I contend that guilt is a social construct, that it's a generally unfruitful emotion and serves no real purpose other than to hold you back from growth. A lot of people object with me on this, and, in the wake of making life-altering blunders (like, for one, sleeping with my ex's best friend when I was 22. Oops.), I've been told my fuck ups merit me to sit and simmer in my blame and shame.But when you hit rock bottom, all you can do is fix the situation, make positive changes to yourself, and come out the other end. The purpose of life, to me, is to help (in whatever way you can) make the world a more positive place, based on your prior fuck ups.
If you're aware of your privilege and the platform you may have—like Gigi Hadid so eloquently points out in her new Vogue Australia interview—why bother feeling guilty if you're rich? Unless... you're not using your voice or your platform for much, and you're cognizant of it. In a recent interview with the UK Mirror, another celebrity, Catherine Zeta-Jones, announces something I sincerely find sexy: "One thing I’m not is humble anymore. I’m sick of being humble. I really am...So sorry I’m rich, so sorry I’m married to a movie star, so sorry I’m not so bad looking." She proceeded to set the record straight: "No sorrys. Enough...All that is important to me now is my work."
But she is speaking to a larger conversation that should be had: Successful women are almost always required to be men's calculated fantasies of "cool girls" in virtually every industry. In sports media, women are supposed to be hot, beer swiggin' and "one of the guys;" in journalism women are thought to be frumpy, unstylish, glasses-laden hags (and boy, does it confuse people when they're not), and in comedy, women are expected to take away from their appearances in order to put their comedy at the forefront—essentially making themselves "uglier" so they'll be taken seriously. And women in tech, well, there's a reason so many articles come out when an attractive woman invents something. Women, I guess, are window-dressing, while men can look disheveled, unkempt, and even appear on the verge of death in literally every office space and no one bats an eye.
What I don't understand is this: Zeta-Jones is a nearly-retired Hollywood star. Yes, she's as hot as ever, and, yes, she was in Zorro once, as well as the star of 2017's Cocaine Grandma about the infamous drug-lord Griselda Blanco. But she's a famous actress, who has had a long, prosperous career (and marriage). Successful actresses, who see longevity in their jobs are supposed to be shamelessly hot. Receiving praise in spite of your privilege or good looks is another matter, though (take Angelina Jolie’s enduring activism, for instance).
But, after a quick google search that took two opposable thumbs and a pulse to complete (something I'd recommend to all doing bare minimum research before clapping back), I've found Zeta-Jones frequently donates, supports and upkeeps charities, including Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, Elton John AIDS Foundation, Global Missing Children's Network, National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Worldwide Orphans Foundation and more. Okay. Got it. So, this is the "work" Catherine was referring to. Bravo! She's even received a Royal Honor from Prince Charles for her charity work. So, please, Miss Zeta-Jones, you have earned the right to never again be humble in your life.
This talk of privilege brings me back to Hadid's very recent chat with Vogue Australia, in which she states: "I know I come from privilege, so when I started there was this big guilt of privilege, obviously ... I've always had this big work ethic, because my parents came from nothing and I worked hard to honor them." This is an intolerably atypical response to privilege from an utterly white-passing celebrity who's been granted tremendous opportunity, able to break into the modeling industry because of her parent's fortune and fame.
Gigi shouldn't have to feel guilty. She can't help where she came from, and I don't think anyone expects her to up and denounce her parent's monetary assistance. Hey, who would? But while Zeta-Jones was asserting that she's tired of apologizing because she does philanthropy with her privilege—Hadid is simply stating she's felt blameworthy in the past and using the 'ol "my parents taught me work ethic" shtick. And she hasn't done much humanitarianism herself.
If I can make a difference helping women and minorities with my voice online, a lot of celebrities need to stand up, too.
Hadid also professed in Vogue that, "There are so many girls who come [from] all over the world and work their asses off and send money home to their families like my mother did, and I wanted to stand next to them backstage and for them to look at me and respect me and to know that it's never about me trying to overshadow or take their place." She's right. She's a top model who, and all things considered, didn't have to work very hard to achieve it. And here's the thing: Hadid is a top model (there's, like, nine of those in existence) with over 41 million Instagram followers and over 9 million Twitter followers. She has infinitely more impact over people's thoughts than Zeta-Jones. Hadid is one of the hottest, most photographed celebrities in the world, along with her sister Bella. So what has Hadid done with her privilege? Maybe she feels guilty because she's not doing much at all.
She's designed a shoe or two for charity. And auctioned off some… pottery? She's worn t-shirts for charity. But she's retweeted infographics, findings, article clippings and clap-backs, to help bring light to political problems. Recently, she tried out some classic celebrity-political apathy, tweeting, "You’ll all see whatever side you want. My intent is never to further separate groups in hatred—I live my life loving everyone regardless of religion/race. So I will say again for the last time, I’m not anti-anyone. I am only pro- coexistence. That is all. #freepalestine."
I'm sorry, what? You can't be "not anti-anyone" and also pro Palestine. You can't NOT intend to further separate groups in hatred when dead bodies are littering the road of a homeland. What's worse than that—she took back her tweet less than a day later, stating she's just going to keep her opinions to herself from now on. Okay, well that’s kind of passive aggressive. Apologies, that's not how activism works.Gigi, you've got the privilege and a platform. You have a real voice. Your fans depend on you. And when you speak, you're helping people change their attitudes and perspectives every time you tweet an opinion about a real-world issue and don't back down. And you just feed the trolls who want to invalidate you when you retreat.
Something about me most people don't know is that I also come from a place of heightened privilege. So, I will gladly pay the full $300 for my therapy sessions instead of pretending I need a sliding-scale because I'm aware that people desperately need affordable therapy, and I can afford to pay in full. I donate to charities and GoFundMe, and I don't boast about it online for brownie points. I mentor young women. I hope all privileged people do these things. I was also a stripper for fun once so, hey, the apple sometimes does fall a lil bit further from the tree.
But I don't mention my upbringing or brag about it, nor do I feel guilty and that's because I rightfully require myself to do better, to give back, to not be selfish. And, just like Gigi can—if she wants to—I clickety-clack all day on my Twitter account standing up for those who don't have platforms of their own and forcing people with larger platforms to recognize my words. I diligently fight for women and marginalized people online and refuse to be silenced or to back down, no matter how often I'm trolled, fucked with, or violently threatened by men.
The internet is one way to use your innate privilege, when, like both myself and Hadid, your biological father has an Eastern name but you're white as shit. When I'm using my opportunity to elevate marginalized people and their voices, I don't feel guilty. I feel like it's my duty. I do what I believe is required of me as a person of opportunity. It's the least I can do, and if my paltry ass can try and do the bare minimum, so can the one percent. If I can make a difference helping women and minorities with my voice online, a lot of celebrities need to stand up, too. It's not hard. Just turn those Twitter filters the fuck on and get those Twitter fingers in gear. Tweet from the heart and don't read the replies. Never, ever, ever read the responses! I believe passivity and lack of conviction is the greatest violence, and if you’re a globally popular celebrity, I expect you to bring neither to the table.
Gigi did, however, in the same Vogue article, declare she's striving to "better herself" and that that's her current motivation. And in the last few days (meaning today), since her interview dropped, it appears she's conceivably found the resolution to do some good, penning an explicitly stated Instagram comment about the devastatingly grim separation of children from their families on the Texas border. She then re-posted it on Twitter for her fans to see she does mean business, and is trying to do better, and be more vocal. Now, this is a reminder of how to use your privilege. Well, as long as she doesn't take the whole thing back by tomorrow.
She’s no Chrissy Teigen, who consistently uses she and her husband’s platform to effectively drive change, but If Hadid she keeps this up, she can pull a Catherine Zeta-Jones on my ass right now.