By Mackenna Cummings
Actress and singer Selena Gomez got her start at the age of nine on Barney and Friends and quickly rose as a Disney Channel star with the television show Wizards of Waverly Place, where she played a Latina-Italian middle daughter on the longest-running Disney channel show. But the young performer has moved far beyond her early days as a teen celebrity, and she’s using her rising status to bring awareness to issues she is passionate about.
Today, Gomez’s songs have reached millions in records sales, she has been nominated for several VMA awards, and she is the highest paid influencer on Instagram, a social media platform where her life, interests, and projects are shared with her astounding 124 million followers.
In September, TIME Magazine recognized Gomez for being the first person to reach 100 million followers on Instagram in its project TIME Firsts, which highlights women making a difference in the world. The singer is grateful for the platform and how it has allowed her to connect even more with her fans, but she also tries to connect with them strategically. She admits that she is thankful she never grew up with this type of social media, because feeling good about yourself is hard enough as a young adult without being so aware of what everyone around you is accomplishing. This is why Gomez attempts to share her mistakes and vulnerability on her account along with her accomplishments. “I hope that they know that strength doesn’t mean that you have to put on a facade. Strength is being vulnerable,” she said in the feature.
And she has made quite an impact through her social media and her efforts to be open and honest. At 25 years old, Gomez has one of the largest voices and has chosen to use it across underrepresented issues, such as awareness for autoimmune diseases and mental health, equality for the LGBT community, her Hispanic heritage, and empowering students to make a difference. She uses her social media platforms, particularly Instagram, to share about these passions and how people can make a difference every day.
She posts regularly from all aspects of her life to connect with fans and make a positive difference in the world, though she admits it’s not always easy to hope change can come. But her honesty and willingness to share so much is exactly why TIME Magazine has named her the “tastemaker,” emphasizing its belief that she is capable of bringing change through her social media.
The “Bad Liar” singer has opened up more about her own Lupus diagnosis and how that has affected her life and career over the years. While her diagnosis was nearly five years ago, upon canceling the end of her Revival tour last year, Gomez revealed more about her battle with Lupus while simultaneously showing her fans that it was more than OK to put yourself and your mental health above other obligations. She shared the difficult truths about the depression and social anxiety that often accompanies Lupus in an interview with Vogue, stating that checking into a treatment facility was the best thing she had ever done. Her reason behind sharing is not only for awareness and to raise money for research (her only birthday wish this past year) but to help remove the stigmas surrounding seeking help and getting therapy for important issues, particularly among women.
“We girls, we’re taught to be almost too resilient, to be strong and sexy and cool and laid-back; the girl who’s down,” she says. “We also need to feel allowed to fall apart.” While she was devastated to let down fans by canceling a portion of her tour, she is continuing to show her fans how to accept and seek out help when you need it.
The Revival tour also became a vehicle for Gomez to address other issues and passions, including her beliefs on the need for equality for the LGBT community and her identity as a Latina. In 2016, while many other performers were protesting the implementation of the HB2 law in North Carolina (a discriminatory law that targets the LGBT community particularly in regards to gender neutral restrooms) by canceling any concerts in the area, Gomez chose to keep her tour location in the state. She had her proceeds from the show go to an LGBT organization in protest against the law and was sure to include gender-neutral bathrooms at the venue, because making sure everyone felt welcome at her show was important.
Continuing this support, Gomez recently wrote an open love letter to the LGBT community stating her love and calling for more inclusivity and acceptance. Having grown up with a mother who was supportive of all love and people, she admits that she was lucky to have such a positive and early relationship with the LGBT community and hopes that this letter can help others love and support the community as well.
Gomez announced the Revival tour to her Instagram followers with a photo of herself wearing the sugar-skull style makeup associated with El Dia de los Muertos, a Mexican celebration of the dead. Her merchandise on the tour represented more of her Latin roots with a bomber jacket also in the style of El Dia de los Muertos and a shirt with the same font and coloring as the well-known Selena Quintanilla fan shirt. The singer had already addressed the fact that the two share a name earlier that year in a radio interview with Doug Lazy.
“My dad and mom were huge fans. My name was going to be Priscilla, but my cousin actually took the name when she was born six months before me. They actually loved her music, so they just named me after her.” In fact, the two have a lot in common as Gomez is a Mexican-American born and raised in Texas just as Quintanilla was. Gomez has credited Quintanilla as a role model and inspiration, recognizing that her success was key in the success of future Latina stars.
Aside from world tours and number one hit songs, Gomez continues to make headlines for her charitable work and partnerships with programs and fashion lines alike. She continuously donates to research for Lupus and encourages fans to do the same. For last five years, she has participated in WE Day, which encourages students and families to make a positive difference in their community from environmental change to promoting inclusivity in the workplace all by coming together. During the past two WE Day Movements, she has not only participated but also hosted. “It’s not just they want to help a specific community or want to go to a certain place in the world,” Gomez said about the program.
“They are encouraging kids from even in your backyard to be doing something for your community, for your neighborhood, for your family, for your friends. […] And I love that they’re celebrating all these kids and how hard they’re working…It’s beautiful.”
Most recently, Gomez has partnered with Coach as the new face of the lifestyle brand. But she has taken this partnership further by bringing awareness to and participating in Coach’s charity partner, “Step Up.” The charity works to give young women from under-resourced communities confidence and support to graduate from high school and attend colleges successfully.
After meeting with two young girls the program was working with, Gomez said, “Step Up’s mission to empower young women is personally important to me and something even more crucial in underserved communities. Working with the young women I met today was an inspirational experience I will never forget.”
And who better to mentor young women on empowerment than a young Latina who has not only held her own as a top selling artist and the star of her own television series, but also proved her skills on the business side of Hollywood as the executive producer to the Netflix drama 13 Reasons Why? The series was so successful that a second season is already cast and in the works.
In addition to her success in Hollywood, Gomez has risen up to be an influence for young Latinas everywhere and anyone struggling with illnesses and mental health. Her positivity and focus on changing the dialogue and stigma surrounding diseases and therapy has made a powerful impact on those with similar experiences. She continues to find unique ways to spread awareness and gain support on important issues, from tour proceeds going to organizations and research to meeting with and celebrating her fans. In fact, scattered throughout her impressive Instagram account, she posts photos of her with fans continuously expressing her gratitude for their love. She is inspiring her 24 million followers to celebrate Latin culture, seek gender and LGBT equality, contribute to community service, strive for success as students, and support medical research all with humility and grace.