When Activism Goes Too Far

An overview of Demi Lovato’s recent controversy

In recent years, actress and singer-songwriter Demi Lovato has taken on the role of social activist as she openly spoke out about her struggle with substance abuse, eating disorders and LGBTQ+ issues. People praised Lovato for her vulnerability and willingness to talk about topics that most would consider to be very difficult to open up about. Upon the release of her documentary titled “Dancing With the Devil,” in which she depicted her battle with opioid addiction, she received additional support from fans and activists alike.

I salute people who use their platforms to spread awareness and their perspectives on certain issues, but there comes a point where this engagement can go too far. This is perfectly illustrated by the recent controversy involving Lovato that took place April 19. That day, the singer-songwriter posted several Instagram stories in which she shunned and criticized an LA-based frozen yogurt shop, claiming that it was “triggering” and “difficult” for her to be there due to her struggle with eating disorders. The culprit behind these feelings were the multitude of “diet” options that were present at the store, including sugar-free cookies and dairy-free/gluten-free yogurts. For some reason, Lovato saw these products as a personal attack. After plastering her Instagram story with multiple screenshots of her attacking the owner of the frozen yogurt shop, she proceeded to post an eight minute video on her Instagram with more complaints about the store. “I am very outspoken about the things that I believe in,” Lovato emphasized in the video. “I understand that sometimes my messaging can lose its meaning when I get emotional. I am human.” 

Upon posting the video, Lovato faced justifiable backlash as people spoke out about how she was ruining the reputation of a small business that is probably struggling to get by during the pandemic. Others, including people with medical conditions like diabetes and Celiac disease called her statements “absurd” and “ridiculous” and emphasized that having sugar and gluten-free options was important for them. Upon seeing that she wasn’t receiving the support and attention she was expecting, Lovato issued an apology video in which she claimed that it was never her intention to stir up drama with the small business and put them in a bad spotlight. “I’m sorry that I got the messaging wrong. I’m sorry that I may have disappointed some people,” she said, “but I’m not coming after a small business as someone with a lot of followers. That’s not what I’m doing.” Upon releasing the apology video, she promised to donate $100,000 to the business, which they say they never received

After carefully examining the situation, I have one thing to say to Demi: the world does not revolve around you. Having a mental illness does not put you in a position of authority to tell others what they should and should not be doing to cater to their customers. One must understand that the needs of other people are different from your needs. And that’s okay. We are all human beings with our own experiences, which will cause all of us to have different expectations of ourselves and others. Additionally, the world is not your trigger. Living with a mental illness or disorder is undoubtedly grueling, painful and difficult, but expecting the world to make accommodations just for you—especially strangers who have no idea what you have gone through—is not only unrealistic but also extremely self-centered. You are the only person responsible for your healing. It is not the world’s job to fit the mold of what you perceive to be acceptable or not. Because once again—your needs might be right for you, but they might cross the boundaries of others. For example, if the store was to comply with Demi’s obscene request to get rid of all their “diet” options, me, a woman who is vegan and has Celiac disease would no longer have anything to eat there. 

Before you call someone out for their offensive behavior, ask yourself two questions: is their behavior intentionally malicious, and what is the desired outcome of you confronting them? If someone intentionally made an insensitive comment, or said something downright hurtful, or purposely did something to exclude or belittle you, you have the right to express how you feel and go as far as you need to shine light on what went wrong. But if you are going out of your way to ridicule someone who genuinely did not mean to offend you or did not know the circumstances of the situation, don’t go there. There are better ways of civilly getting your point across. 

As someone who has struggled with an eating disorder for six years, I would’ve done the following in Demi’s shoes: politely thanked the owners for their time and left the store. The solution to her problem was that simple.