It would be an understatement to say that the Grammys were eventful this year. Whether you were celebrating unsigned artist Chance the Rapper’s three wins or agonizing over the fact that Beyoncé was, quite frankly, robbed of album of the year—there was no shortage of discussion.
Beyoncé’s loss had a lot of people outraged about the obvious diversity issues at the Grammys. Outside of this, it was Katy Perry and her comments that further proved how the mainstream media have a lot to learn about intersectionality.
On the red carpet, when asked about her three-year break from music, Perry responded, “That’s called taking care of your mental health … I haven’t shaved my head yet.”
Later that night, when asked about her hair color, she said, “It's like the last color in the spectrum that I can do … I’ve done all of them and the only thing left to do is shave my head, which I'm really saving for a public breakdown.”
These head-shaving remarks are references to Britney Spears’ highly publicized mental breakdown in 2007 when she infamously shaved her head. Spears was rumored to have been dealing with severe substance abuse issues and other undisclosed mental health issues.
Aside from being unoriginal and making remarkably unfunny jokes, mocking Spears’ actions in 2007 is highly dangerous to people struggling with mental illness.
While the exact cause of Spears’ infamous head-shaving incident is unknown, any rumors or tabloid stories over the years have attributed it to serious substance abuse in combination with undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Either way, a neuro-typical person mocking someone’s mental health is upsetting and—unfortunately—common.
Perry’s remarks are indicative of the serious lack of regard for mental illness in our society. We love watching celebrities suffer. Substance abuse, eating disorders and any kind of behavior outside of the norm will sell. Perry’s jab, however, couldn’t come at a worse time, as the current political climate has many people with disabilities fearful for their lives.
The current presidential administration has already proven to be extremely harmful toward many marginalized groups. The disabled, however, are a group that are almost always overlooked. This could be attributed to the number of ways that disabilities can present themselves, but both mental and physical health are being ignored—and famously mocked—by President Donald Trump.
As Trump is in the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act, millions of people will be stripped of their healthcare. A key component of the ACA is that it offers coverage for mental health and substance abuse treatment.
Repealing this act would mean that private insurers would not have to include coverage for mental health treatment. This can all be attributed to the fact that mental health issues are still largely stigmatized and often viewed as individual weaknesses rather than legitimate disabilities.
While Perry’s comment may seem completely removed from this vast, overarching issue, words matter. By mocking Spears’ actions, she is downplaying a serious mental health crisis at a time when the availability of psychiatric health care is at risk.
Not only is she continuing to remind the public of an extremely dark time for Spears after her years of recovery, Perry is suggesting that Spears’ actions were easily avoidable and controllable.
These are ideas that need to be actively combatted and critiqued, as people with mental illness continue to struggle to find legitimate and comprehensive treatment.