With an altruistic cooking show, a beauty line challenging the stigmas surrounding mental health, and her political activism, Selena Gomez is more outspoken than ever – and she’s just getting started.
Selena Gomez moves easily in her spacious kitchen. She wears minimal makeup – although, sometimes, she’ll add a rouge lipstick that manages to highlight her facial features. Several cameras have been placed at every angle in her kitchen to get personal shots. There are no directors, camera operators, or makeup artists. Selena + Chef, her HBO Max cooking show, was launched in mid-2020 during the pandemic. In it, the actor, singer, producer, and entrepreneur talks with various chefs and learns (and teaches the audience) how to cook. Then she donates US $10 000 to a charitable cause. And that’s where the real Gomez comes into play.
“Make sure to pick up the phone and call them often,” is her advice for families who have been forced to live apart because of Covid-19. “We have to make sure to check on not only our family but our friends too,” she continues. “People are feeling lonely and isolated out there, and a simple check-in to ask how you are doing goes a long way.” This issue is incredibly personal to Gomez. Her career began at the age of 10 with a role in the children’s show Barney & Friends, followed by five years on the Disney show Wizards of Waverly Place. However, medical diagnoses such as lupus – an autoimmune disease she was diagnosed with in 2013, which led to a kidney transplant in 2017 – as well as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder, have followed her throughout her career, providing her with a different perspective.
The 28-year-old star has consistently used her voice and platform as one of the most popular people on Instagram – 195 million followers and counting – to highlight issues that are important to her. In 2020, when the Black Lives Matter movement was at its height in the US, she handed over her Instagram account to one of the founders of the movement with the intention of not only educating her followers but also herself. Her activism has grown throughout the years, she says. “It might have been challenging when I was younger because, quite frankly, I was finding my own voice and trying to sort out who I was and what my beliefs were. As I’ve found my voice, I do feel it’s a responsibility to use my platform in a meaningful way,” she shares. This is also prevalent in her projects as a producer, where she focuses on the dangers and pressures facing vulnerable young people. In 2017, she was an executive producer of 13 Reasons Why, the controversial Netflix show for teens tackling suicide and mental health. Two years later, she was one of the executive producers of Living Undocumented, a Netflix documentary series that follows eight undocumented immigrant families in the US. At that time, she wrote for Time magazine that “As a Mexican-American woman I feel a responsibility to use my platform to be a voice for people who are too afraid to speak.”
She also speaks up for herself. When she took time out a few years ago to deal with her health complications, the industry and her fans were left wondering where she was. Her response was one of introspection. Now, she has become a strong advocate for mental health. And as evidence, at the beginning of 2020, she launched her cosmetic company: Rare Beauty. “From the beginning when I started conversations about creating a cosmetics company, it was important to me that it would be more than a beauty brand. I knew mental health would be at the forefront of our purpose. I have been open with my own personal mental health struggles and have seen myself affected by feeling less than. Through my openness, I have heard from many young people over the years struggling as well, and so this is something close to my heart. I hope that we can empower the Rare Beauty community to challenge beauty norms by shaping positive conversations about self-acceptance and mental health,”she says. And as much as social media is a tool and empowerment, she also understands when to step away. That is why, she says, “Rare Beauty’s vision is to create a safe, welcoming space that supports mental wellbeing across age, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, cultural background, physical or mental ability, and perspective. We’re also making sure that inclusivity is always top of mind as we’re developing our products. That’s why we decided we needed to launch with no fewer than 48 shades of foundation and concealer. I wanted to make sure everyone who is part of the Rare Beauty community feels represented.”
However, her vision doesn’t end there. Gomez also recently launched the Rare Impact Fund, which will work to reduce the stigma around mental health issues. “We want to address the epidemic of chronic loneliness and give people access to the resources they need to support their mental wellbeing. Our goal is to raise $100 million over the next 10 years to help connect people with access to mental health services, with a focus on underserved communities.” To achieve this, an internal council comprising leaders and practitioners from the fields of mental health, philanthropy, entertainment, media, academia, and beauty will help guide its long-term strategy.
When Gomez says that 2020 has been a great year for her, she is right. The Texan-born woman, a grandchild of Mexican migrants, seems to have figured out her purpose. She’s open about her pride in her Mexican heritage, recalling how her aunt and grandparents crossed the border between Mexico and the US hiding in the back of a truck. “Family is everything to me. I am extremely close to my family, my grandparents live with me and I wouldn’t have that any other way. In my family, we fight hard and we love even harder. I always love when people say your friends are the family you choose but your family is the family you are stuck with and I think sometimes that brings other challenges but also, at the same time, it brings a sense of history and connection that cannot be replicated.”
When asked what role she sees herself taking on, she shares, “That’s the thing, we are all shaped by circumstances, and I am not sure what the future will be, as the evolution of our lives isn’t predictable. What I do hope is that I continue to be curious about life, challenge myself and learn from my mistakes – of which there will be plenty.”
Originally published in the January 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia