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How Selena Gomez Became the Perfectly Imperfect Celebrity

This morning, Selena Gomez announced via Instagram that she’s currently recovering from a kidney transplant, which was gifted to her by her best friend. After acknowledging she’d been laying low this summer, despite releasing new music she was proud of (which I, too, am personally proud of), she shared the following:

“I honestly look forward to sharing with you, soon my journey through these past several months as I have always wanted to do with you. Until then I want to publicly thank my family and incredible team of doctors for everything they have done for me prior to and post-surgery. And finally, there aren’t words to describe how I can possibly thank my beautiful friend Francia Raisa. She gave me the ultimate gift and sacrifice by donating her kidney to me. I am incredibly blessed. I love you so much sis. Lupus continues to be very misunderstood but progress is being made. For more information regarding Lupus please go to the Lupus Research Alliance website: www.lupusresearch.org/ -by grace through faith”

It’s an incredibly earnest and touching post; I’d expect no less from Selena at this point. When I publicly pondered how she became the most followed person on Instagram (and why), I was genuinely asking, and I got many answers.

“She’s the female Chauncey Gardiner of our time,” said one commenter, referencing a famous movie character who was kind and simple but consistently misunderstood to be more special and insightful than he truly was. “Elected to such a position bc she’s nothing unpleasant. Her persona equals the overwhelming average of everything consumerism has taught is right.” Others called her “America’s sweetheart” or “the girl next door.” Most circled a similar point: She’s just plain likable on an impossibly broad scale.

As I’ve marinaded on the cult of Selena, though, I’ve begun to see her likability as the mere foundation of her fame. To credit her rise to her adorable face and kill-’em-with-kindness personality is, I think, to grossly underestimate her staying power. There is something much larger at work. Selena Gomez just might be the perfect celebrity of our time, like something created in a lab, but who stands before us in earnest flesh and bone. To begin to grasp the magnitude of her multitudes, a little history:

Gomez was born in Grand Prairie, Texas on July 22, 1992 (1: is a millennial). Her parents named her after the beloved Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, the “Queen of Tejano music.” They divorced when she was five (2: is a child of divorce), and then it was mostly Selena and her mother, who had her at 16 (3: has a single teen mother). Gomez grew up Catholic, the religion with the second largest following in the world (4: is religious). As a child, her family struggled to make ends meet. “I remember my mom would run out of gas all of the time and we’d sit there and have to go through the car and get quarters and help her get gas,” she once told E! News (5: understands financial hardship).

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Seattle, WA @revivaltour

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In 2002, at 10 years old, she was cast as Gianna on Barney and Friends, a role she’d pursued after seeing her mother work as a stage actor (6: followed her dreams). After another five years of various cameos, she was cast in 2007 as Mikayla on Disney’s Hannah Montana, and soon after that, as the lead in Wizards of Waverly Place, which catapulted her to mainstream stardom (7: became a Disney star). Two years later, she released her first studio album with her band Selena Gomez & the Scene that featured the hit single “Who Says” — a song all about how you’re perfect as you are (8: has an uplifting brand). Three years later came her first solo album, Stars Dance, which debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart (9: makes catchy pop music). Over the next few years, she had an on-and-off again relationship with Justin Bieber, which was either adorable (on) or heartbreaking (off), and was immortalized in the song, “The Heart Wants What it Wants.” (10: lived out a public love story)

In 2015, Gomez confirmed she was diagnosed with lupus, cancelling her Stars Dance tour to undergo chemotherapy (11: has healthcare hardships). That same year, she was criticized by some for “gaining weight,” which she responded to by posting a bathing suit photo and saying she loved herself (12: is a champion of self-love).

In 2016, she canceled another leg of her tour, this time for her second solo album, Revival, due to Lupus complications, anxiety, panic attacks and depression (13: has mental health struggles). She checked into rehab to focus on her mental health, something she spoke about honestly and publicly (14: exhibits inspiring vulnerability).

At 17, Selena Gomez became the youngest UNICEF Ambassador ever (15: is a wunderkind). Here are some of the causes she’s done work for in the years since she got her start as an activist and philanthropist: helping sick childrenencouraging teenagers to voteeducation, nourishment and healthcare for impoverished childrendogs in Puerto Ricoconflict minerals and violence against Congolese womenconservation of the environmentpoverty in Chilewater sanitationsafe drivingyouth education. She’s also publicly supported causes like immigration, suicide-prevention, hurricane relief…the list would be longer than you’d care to read if I had time to finish it (16: is incredibly and genuinely charitable).

Today, she’s in the process of releasing an album (17: has consistent output), has a well-documented and adorable relationship with The Weeknd (18: has non-Disney cred), and, hot off the heels of a wildly successful campaign with Coca Cola in 2016 (19: has commercial cred), just released a bag with Coach (20: has fashion cred), and, oh, just got a kidney transplant from her best friend.

You could not plan this career by a PowerPoint deck if you tried. This is not success by manipulation of the market. Selena and fame are simply a match made in heaven. She has the earnestness, charisma and flair of an old Hollywood star, but the platform and authenticity of a new one. She’s an international star with humble beginnings, a down-to-earth girl with global appeal. She’s an idol, a spokesperson, a big sister, an artist. She’s both human and superhuman; relatable and otherworldly.

She doesn’t stand atop a treacherous, PR-spun pedestal, but one she built herself. Celebrity worship is a dangerous game, but it’s hard to conceive of someone more suited to play it.

Photo by Josiah Kamau/BuzzFoto via Getty Images.

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman is the Features Director at Man Repeller.

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