Nearly two decades since she appeared on the inaugural season of The Bachelor, LaNease Adams has not forgotten the treatment she faced while starring on the milestone show and the suffering she endured as a result.
In a piece penned for Women's Health, Adams revisited her experience with ABC's hit show back in 2002 as a 23-year-old competing for the love of the first-ever Bachelor Alex Michel. She was ultimately eliminated in week three, but it was what happened off the show that led to depression and a hospitalization.
As she began in the essay, "I had already dated outside of my race a lot, so I didn't have any reservations about dating a white guy. No one really seemed to think there was anything wrong with that here in Los Angeles, so I didn't expect any backlash for dating someone white on a reality TV show."
Adams noted, "At 23, I kind of thought I understood life. But once the show happened, I no longer understood anything. I didn't understand myself. I couldn't trust people—and, as someone who always looked outside for validation, that realization hit me hard."
Adams described the "racist backlash" she faced online, including finding a photo of herself kissing Michel on a white supremacist website "with terrible comments written about how disgusting it was to have people of two different races kissing on the show."
"I will never forget the feeling of finding my photograph on that website," she recalled. "It was shocking to know that white supremacists even knew who I was—that was really scary. I felt helpless, and I didn't know what I could do to get that photograph removed from that website. There were also blogs saying stuff like, 'Who does this Black girl think she is dating The Bachelor?'"
Adams explained that she was shocked by the backlash and, being from Los Angeles, "didn't know that across the country there was still so much racism." She also recalled that "some people in the Black community were unhappy" with her dating a white man.
As she wrote, "It also changes you as a person when you realize that there are some people that really hate you—and not for anything that you've said or done. They hate you just because of the race you were born with. I didn't feel anger; I felt sadness."
Noting she had "no idea" the impact the show would have, Adams said she "felt like everyone was talking about me" and began to have anxiety and panic attacks paired with the heartbreak and rejection she felt from Michel.
She recalled a Bachelor producer telling her about a therapist, but Adams said she "never took her up on that offer."
"The train had basically already left the station at that point—I was just lost," Adams described. "I ended up going through a depression, and I stepped away from everything. I started to self-medicate by drinking and taking pills, and I wasn't eating."
She further explained, "Looking back, I think the racist backlash I experienced was also compounded by the fact that my dad died when I was just 1. I guess I was already sort of a wounded soul in a sense. I always looked outward for acceptance. I didn't really have self-confidence."
In the essay, Adams wrote that her mom blamed herself over her daughter's lack of confidence. "But, she couldn't teach me what she didn't know," Adams wrote. "Between slavery, Jim Crow laws, and everything else that came from that, my ancestors were just trying to survive. When that's your primary goal, it's very difficult to think about your mental health, too."
Ultimately, the former reality star said her lowest point was when she was hospitalized after "self-medicating with pills" and not eating. "Laying in the hospital, I thought, 'You put your trust and your faith into everyone else. And now, look, you're here by yourself—about to die, basically,'" she recalled.
After an approximately week-long stay, Adams began seeing a therapist routinely, read books and started journaling. "It took some time, but I found my self-love; I found my self-confidence," she wrote. "That's a part of life The Bachelor taught me: You can't live your life expecting everyone is going to like you. I realized that if some people don't like me because I'm Black—or even if someone doesn't like that I wore glitter eyeshadow (which, yes, really happened)—that's not my problem."
As for future Black contestants, "Hopefully, it's a lot easier for Black women and men to appear on The Bachelor or The Bachelorette now, even if they do experience some racial backlash. I hope it's not as tough on them as it was on me."