I’ve been wondering what makes some disorders sexy and worth confessing while other remain embarrassing and permanently in the closet. It’s ok to be bulimic, for example, even though that conjures up horrible images and smells but you won’t hear Christine Quinn come out about her hemorrhoids or bunions. All sorts of addictions are “in” - drugs, alcohol, sex, compulsive shopping - even shoplifting, but ulcers, diabetes, psoriasis, emphysema, gum disease, irritable bowel syndrome - you can’t find any public figure admitting to one of those.
Does it take a celebrity to make a disease cool? Will Angelina stimulate thousands of first-person narratives in the Sunday Times about breast cancer and reconstructive surgery? Will Catherine Zeta Jones do the same for bi-polar disorder? Wouldn’t it be great if Sofia Vergara admitted that behind those white picket fence teeth was a swamp of halitosis? Of if Meryl turned hot flashes into the next jump on me bandwagon? A while back, June Allyson touted adult diapers but that never caught on because no one under 70 knew her or had that problem and no one over 70 remembered her or cared.
What if everyone stopped spilling their beans and realized that one of the reasons for Mona Lisa’s popularity is her mystery - why is she smiling, who’s she thinking about, is she dying to finish the pose and pee, is she really a guy named Leonardo? She never told, nor did her painter and she’s kept us coming back to her for centuries. The Naked Maja revealed some of her parts but nothing that was less than perfect - no rashes, warts, cysts, cellulite or carbuncles mar her image. Venus de Milo didn’t intend for us to see her amputated arms - she posed for the sculptor on a good hair day with her breasts standing at attention and her tummy tucked in. We know these women must have had their aches and pains, their PMS, crotch itch, flaky skin in summer - but they didn’t want to dwell on those downers. They preferred to spend their oiled and marbled lives with lasting dignity.
An argument can be made that it’s helpful to other victims of cancer to see a beautiful role model show that losing her breasts hasn’t changed her billionaire life-style and that her movie star partner still adores her. I’m not sure what Christine Quinn gains by revealing her unsavory past addictions - that she’s conquered them? Since it’s all self-reporting, how can we tell? Is it better to elect a mayor who claims she was once a person who couldn’t handle food or drink but now has substituted political ambition and a gay wife for twinkies and booze? How about picking the person who never lost control to begin with? Do you rev up your winner points if you were formerly a loser? Do people identify with you more if you used to be a mess but lost weight, got a better haircut and cleaned up in time for Election Day? Don’t we see how manipulated we’ve been by television’s daily stream of makeover shows and gurus like Dr. Phil purporting to turn miscreants around in the time slot of a talk show and encouraging the confessional miasma that dominates daytime t.v.
Despite the personality that he played on his successful sit-com, Jerry Seinfeld is a celebrity who knows how to keep his private parts to himself. I have no idea what illnesses he’s suffered, what traumas beset him as a child, whether he acted out in adolescence and what his relationship is to addictive substances. I know he likes caffeine. He seems to be a well-adjusted citizen who chooses to trade off his talent rather than his frailties or inner demons. I’d like to thank him for that and suggest that he become the role model for a generation that mistakes its sexual choices, its diseases and its misdemeanors for commendable badges of honor. They’re not.
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