One picture shows actress Shannen Doherty, completely bald, with a bloody cotton ball in her nose, as she stares straight into the camera and looks almost confrontational.
Another is more playful – Ms. Doherty, 50, is lying in bed wearing Cookie Monster pajamas and a Cookie Monster eye mask. She admits how exhausted she is as the chemotherapy she had to undergo for stage 4 breast cancer plagued her with bloody noses.
"Is everything pretty? NO, but it's true and I hope we all get better educated and familiar with the looks of cancer, ”Ms. Doherty wrote on Instagram this week.
The images are troubling to any Gen X member who remembers her as Brenda Walsh, the spirited, polarizing teenager she starred on the 1990s hit show Beverly Hills, 90210 for four years brought international fame and disgrace.
Ms. Doherty said she posted the pictures as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in hopes that they will encourage people to get mammograms and regular breast exams and help people "overcome fear and face everything." what lies ahead of them ".
The unvarnished photos align with the candid nature of an actress who never seemed interested in being universally liked and are likely to resonate with audiences considering how to deal with female celebrities in the 1990s and early 2000s, Kearston said Wesner, an adjunct professor of media studies at Quinnipiac University who teaches celebrity culture.
“The photos are not retouched,” said Professor Wesner. “They are in no way portrayed as the reality they are going through. You get the feeling that when she communicates with you, she comes from an authentic place. "
Ms. Doherty said she learned she had breast cancer in 2015. Since then, she has had a mastectomy as well as radiation and chemotherapy.
The photos viewed around 280,000 times aroused sympathy, admiration and praise on her Instagram account with more than 1.8 million followers.
"Love you Shan," wrote Ian Ziering, one of her former co-stars in Beverly Hills, 90210.
"You are a force, sister!" wrote Kelly Hu, an actress.
Mrs. Doherty was not often so lauded in her youth.
In the early 1990s, Ms. Doherty, who was only 19 when she first started appearing on 90210, was gutted by the press and many in the public who criticized her for club smoking, tumultuous love life and reports that she was difficult on set.
Her character was an outspoken, headstrong, and temperamental teenager who had sex with her boyfriend, fought with her friends, and rebelled against her father.
Brenda Walsh was "uncomfortably relatable," said Kat Spada, host of "The Blaze," a podcast devoted to the discussion about "90210".
In retrospect, the backlash from fans against the character of Brenda Walsh, and therefore Ms. Doherty, could be due to seeing each other in both women, said Lizzie Leader, the other host on the podcast.
“We always ask the guests about their '90210” trip and ask which character they identify with the most or with which one they identify most, ”said Ms. Leader. "Everyone is almost always a Brenda."
But by the time the show aired, some fans were so consumed with vitriol for the character that they began calling for Ms. Doherty to be fired.
They founded an "I Hate Brenda" club. MTV News devoted more than three minutes to this sentiment, quoting people mocking their looks and their decision to attend the 1992 Republican National Convention. A clip in the MTV segment showed a group of partygoers hitting a "Brenda piñata".
She left Beverly Hills, 90210 in 1994, then appeared in the 1995 film Mallrats and several television films and shows. In 2019 it appeared in a brief reboot of the original "90210" called "BH90210".
In a 2008 interview with the New York Times, Ms. Doherty said that the bad publicity around her was often based on exaggeration or "completely wrong" stories.
"I really couldn't take care of it anymore," she said in the interview. “I have nothing to apologize for. Whatever I did was my growing up process that I had to go through, that everyone my age goes through. And however other people may have reacted to it, their problem is. "
If you were a Ms. Doherty fan, the headlines hurt, said Professor Wesner, 45, who watched Ms. Doherty grow from child actress in Little House on the Prairie to roles as Heather Duke in Heathers, 1988 . “And Brenda Walsh.
“She meant a lot to me,” said Professor Wesner. “I was an outspoken girl myself and was hit for it. For me it was satisfying to see someone who was also open and who was also a 'difficult woman'. "
Ms. Doherty coverage reflected a time "when publications would attack, fat shame, ugly shame, anorexia shame," said Stephen Galloway, dean of the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts at Chapman University in Orange, California , and former editor-in-chief of The Hollywood Reporter. “There was no line between taste and vulgarity. Anything was possible. "
And it had badly damaged Ms. Doherty's career, he said.
Her decision to document the effects of cancer is "a huge step toward salvation and purpose," said Galloway, who said he learned about a week ago that he was in the early stages of cancer .
He said Ms. Doherty's candor made him feel like he was talking about his own diagnosis.
"I looked at her and thought, 'What courage," "said Mr. Galloway.