Trigger warning for individuals who are currently struggling with a mental illness/disorder.
"TLC" shows are kind of my guilty pleasure. Many of the shows are edited heavily and therefore are not an accurate depiction of reality… but they are very entertaining, and I can't seem to turn away from the screen when watching an episode of "My 600-lb Life" or "Hoarding: Buried Alive."
I'm sure this is an obvious sentiment, but it's also really sad to watch these people suffer and go through these extreme situations. As I watch each episode, it's not far off to describe it as looking into another world.Many of the situations presented in these types of shows are circumstances that I've never come across in my lifetime. No one in my life needs life or death weight-loss surgery. I've never walked into someone's house to find it barely livable in. Don't get me wrong, I do feel bad for the subjects of these television shows that center around these illnesses and disorders, but they themselves feel so far away from reality. YouTube has changed this perspective for me, and I'm sure for most people, even if they don't realize it.
Take Garrett Watts, for example. You may know him as part of the Shane Dawson squad, but he also has his own independent channel. He's a precious, sweet, caring guy who loves "Harry Potter," spooky things, and creating fun and clever videos. I've been following his channel for quite some time now, and it was only recently that Watts's audience found out that he was having a hoarding problem.
He posted two videos, one where he tried to organize the hoarding himself, and a second video in which he and his friends successfully organized his home. I was honestly shocked when I watched these videos. It really never crossed my mind that Watts was having a hoarding issue. He did have a couple of videos showing his living space. A specific video to note was of him moving from his apartment to his tiny home, which showed a messy and cluttered apartment. For the most part, however, Watts's videos really weren't about his living space — he focused primarily on the idea of the video, so it wasn't really an obvious problem that the audience could see. At least, it wasn't a very obvious problem for me to notice.
When I think of Garrett Watts, I don't think "hoarder" or an individual who was dealing with a hoarding issue. I just think of what we love about Garrett Watts — which is him obsessing over knick-knacks or the paranormal like the lovable dork he is. It opened my eyes and made me realize that anyone can be dealing with a mental crisis or an obsession or loss of control in their lives — but it's rarely shown to the world. People are pretty good at hiding things. Garrett Watts decided to show that part of his life on YouTube, and now people can see these kinds of struggles in a different view — through the eyes of the YouTuber.
Other YouTubers are talking about their eating disorders — a lot of people share their struggles with binging, anorexia, etc. Many people choose to record their journey with their disorder whether it's to help others dealing with a similar issue or to help themselves with a "video diary" of sorts. Most of the videos I've watched that centered around an eating disorder were usually encouraging and motivating — it showed people overcoming their struggles, such as Jordan Shrinks who has overcome binge eating.
Not everyone documents their success. In fact, there are quite a few alarming channels that document their many failures or denial of their disorder. Amberlynn Reid is a YouTuber on a weight loss journey but has unfortunately struggled. She has been documenting her life for quite a while. Her content is usually about what she eats in a day, what her daily life is like, or sit-down "Q&A" videos. There was a point where Reid was doing pretty well in her goal of losing weight, having lost almost 100 pounds at that time. However, she has since gained that weight back and some and now weighs around 550 pounds. Her viewers often become frustrated as she tends to follow a diet for a brief amount of time and then destroy her progress with binging.
However, it isn't just Reid's binging that we see through her videos. We also see that she has a girlfriend and loves to write. We see that she plays board games with friends and likes to film clothing hauls. Although her weight is a big part of her channel, it's not the only aspect of her character.
On the other end of the spectrum, there's Eugenia Cooney — a YouTuber whose content is mostly a lot of "emo" or spooky style hauls. Many people are worried that she is struggling with anorexia. Now, she's never said she is anorexic, and I'm not a doctor, so I can't say for certain that she is. However, she is extremely thin and never really acknowledges her thinness, so the worry from viewers is valid in my opinion. Watching her videos, she seems like a sweet and genuinely nice person, but it's hard to focus on the positives when the bad is so glaringly obvious. What's even more upsetting is that she seems to have lost quite a bit of weight recently.
Both Reid and Cooney are very different when it comes to their weight, but one thing is certain: their viewers are worried that they are killing themselves and recording it for the world to watch. Not only that, but we have years' worth of footage and daily videos where people can helplessly watch them. Seeing comments on their videos is also heartbreaking — people are concerned, scared, and angry, and there's nothing that anyone can do except express their concern and hope that they will change their actions.
These YouTubers' experiences changed my perspective on mental health, more so than "TLC" or any other media platform has. "My 600-lb Life" and "Hoarding: Buried Alive" are edited for the audience. As an audience member, I feel distant from the subject of the episode. All I know of them is what the producers decided to show — which is usually just about their struggles.
With YouTube, it's different.
In my eyes, Garrett Watts is many things before an individual who has struggles with hoarding. He has not only shown us his struggles but his personality, humor, interests, successes — we learn who he is as a person through his eyes and his perspective, rather than viewing him as some unfortunate individual on a television program.
Similarly, Amberlynn Reid and Eugenia Cooney show us the good parts but also show us the bad. The bad, unfortunately, is more obvious: it's an everyday struggle as their audience gets a glimpse of everyday life for them, rather than an hour-long segment about them. We see what they themselves choose for us to see, and it's heartbreaking to watch.
Because of their decision to document their lives, we see way more of their life and learn more about them than we could on other media platforms. I don't only learn about their mental health struggles, but I also learn about them as people. I can watch them struggle and fail every day or watch them overcome and succeed. I experience fear and sympathy for these YouTubers to an extent that is more personal than I think "TLC" or any other television program could offer.
This way of documentation reminds us of something important: some may be struggling more than others, but they are also more than just a mental disorder — they are people above all.