Why Kesha Matters
I woke up with glitter in my bed. There was glitter on my pillow, in my sheets, and strewn about the carpet. I raised my arm to the morning light and it shimmered violently, the result of my overindulgent makeup application. My hair was blue and purple and red and in a state of impressive messiness, and my legs were sore from dancing. Kesha would be proud.
The night before, I had gone to my first Kesha concert, one of the few live pop shows I've ever attended. One of my housemates bought us tickets as a going-away present before my move from the District. We'd been playing "Rainbow" nonstop since it dropped, and we knew all the words to every song. She surprised me with the tickets on August 12th, when I was a wreck over what was happening in Charlottesville, and I grew teary-eyed at the generosity of the gift. I listened to the album over and over - on long runs, dancing around my house, driving through the Iowa prairie with one of my best friends - and what I felt, again and again, was an overwhelming sense of empowerment.
If you follow the news, then you know that the last few years have been hell for Kesha. Before "Rainbow," she hadn't released any new music for five years. Her silence grew not because she wasn’t writing music, but because she was locked in a legal battle with her abuser and former music producer Dr. Luke. (I don't say "alleged abuser" because I believe survivors and because the false reporting rate of sexual assault is 2%, about the same for other felonies.) She was "forced into a comeback story" that should never have happened but that she has navigated with grace and steel nonetheless. Having experienced an emotionally abusive relationship, I can empathize with that part of her history in certain ways, though my situation pales in comparison. Where I truly see myself in Kesha's story, however, is in her eating disorder recovery.
In January 2014, news broke that Kesha had checked herself into an inpatient care center for her eating disorder. I was vaguely aware of it at the time, but I didn't care much more than I do about other public figures' private business, which is very little. Already several years into my own recovery, I recall a fleeting moment of happiness that she was getting treatment. Then the moment passed. I didn't look at the tabloids any closer, because I learned early on that the ways in which the media writes about eating disorders tend to be triggering and painful for survivors.
Then she emerged from the treatment center, and, later that same year, filed suit against Dr. Luke. I started paying closer attention. I watched, read, and winced as she was bodyshamed again and again. I'm not going to repeat the comments here or link to them due to their toxicity, but a quick Google search revealed enough to make me want to throw my laptop across the room.
As someone navigating her own recovery, I felt the sting of these comments personally. I have always had thin privilege and still do, but I needed to regain a significant amount of weight during my early months of recovery. No one tells you how difficult the refeeding process will be until you start treatment. Eating disorders damage your metabolism, and when I started eating again, mine went haywire. I was nauseous and uncomfortable a lot of the time. I had frequent night sweats, a common indicator of hypermetabolism resulting from an increase in food intake. I wasn't allowed to so much as look at my running shoes, let alone go anywhere near a gym, so I missed the endorphins from regular exercise. And those are just a few of the physical symptoms. The hardest work happened in my own mind. Every time someone praised my sickly body for its thinness, my eating disorder cheered. Conversely, when I began to restore my weight, those compliments disappeared. They were replaced by looks of concern, furrowed brows, raised eyebrows as I ordered a milkshake, incredulous exclamations of "I wish I could eat that!" and so many other subtle admonitions. The message to me was clear: look too sick, and people will worry about your body; look just sick enough, and people will want it. My weight has always remained in the socially acceptable range, to be sure, but there was something about watching me gain weight that made people deeply uncomfortable. From that discomfort springs a desire, particularly from men, to control us, to rule our bodies again, and so society enacts these norms in public forums and upon the bodies of celebrity figures like Kesha.
It took every ounce of strength I had to ignore others' attempts to subordinate my body. I knew all too well how I could do it myself, and so I was fighting twin demons of my own eating disorder and the encouragement it received from the people around me. I can only imagine what Kesha endured, given how many eyes were on her. When I read her raw, emotionally brutal account of her inpatient treatment, my jaw dropped, because I know exactly what kind of courage that took. A few years into recovery, I could barely stare down the Starbucks barista when I ordered extra whipped cream, let alone pen a public account of my eating disorder that millions of people would read. Our stories are different, and she is perhaps much braver than I am, but they share the basic elements of all eating disorder journeys: pain, suffering, isolation, fear, depression, and misery. I saw myself so clearly in her illness, and I want to see myself in her triumph over it.
This is why seeing Kesha perform mattered to me. Knowing that a person has been through hell and then seeing them kick ass onstage, happy and radiant, is a singularly beautiful experience. Knowing that the person, in some small way, represents who you could be - that's fucking pure gold.