Selma Blair

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Selma Blair: ‘Multiple Sclerosis Pulled My Career Down’

Selma Blair

US actress Selma Blair thinks speaking openly about her multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis has had a huge impact on her career in Hollywood.

“When I talked about it, there was so much support, yet I never got a job again,” she tells BBC 100 Women.

Blair had endured weariness and speech difficulties from her youth, but doctors needed many years to discover what was wrong.

She claims that she concealed her unexplained health issues for years, which contributed to her low mood.

“I was ashamed and concerned I wouldn’t work again.”

Doctors typically felt the problem was psychological.

They would ask questions like “OK, what kind of trauma have you experienced?” and “We do think this is psychosomatic,” but they would not conduct any actual neurological tests.

Blair felt “unburdened” when she received her diagnosis in 2018.

“It was a relief. There was a tiny amount of panic, like how would I have the stamina to ever cope with this?

“I had been down that road for so many years without a diagnosis that I did feel kind of hopeless still, but I was hoping that the diagnosis of MS would give me so many more options.

“It was a fantastic, comfortable feeling to realize that there was a huge community of chronic illness or MS people.”

The BBC 100 Women list, which recognizes 100 inspirational and influential ladies from around the world each year, includes Selma Blair as one of the women. This year the list is honoring the progress that has been made since its inception 10 years ago.

Known for iconic films such as Cruel Intentions and Legally Blonde, Blair is now focusing on being an ally to the MS community and increasing the visibility of disabled people in film and television.

Hollywood has always been like a family, she claims.

“I made incredible women friends. There isn’t a movie that I was on that I didn’t make friends with the wardrobe, hair, make-up, the stars – Sarah Michelle Gellar especially, and Jaime King.

“I thank my lucky stars for that because they’re the individuals I’ve gone to when I needed allies and they were there.”

She thinks Hollywood has made progress in the representation of disabled people but wants it to do more.

“There is a higher obligation to produce iconic pictures with people that have disabilities,” she argues.

“I know that my own MS took my career down. Even before I gave birth to my son [in 2011], I had to stop working for years due to health reasons.

“Disability was affecting me and taking me out of the workforce and it created huge changes in my physical appearance… things that couldn’t be in a movie or a TV show.”

Blair says she’s not bitter about a lack of acting offers since her diagnosis: “I don’t know how much I’ve said ‘Oh my God, I’m willing to be on a set all day.'”

But she does want to get back to film: “I hope that my knowledge of what I can handle can be a strength for me because the people you work with do want to know what you can handle.”

She recently appeared in the US television show Dancing with the Stars, as a way to check her stamina. Earlier than planned, she had to leave the competition because of the impact training had on her health.

“I deserved the chance to try,” she says.

“I was so proud of what Dancing with the Stars did by having someone like me on the show. There were so many things they were doing for the disabled community about visibility that is important to me.”

Earlier this year, Blair wrote a memoir chronicling her experiences with MS, as well as looking back at her life and work.

“I wanted to write a book for the little Selmas out there that are terrified,” she explains.

As a younger actress working in Hollywood, Blair had a long-term problem with alcohol that she kept secret.

I had no idea how many other individuals shared my sense of brokenness, she says.

“Saying ‘I’m fine all the time is what made me drink in a bathroom at the age of nine until I’d pass out.”

Blair says that writing her book has been a form of therapy, as has collaborated on an inclusive make-up line with more accessible tools.

Due to MS symptoms, Blair says she would often hurt herself when applying cosmetics.

Earlier this year she was announced as a chief creative officer of Guide Beauty, an ergonomic company that creates its products for people living with diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, autism, and traumatic brain injuries.

But while Blair sees progress being made in Hollywood and other US economic sectors, she also points out areas of life that she feels have taken a step back for women in the US – such as reproductive rights.

She recalls, “I was as stunned as many others when Roe v. Wade was like overnight overturned. “I believed there were more precautions.”

An earlier this year decided by the US Supreme Court effectively put an end to millions of US women’s constitutional right to an abortion.

Because so many individuals feel the need to exert control over our bodies and our decisions, I found it to be incredibly alarming that it could be undone.

Blair keeps a positive outlook on the future and finds solace in the knowledge that other women’s support has helped her survive and prosper.

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