//tw: suicide, self-harm, eating disorders
Glamourisation of mental illnesses: what is it?
When having mental illnesses are glorified and romanticised, and made into a desirable trait. This results from wrong portrayals which disregard the trauma and harsh reality of mental illnesses.
Glamourisation in pop culture
Though popular culture is one of the main reasons for the existence of the glamourisation of mental illnesses, the phenomenon dates back to as early as the 1950s; an example would be Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, in which the main characters commit suicide because of their love for each other. This wrongly portrays suicide as a way to convey love, as do many other plays, books, movies and TV shows.
- “Aesthetically-pleasing” posts
On social media, mental illnesses are glamorised to be a mysterious and edgy “aesthetic”, appealing to young, impressionable teens who take on this “aesthetic”, stigmatising mental health problems. Tumblr, for example, is a social media site infamous for glamorising mental illnesses since the 2010s. There is an abundance of posts with a beautiful picture of a fictional character or person with mental illness, followed by a caption about suicide or depression, making these depressive thoughts and notions seem appealing and desirable.
- The “eating disorder culture”
The “eating disorder culture” on the site is also notorious, with groups such as “pro-ana (anorexia)” and “thinspiration (thin inspiration)” blogs. Posts on these blogs often feature beautiful and mysterious photos of women starving themselves, ingraining the idea that in order to be beautiful, one must have to starve themselves, which is unequivocally incorrect and harmful to adolescents. They also feature advice for eating disorders, such as methods to starve themselves or ways they can hide their eating disorder from people around them. This spreads harmful information and their target audience - young impressionable teens - might act on these pieces of advice in order to fit into these images and beauty standards within the community.
Additionally, Tumblr has countless posts of “aesthetically-pleasing” photos of self-harm, as well as step-by-step guides on the different ways to self-harm. They also often present feelings of relief and self-expression, glamorising self-harm and encouraging young teens to do it as well.
- Why these posts exist
Posts glamorising mental illnesses may have started with people sharing their thoughts when going through them, but this good intention has been twisted. There is often a link between mental illnesses and popularity: posts about depressive thoughts and/or actions would get many likes and reposts as more and more try to fit into this “aesthetic”, encouraging owners of these kinds of blogs to create more of the kind and further stigmatising mental health problems and straying further away from the original intentions.
Movies and TV shows
In order to create mystery and intrigue, movies and TV shows very often choose to inaccurately present mental illnesses; this is problematic as it further creates a stigma around the mental illnesses they wrongly portray. They are also dramatised most times in order to keep the audience engaged, giving a polarised idea of mental illnesses to the audience.
It is undeniable that the “damaged cool girl” trope is often used in young adult or teenage films and shows, in which there is a beautiful girl who has mental disorders. These characters frequently have a dark allure to them, making them attractive to other characters who are interested in them romantically.
An example would be Effy from Skins, who was living with psychotic depression. She used sex as a coping mechanism and was chased by multiple boys who wanted to “fix” her; this makes it seem as if having depression makes one appealing and attractive to boys, completely neglecting the harsh reality and trauma that people diagnosed with depression go through. Effy’s character is also fetishised by the audience, of which some think she’s cool and attractive because of her usage of sex as a coping mechanism.
After impressionable teens see characters and parts of the audience who fetishise them and their glamorised mental illnesses, they would then idolise the characters, thinking that if they were like them, they would be attractive and desirable as well. As a result, mental illnesses are trivialised as they are shown to be glamorous and desirable, while the harsh reality strays far from that.
“Anyone who has actually been that sad can tell you that there’s nothing beautiful or literary or mysterious about depression,” says Jasmine Warga, author of “Other Words for Home”. Song lyrics have always been a way of poetically expressing oneself and have consistently been used to sing about mental illnesses like depression. Of course, one should take pride in their poetic abilities and feel comfortable with expressing themself with music. However, when glamorised lyrics are sung about mental illnesses by good-looking singers, fans will start to idolise them and their emotions described in songs. The image of mental illnesses they adore is nowhere near the harsh reality, rather a made-up version made for money. Yet, fans would still support the songwriters and the lyrics of glamorised mental illnesses they write.
An example would be Lana del Rey, who is a conventionally attractive woman who sings about depression and abandonment issues. Many of her fans are young teens, who look up to her and the wrong portrayals of the issues she goes through, which are glamourised in her songs.
The fashion industry
Needless to say, exploiting real-life struggles and turning them into fashion statements completely glosses over the trauma and struggles people go through in their everyday life. Clothing brands like thesadsociety.com and “anxiety queen” shirts promoted by online influencers reduce mental health issues into pieces of fabric, completely trivialising mental illnesses.
The problems caused by glamourisation and romanticisation of mental illnesses are listless, some of which have already been mentioned above.
- Encourages self-harm and eating disorders
In addition to stigmatising and trivialising mental illnesses, it also encourages people to self-harm and develop eating disorders in pursuit of “beauty” and the “mysterious and cool aesthetic”.
- Discourages recovery
Recovery is not promoted, while mental illnesses are glamourised and made desirable. This makes those with mental illnesses more reluctant to seek professional help as they may think they do not need help as the problems they go through are made to be glorious.
- Worsens stigma
By making light of mental illnesses, the stigma around them is maintained or even worsened, labelling people with bipolar disorder “moody”, those diagnosed with depression “sad”, or people with social anxiety “shy”. This undermines the struggles people living with mental illnesses have to go through.
- Increases self-diagnosing
Furthermore, healthy people with access to these social media posts might identify with the glamourised image of mental illnesses, wrongly self-diagnosing their down days as depression or their nervousness as anxiety when in reality, depression is so much more than going through the ups and downs of everyday life, and anxiety is so much more than feeling antsy about a speech.
“We Need to Stop Romanticising Mental Illness” - Rachel Oates
“is social media damaging to our mental health?” - Jordan Theresa
Researcher: Sylvia Yip, Editor: Hailey Won, Editor+Thumbnail: Megan Kwok, Text Transcription: Charlotte Leung