Selena Gomez’s new single hasn’t even come out yet, but she’s already inviting controversy with some provocative promotional art.
The pop star has been teasing her song “Bad Liar” on Instagram all week ahead of its release on Thursday, with photos of lyrics written in lipstick on mirrors and video snippets of the single.
She took things one step further on Tuesday with a sepia-toned image of herself looking sullen while lying in bed with a yellow wristband that reads “RISK” and a bandaged forearm. Gomez also made the photo her new Twitter profile image.
Without any context surrounding when or why the photo was taken, some fans jumped to the conclusion that the image was touching upon issues of self-harm and suicide, shocking some and offending others.
Given Gomez’s latest project, “13 Reasons Why,” it’s not too far a stretch to imagine that she might incorporate this kind of imagery into her new music. The hit Netflix show, executive produced by the singer, focuses on a group of high school students left reeling after their classmate takes her own life. Gomez herself has drawn parallels between the characters in the series and her own personal struggles as of late.
Many critics, as well as experts in mental health fields, have accused the “13 Reasons Why” creators of trivializing and romanticizing these issues for the sake of a compelling story. Netflix even responded the the backlash by adding new trigger warnings before particularly graphic episodes.
The optics of Gomez’s image are certainly up for debate, but her fans and photographer Petra Collins were quick to shut down speculation that the photo had anything to do with self-harm.
In an Instagram comment that is no longer visible ― Collins has since disabled comments ― the photographer responded to a fan’s criticism by explaining that the photo was actually taken “straight from the hospital” after Gomez was treated for lupus.
The 24-year-old has struggled with the chronic and painful disorder in recent years, taking a career break in late August 2016 due to mental health issues stemming for her diagnosis. She only returned to the spotlight in late 2016, extolling the virtues of self-care and opening up about dealing with anxiety, panic attacks and depression in speeches and at press events.
Gomez has yet to address the controversy surrounding the photo, but she did respond to critics of “13 Reasons Why” back in April and stood behind how the series handled these difficult issues.
“I believed in the project for so long and I understood what the message was,” she said. “I just wanted it to come across in a way that kids would be frightened, but confused ― in a way that they would talk about it because it’s something that’s happening all the time. So, I’m overwhelmed that it’s doing as well as it’s doing.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the
Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the
Crisis Text Line.
Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for
Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.