Throughout my high school years, I often found myself sitting at a laptop, scrolling through Tumblr. I would post pictures of cats and song lyrics I liked. As an emotionally unstable teenage girl, I found the process therapeutic. It was calming to look at funny text posts or Harry Potter gifs. However, the deeper I got into the website, the more dangerous it became. I followed the wrong people, searched the wrong things, and ended up making a lot of regrettable choices.
I was impressionable, and desperately wanted to fit in somewhere, even if that somewhere was just a pointless website. I wanted to be like the pretty, skinny girls that got thousands of notes and were just popular in general. Those girls were soft and delicate. They, like me, were unstable. They made anxiety seem cute. They made depression sound artistic. They cut their arms open and drew hearts over the scars. And I wanted to be just like them.
Addictions started because of that blog I ran. I struggled with self-harm for years. I developed terrible eating habits, in which I would practically starve myself and then eat nonstop for days on end. And this all started because someone on the Internet made it seem cool.
The argument could be made that I was just a dumb kid that wanted a little bit of attention, and that’s partially true. But despite what people think, representation matters. Take an insecure kid like I was, with little to no friends and a deep-rooted belief that they’re unlovable, and put them in an environment where girls who hate themselves get special attention and care. I was led to believe that someone would fall in love with me and kiss my scars, like all those stupid posts I had seen. I thought my friends would viciously defend me and stand by my side. I thought people would think I was deep and different. I thought I was special. None of those things happened.
No one kissed my scars. Most of my friends left me. I was an outcast. I missed out on school from all the time I spent in the hospital. My grades suffered. Life was terrible.
Romancing mental illness is nothing but damaging to not only people who already fall victim to them, but people who might be just lonely or insecure. The reality of them isn’t pretty. Anxiety isn’t just crying or being shy in social situations. Anxiety is getting uncontrollably furious and slamming your fists into a wall because there seems to be no other way to get it out. Anxiety is yelling and screaming until your throat goes raw. Depression isn’t getting upset and pouting. Depression not having the motivation to get out of bed. Depression is avoiding things and people that once made you happy because the effort doesn’t seem worth it. It gets to a point where you can’t tell where your mental illness ends and your personality begins. Mental illnesses aren’t pretty.
Depicting girls as delicate, like these sensationalized posts do, also have a large effect on boys. When girls are told to fit this image, boys are the ones who are told to remain strong. They are the ones who are forced to care for the girls with these glorified mental illnesses. The traditional role of strong men and weak women is enforced. Boys are forced to kiss the scars on wrists, but boys can’t even shed a tear.
Gender dynamics are complex, especially in terms of mental illness. Boys who are mentally ill are expected to be brash, violent, and aggressive. That puts men in a box. They are limited to punching walls and shouting; fists fights and possessiveness.
The two gender roles feed into each other; the aggressive boys must protect the delicate girls. These fixed roles don’t do anything to support real people with real illnesses. I’ve witnessed boys have breakdowns: crying on the floor, begging for comfort, hurting himself in hopes of affection. I’ve seen girls fight against nurses and hurl their medicine across the room.
People will comfort a crying girl having an anxiety attack. They will tell an insecure girl she is pretty. They will stand by her side when she’s having a bad day. But no one wants to see the reality of mental illness. They ignore the violent breakdowns and the vicious bursts of aggression. Illnesses like schizophrenia or dissociation disorder are taboo, because people cannot find a way to make them beautiful.
Mental illnesses are not beautiful. The side effects are not cute.