Selena Gomez has led a tumultuous life in front of cameras. As with so many other child stars, she battled through growing up and reshaping her public image, forming adult relationships and living an imperfect existence after modelling perfection in tween-world for so long. Her new documentary My Mind & Me is the first time we’ve really peeked behind the veil of Gomez’s public persona to understand what’s really been going on, and the biggest moments were – surprisingly to some – not related to her on/off relationship with Justin Bieber.

Filmmaker Alek Keshishian is behind the My Mind & Me documentary, now airing on Apple TV+, a film six years in the making. Originally pitched as a behind-the-scenes look at Gomez’s 2016 tour, Keshishian has evolved the documentary into a winding tale of highs and lows as Gomez battled health crises and the cost of fame.

Gomez was in good hands – Keshishian was famously behind Madonna’s groundbreaking documentary Madonna: Truth Or Dare back in 1991. It was one of the first documentaries to focus more on life backstage, away from the public eye – something that’s common practice in celebrity documentaries today.

Those anticipating juicy revelations about Gomez’s fractious relationship with ex Justin Bieber will be disappointed – ever a classy woman, the singer brushes over this period of her life and focuses instead on her mental and emotional state as one of the world’s most famous people. Still, there are plenty of raw revelations to be found.

The Brutal Reality Of Selena Gomez’s Experience With Lupus

Gomez shows us the raw reality of life with chronic illness. Image: Apple TV+

For anyone who doesn’t completely understand the impact of chronic pain, watching Selena Gomez go through rounds of treatment and constant battle with lupus, which the star was diagnosed with in the early 2010s, is eye-opening.

Gomez has long spoken candidly about her health problems in an effort to bring awareness to chronic illness. But watching the singer actually go through painful treatments brings a new level of empathy. This isn’t just a background, mild pain Gomez has been carrying with her – it completely overtakes her life at its peaks, and while she goes into remission in 2019, by 2020 she’s back in hospital.

The Real Reason For Her ‘Revival’ Tour Cancellation

We knew that Selena Gomez had cancelled her Revival tour after 55 performances, with the Europe and Latin America leg cancelled abruptly in late 2016, because of mental health reasons. What we didn’t know was that Gomez was at rock bottom – in My Mind & Me, we find out that she was suicidal and had actually had a psychosis episode, which those around her say turned her “unrecognisable”.

At this point in time Selena Gomez was at the height of her fame – she was the most followed person on Instagram with over 100 million fans, and her transition from child star to adult talent had been secured thanks to the Revival album, which carried hits like ‘Good For You’ and ‘Hands To Myself’. Stepping away from Hollywood was, at the time, a shock for many. We now understand that for Gomez, it was life-saving.

The Relentless Work That Goes Into Being A Star

Selena Gomez has been working relentlessly since she was seven years old, when she moved from Texas to LA to pursue an acting career. Cast in Barney & Friends, Gomez says that from that moment “I never stopped, I just kept going.”

Gomez calls child actor life “lonely”, with touring making it worse. You can see as she discusses it that she did not enjoy this period of her life at all – she loved performing, but struggled with the weight of fame.

She realised later on when she went into treatment for her mental health that growing up with such a demanding career meant she lost a lot of connection with friends and family. It feels like 2022 is a pivotal moment for child acting and the actual realities of it – iCarly star Jennette McCurdy’s memoir I’m Glad My Mom Died has also sparked criticism over the demands we put on very young stars, and the resulting impact on their mental health.

Gomez’s Mum Learned About Her Breakdown Via TMZ

The intrusiveness of the media is definitely a focus of My Mind & Me, and it doesn’t get more apparent than when Gomez’s mother Mandy tells us she learned that Selena experienced a breakdown in hospital after being admitted for kidney-related issues after her transplant – via TMZ.

It’s difficult viewing to watch Mandy Gomez tell us she found out via the celebrity news site. She says that at that point, Selena wasn’t speaking to her, so the news hit even harder. It’s equally as confronting to watch the paparazzi harassing Selena relentlessly throughout the documentary about her health, Justin Bieber, and her lifestyle.

Perfectionism Was A Warning Sign

selena gomez
Months before her psychosis episode, Gomez was inconsolable about her Revival tour performance. Image: Apple TV+

One of the most talked-about scenes in My Mind & Me has been a moment when Selena Gomez breaks down backstage over her Revival show, inconsolable over it not being perfect. Her fixation on perfection is something we’ve seen from many revealing documentaries over the years – Taylor Swift’s revelation in Miss Americana that she was suffering from disordered eating at the height of her fame coming to mind. Then, Swift was channelling her anxiety around fame and the public eye into her body. Here, we see Gomez doing the same but with her show.

This moment lands at a pivotal time for Gomez. She’s recently split from Justin Bieber for the last time, so media scrutiny was at its height. Within a year, she would be in a treatment facility after her psychosis episode.

Do We Ask Too Much Of Celebrities?

The takeaway that sticks most is one that we’re seeing more and more via celebrity documentaries and candid interviews – are we demanding too much from these people we idolise? In one scene of My Mind & Me, we watch Gomez at a meet and greet event, with fans clamouring for hugs and signed autographs – all while, as we know, the star is teetering on the edge of mental health.

It mirrors experiences covered in Miss Americana, in Katy Perry’s acclaimed documentary Part Of Me, and in recent conversations around celebrity as the rise of social media invites us even closer into their lives. Add on the all-consuming publicity tours – at one point we watch Gomez rush from interview to interview, turning it on and then emotionally collapsing in lifts and cars as her energy is drained – it’s a lot. At one point, Gomez says “am I a product?” The harsh reality is, she is.

Just because we connect with these people through music, performance and what they give us, does that entitle us to all of it? Seeing Gomez’s private battles makes the way we treat her publicly feel extra insensitive. Even the most well-meaning fans project onto her, taking what they want while forgetting that she has limited capacity. With so many celebrities getting real about the price of fame and their lived experience, the time for us to shift from treating them as commodities to empathy for their humanness is clearly now.

My Mind & Me is streaming now on Apple TV+.