I came across this Rolling Stone article, featuring Paris Jackson, Michael Jackson’s daughter. I remember seeing images like this one, where she and her brother wore masks to hide their faces when they were out in public. It was an oddity compared to other celebrity children who got their own magazine covers and had their first photos auctioned off.
I was young and judgmental and assumed Michael Jackson was as crazy as the tabloids made him out to be. However, what did I know about being a parent in 2003? (Nothing.) What did I know about being a celebrity since childhood? (Definitely nothing.) The stories and the accusations were outrageous, but he lived such a different life from regular people that they seemed almost believable.
When he died in 2009, his memorial service was televised and that was the first time anyone ever saw Paris’s face. As she came out from behind her mask and stories from the family were shared, it painted Michael as a very caring father who did not want the celebrity exposure to his children. He wanted to shield them from the nastiness of the paparazzi and give them an opportunity to live a normal life and choose their own path. As a parent now, I can certainly respect that. He gifted them privacy in a way other celebs could not for their kids.
In 2014, Richard Simmons of Sweatin’ with the Oldies suddenly stopped showing up to his Slimmons fitness class that he’d taught for 40 years. His whole career was flashy and loud and jubilant. He wasn’t one to shy away from attention. When he cut off all communication with friends, rumors spread that his housekeeper was holding him hostage. It was a bizarre story of his public disappearance.
One of his students-turned-friends began a podcast called Missing Richard Simmons. In each episode, he discusses the theories to why Richard Simmons left the spotlight. Could it be his housekeeper? Depression? A devastating loss? Through interviews with other people who knew Richard intimately, you get a bit more perspective on his life and the relationships he developed with students and fans alike, which makes his disappearance all the more strange.
I know I’m not a celebrity and do not understand the pressures of the limelight. I have the luxury of going out in casual yoga pants, messy hair and no makeup without anyone ever blinking an eye. But, I can empathize with having to balance a public-facing persona and a private persona. We all do it. We all wear masks when we go to work or meet up with friends or see relatives at Thanksgiving. We want to hide our flaws and our insecurities and vulnerabilities.
For the last year and a half, I put my brave face on for others (especially people I didn’t know well) to hide the grief from my father’s death. For the first six months of teaching yoga, I put on my “authority” mask, while underneath, I hoped my students wouldn’t think I was talking out of my ass. (There are definitely still days I feel like that.)
These celebrity stories remind me that perhaps someone looking like they have it all together is maybe a hot mess underneath. And someone who looks like a hot mess on the outside is feeling completely calm and has their sh*t together on the inside. It’s neither my place to judge nor is it my place to assume what mask they choose to wear (or not wear) and why people wear them. Instead, I can be a fellow human and recognize we’re all on our own unique journeys, and there is a tenderness toward life’s pain that we share.