment, they eventually called it quits in 2016. One band member however, went on to be bigger than he was previously, becoming a huge solo-artist and ‘most popular male pop stars on the planet’ according to officialcharts.com, an official charts website. His name is, of course, Harry Styles.
But with greater fame comes greater scrutiny. With the progression of his solo career, some would say that he has come into his own, but others are not so pleased. Although much loved, Styles has also been accused of ‘queerbating’.
What is queerbaiting and why might it be a problem?
According to Oxford Languages, queerbaiting is ‘a means of appealing to gay and bisexual audiences while maintaining ambiguity about the characters' sexuality’. According to Colleen Murphy, writing for health queerbaiting‘will draw in LGBTQ+ people with the promise that there's going to be positive queer representation (the bait), but then they never fulfill that representation (the switch)’. Through queerbating, Styles can arguably profit off appearing queer without having to endure the stigma of actually identifying with the label. New York Times Editorial Assistant Anna Marks said ‘the pop star has "fashioned himself an ambiguous icon, without touching the messy, unlikable politics of claiming a public label.”
Photo: Lily Redman
However, maybe there is an argument against the idea of queerbating. Perhaps people, whether they be celebrities or not, should not feel pressure to identify as a specific label if they don’t want to. A person’s identity can be sensitive and they might not feel like airing it to the world. The reality of self-identification is a nuanced topic, and we are often working on presumptions when we accuse someone of queerbaiting. In fiction, it’s not so make-or-break, you can speculate as to whether your favourite characters identify as queer or not and it’s pretty harmless, but when there are real people involved it can get a little tricky. Due to greater social media usage, it's easier to feel like you know the celebrity and form a para-social relationship (a one-sided relationship), where you know details about the person as if they are an acquaintance or friend. But should Harry Styles’ personal life be up for public consumption?
I spoke to trans-activist, Jay, to get his thoughts on the phenomenon of queerbaiting, as someone who identifies as bi man?
Jay said; ‘I think queerbating can be damaging, but not necessarily all the time because sometimes the queer community can read into things. Although if you’re expressing yourself, that’s absolutely fine; when you’re bringing others in, that’s where the line crosses. For example, when Harry Styles kissed Lewis Capaldi at the 2023 BRIT Awards, I thought that was a bit too far, but at the end of the day he’s never said he’s straight so it’s a bit of a blurred line’.
‘it’s a bit of a blurred line’
Styles called the accusations of queerbaiting ‘outdated’, arguing ‘I’ve been really open with it with my friends, but that’s my personal experience; it’s mine’.
Other famous faces have also received a backlash for presenting themselves in a certain way which could be misleading.
Queens of controversy, the Kardashians, have received scrutiny for their alleged use of diabetes drug Ozempic, for extreme weight loss. Khloe Kardashian since retorted ‘I get up 5 days a week at 6 A.M. to train, please stop with your assumptions.’
Although, if everyone had the amount of money and time, and a personal nutritionist and a personal trainer, wouldn’t we all Khloe? The Kardashians have notoriously been hounded for having and presenting an unattainable standard of beauty. In an interview, the sisters were asked whether they did promote toxic beauty standards and the responses were pretty astounding. Kim said, ‘no, I don’t, we get up, we do the work’ and Kendal chips in saying ‘we all enjoy looking after ourselves and being healthy, so if anything the thing we are really trying to represent is being the most healthy version of yourself.’
‘we get up, we do the work’
I spoke to Naledi Ushe and celebrity and entertainment reporter for USA Today, to get her thoughts. She explained her stance on this debate on the issue of celebrities revealing personal details.
Naledi said; ‘I don't think celebrities have to be completely transparent. But for example, you brought up Ozempic, I think there is an amount of responsibility that comes with being a celebrity, obviously. So if you’re taking something for weight loss, but it's not for weight loss, and it's having real consequences for example, at least in the US, like there's a lack of availability now for Ozempic, for real diabetics, therefore, it's driving the price up.’
She continued, there should be transparency about how you're achieving your body goals for one, and then also the products that you're using, because they have real-life implications on other people’.
The topic of disclosing one’s identity in the public eye remains ever contentious and hard to tackle, but in a world where the personal is almost the public, where do you draw the line?