Selma Blair recently graced the cover of British Vogue, getting even more vulnerable about her multiple sclerosis journey. Blair, who has previously opened up about her condition, tells the magazine that it took her 40 years to receive a diagnosis. The “Legally Blonde” actor wasn’t diagnosed with multiple sclerosis until 2018, despite later finding out that she’d been living with symptoms for most of her life.
By seven-years-old she had lost use of her right eye, left leg, and her bladder. She would also wake up in the middle of the night with waves of hysterical laughter. But all of this was dismissed as “attention seeking” by doctors, instead of the darker reality: undiagnosed juvenile MS.
“If you’re a boy with those symptoms, you get an MRI. If you’re a girl, you’re called ‘crazy’,” Blair told British Vogue. Besides the physical symptoms, she assumed the fits of laughter and eventual uncontrollable sobbing were due to her being a “hugely emotional person.” Turns out, MS had damaged her front lobe, essentially the equivalent of a brain injury. “I looked like a ‘normal’ girl to them,” she says, “but I was Disabled this whole time.”
“I didn’t imagine I could ever make a difference by showing up as myself and being open about my experiences.”
Despite being silenced in her youth, the 50-year-old actress is now one of the most vocal and visible stars with a disability. Blair was photographed for British Vogue’s cover as part of May’s ‘Reframing Fashion’ issue, which highlights how the fashion industry can be more inclusive of the disabled community. On the cover, Blair is pictured proudly showing off her cane, a mobility tool that some people with MS use (including Christina Applegate) to help with balance and support.
“I have an emotional and physical attachment to the cane,” Blair explained to British Vogue, when asked what the aid means to her. “I settle in my voice and body as soon as I hold [it]. It’s an extension of me. And I know it adds to visibility. So many younger people have started publicly embracing their sticks more. I do think representation matters. If I can help remove stigma or over-curiosity in a crowd for someone else, then that’s great.”
But being visible wasn’t always the goal. Blair said that she “worried since the beginning of time” that her health issues would be “found out,” and lived in “terror” during the early parts of her career. In 2009 she decided to leave the industry entirely.
“My autoimmune system was misfiring… losing most of my hair and all of my energy. I kinda bowed out [after the show],” Blair said, referring to her taking a step back after taping of the remake of “Kath & Kim.”
“I spent my days in bed, crying, sometimes binge drinking, sometimes reading and sleeping, seeing doctors and healers…I gave up almost until the diagnosis,” Blair went on to say. “I was always terrified I would be deemed incapable. Or mentally unsound. My mother taught me that was death for a woman career-wise.”
But it turns out that being diagnosed with MS, and then being open about the experience, has only created new opportunities for Blair. From her memoir “Mean Baby” becoming a best seller to her documentary “Introducing, Selma Blair” — the actor has raised tremendous awareness around multiple sclerosis.
Blair made her first public appearance since announcing her MS diagnosis at the 2019 Vanity Fair Oscar Party where she was met with tons of support both in-person and online.
“I didn’t imagine I could ever make a difference by showing up as myself and being open about my experiences,” she told British Vogue. “But when others with mobility aids rallied around my presence on the red carpet with a cane and in the midst of an MS flare, I noticed. I felt empowered to share… Now it’s a conscious choice to.”
Image Source: Photo by Adama Jalloh Courtesy of British Vogue