The Ignorance and Glamorization of Mental Illness in Media and Fashion

Rihan Ali, Staff Writer

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“#DEPRESSION.” “#OCD.” “#ANOREXIC.” Many teenagers both hyperbolize and glamorize their short-term feelings by labeling them with illnesses that are a serious issue and should never be taken airily. As if that was not enough, popular retail companies are using mental illnesses to drive the latest fashion and novelty trends, from scrawling “Depression” across tees, to offering syringe shaped alcohol shooters.

The teenagers of today have histrionic and naïve attitudes that arouse ignorant compulsions to label sadness as depression, moodiness into some sort of bipolar disorder, nervous behaviors as anxiety, and turn a restless night into insomnia. Instead of seeking aid for their “illness,” they dwell about it and let their peers know by posting related media on social networking outlets such as Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram. These illnesses are then further glamorized with pictures such as those of wrists dressed in blood, floral nooses, and photographs simply portraying pills and syringes. Anyone who is solicitous about their mental well-being should disaffect from their keyboard and instead turn towards someone who can help: a parent, doctor, counselor or even a professional on a mental health hotline. If teenagers only seek help from their peers, who undoubtedly do not know how to handle the problem, it will not aid the diminishment of the already growing predicament. According to the Child Mind Institute, although many teens perceive themselves to have “disorders,” only 14 – 20 percent of mid-adolescents are actually diagnosed with mood disorders. Teenagers who unnecessarily cavil and ignorantly diagnose themselves need to learn the difference between a rough day or week and obtaining an actual mental illness.* Obliviousness towards the true nature of mental illnesses is further perpetuated by influential fashion retailers.

Urban Outfitters, a hipster American company, has been under fire since purchasing and lining its shelves with controversial clothing last year. In December of 2013, a black-and-white crop top which conspicuously featured the word “depression” sporadically printed across its fabric in bold lettering was available for purchase both in stores and online. This is not, however, a unique incident in the trendy retailer’s history of garments. In 2010, Twitter users condemned Urban Outfitters for its sale of a skimpy grey V-neck tee with the phrase “Eat Less” scrawled across the abdomen. Social media exploded after both tees were displayed in one side-by-side comparison photograph, accompanied by the caption: “When will Urban Outfitters stop making mental illness a fashion statement?” Urban Outfitters stated, in an expeditious response: “We’re sorry to those offended by the tee we bought from the @DEPRESSIONcomsg brand. We were trying to support a small brand, not glamorize mental illness in any way.” Although the intensity of public backlash against Urban Outfitters resulted in the retraction of both shirts from its line, the clothing company does not appear to truly consider the extent of its actions. In early 2013, the store profited from the production of shot glasses designed to resemble prescription pill bottles, as well as “Syringe Shot Shooters” (hospital-like syringes meant to squirt alcohol). Despite this continuous scheme of pulling items from their shelves after outrage amongst the public is sparked, it appears as though Urban Outfitters does not contemplate the implications of its paraphernalia.

pill

It is quite plausible that the aforementioned retailer did not advocate for these items of clothing to explicitly glamorize or minimize the severity of mental illness. Nonetheless, indirectly, customers were exposed to clothing that normalized depression, mental illnesses and drug abuse; illnesses they are susceptible to. The tees were draped around models with undeniably thin frames, luscious hair, and delicate facial features. The advertisements are alluring; as a result, the mental illness or drug abuse can become similarly enticing.

Our generation needs to realize being “damaged” is not a fashionable “trend” everyone should bandwagon. Mental illnesses are used as accessories to self-identity; that, to a large degree, helps cultivate an “image” of uniqueness. It is ableist and provokes expectations as to the nature of people with actual mental illnesses that are not based on proper assessment or clinical diagnosis, but popularized stereotypes.

* Teenagers who are honestly convinced that they may have a mental illness should undoubtedly know to seek professional help before consulting their followers for guidance or attention.

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