What happens when a meme gets deep.
Britney's shaved head. Lindsay passed out in her SUV. Kim Kardashian's bloated pregnant ankles in strappy sandals. Why do bad photos of celebrities fill so many people with measurable glee?
Yesterday a Facebook account started circulating a meme about actor and writer Wentworth Miller. It was typical meme stuff — a before and after of a celebrity showing how their appearance has changed. In this case, it's a promo picture of Miller from his time starring on "Prison Break" alongside a candid "walking shot" of him years later. He's noticeably heavier and, together with a McDonald's joke, that's the punchline. See, he's fat now! He wasn't before! Cue the laughter.
It's the kind of body-shaming story about a celebrity found on the Internet every single day — and it's so common that most of the time the celebrities don't even bother responding.
But this time was different. The celebrity responded, openly and honestly. And it was riveting.
Here's the full text of Miller's post:
"Today I found myself the subject of an Internet meme. Not for the first time.
This one, however, stands out from the rest.
In 2010, semi-retired from acting, I was keeping a low-profile for a number of reasons.
First and foremost, I was suicidal.
This is a subject I've since written about, spoken about, shared about.
But at the time I suffered in silence. As so many do. The extent of my struggle known to very, very few.
Ashamed and in pain, I considered myself damaged goods. And the voices in my head urged me down the path to self-destruction. Not for the first time.
I've struggled with depression since childhood. It's a battle that's cost me time, opportunities, relationships, and a thousand sleepless nights.
In 2010, at the lowest point in my adult life, I was looking everywhere for relief/comfort/distraction. And I turned to food. It could have been anything. Drugs. Alcohol. Sex. But eating became the one thing I could look forward to. Count on to get me through. There were stretches when the highlight of my week was a favorite meal and a new episode of TOP CHEF. Sometimes that was enough. Had to be.
And I put on weight. Big f--king deal.
One day, out for a hike in Los Angeles with a friend, we crossed paths with a film crew shooting a reality show. Unbeknownst to me, paparazzi were circling. They took my picture, and the photos were published alongside images of me from another time in my career. "Hunk To Chunk." "Fit To Flab." Etc.
My mother has one of those "friends" who's always the first to bring you bad news. They clipped one of these articles from a popular national magazine and mailed it to her. She called me, concerned. In 2010, fighting for my mental health, it was the last thing I needed.
Long story short, I survived.
So do those pictures.
Now, when I see that image of me in my red t-shirt, a rare smile on my face, I am reminded of my struggle. My endurance and my perseverance in the face of all kinds of demons. Some within. Some without.
Like a dandelion up through the pavement, I persist.
Anyway. Still. Despite.
The first time I saw this meme pop up in my social media feed, I have to admit, it hurt to breathe. But as with everything in life, I get to assign meaning. And the meaning I assign to this/my image is Strength. Healing. Forgiveness.
Of myself and others.
If you or someone you know is struggling, help is available. Reach out. Text. Send an email. Pick up the phone. Someone cares. They're waiting to hear from you. Much love. — W.M."
This isn't the first time Miller has spoken publicly about his depression.
After coming out in 2013, he started speaking publicly and writing regularly about his mental health issues. In a Facebook post from last year he acknowledged that depression started for him when he was 10 years old, that he first attempted suicide at 15, and that his last bout of serious depression occurred four years previously — during the time this photo was taken. "Of all my close friends," he writes, "I've known depression the longest."
Miller's story is a reminder of how paparazzi photos rob celebrities of their ability to tell their own stories.
From the moment the shutter clicks to when the photo is posted online, someone else is telling the story of the celebrity in the picture. Often, that story involves shaming or ridicule. And, for many of us, it is easier to laugh than to consider what's really happening to make a person look and act the way they do.
That's why this moment with Miller is so unique: It's not his honesty that's so surprising, although that's amazing in and of itself. Instead, it's the rarity of a celebrity reclaiming his own story — and telling it the way he wants it to be told.
It was brave for Miller to admit to himself that he was in pain and suicidal, brave for him to make it through his struggle and come out whole again on the other side. But it was bravest of all for him to take back his power, to confront the people laughing at him during his lowest time, and to share the story of the human life, and struggle, behind the photo.