Editor’s Note: If you’ve read anything from us here at Plugged In within the last few months, you’ve probably stumbled across an article or two that deals with mental health. Some have asked why this is such a big deal. Let me tell you.
First, statistics show that mental health issues are on the rise, especially among teens. It’s a huge and growing problem that lots of families are dealing with. And honestly, that goes for those of us at Plugged In who have been personally touched by the issue in some way. But even though issues like depression and anxiety are pretty pervasive, these are still things we don’t like to talk about much. It makes us uncomfortable, and so we sometimes sweep it all under the rug.
Second, we believe that media and entertainment can play a huge part in this arena. And because entertainment and media are kind of our thing, we’re taking the time to do a three-part blog series on the influence of entertainment, media and celebrity as they relate to mental health. Look for the posts every Friday.
We’ll start with how celebrity can impact mental health—and sometimes in positive ways.
It All Started in Middle School
What should a young woman look like? What’s the ideal? Well, clear skin, shiny hair, perfect physique, naturally. The sort of woman you’d assume is an Insta-fluencer. What about for guys? Chiseled abs and blindingly white teeth, of course. An Avengers-level physique.
Are these things realistic? Perhaps a few of them, if you have the right DNA and make a career out of working out. But at the same time, all the time? No way. Just. No. Way.
I remember in middle school feeling real pressure to be thin and beautiful. I was homeschooled until the seventh grade and my first day of eating at school turned into one of my last for a while. You see, I didn’t have a group of friends to sit with right away so I sat with whoever would welcome me. Turned out the girls I chose to sit with only ate one bag of pretzels each and sipped on Lipton iced tea. Their “lunch” wasn’t really lunch at all—just an exercise on how to stay thin in middle school.
I was used to eating full meals at home, but every time I’d go to eat something in front of them (other than the crumbs they allowed themselves) I felt judged. Like, truly judged. So I fell in line, grabbed the pretzels and tea and waited to shove my face full of food until I got home.
I didn’t know it then, but that was the beginning of an eating disorder that, thankfully, didn’t last long in middle school (though it did rear its ugly head in college). But it started because I felt this need to mimic what I saw in person and on the television. And what I thought I saw was who, and what, I should be, because I was believing something that was false.
The truth is, personal body shaming (which starts in your mind) was, and is, very common. It’s something that can cause emotional and mental trauma that lasts a lifetime. I believe this physical and mental struggle is something that everyone wrestles with. But the critical voice inside your head is no longer the only voice. And, I think, this is in part to some really brave celebrities.
Let’s Look at Celebrities
Take Demi Lovato. She’s a beautiful, intelligent, talented young woman who has been all over the news and social media as she fights an addiction to drugs and alcohol. She’s sure not perfect, and she’s made plenty of very public missteps and mistakes. But her transparency, which includes a struggle with depression, has been really encouraging to lots of young women.
In an interview on the talk show Ellen, Lovato said:
One of the reasons why I became so outspoken when I decided to come out of treatment and talk about my issues was because when I grew up I was dealing with the pressures to be thin… It was the time in the tabloids when very, very skinny girls were on the cover of every magazine and that’s what I was looking up to. That’s what I had to idolize.
Lovato went on to say that the images she saw as a young girl were extremely unhealthy, and she hopes to be a body-positive role model that girls can look up to. “There was nobody out there for me to look at and say, maybe this is unhealthy,” she went on to say on Ellen. “Maybe starving myself isn’t the answer. So I want to be that for a 13-year-old girl at home deciding whether or not to eat dinner, or an 18-year-old deciding whether or not to keep her breakfast down. There needs to be a role model out there, and for the first time in my life, I actually feel like one.”
Perfection doesn’t stop at our physical appearance. The need to feel put together (be it physical, personal or mental) all the time can cause depression and anxiety. Just look at Justin Bieber, a guy who’s been in the spotlight since he was a kid. He knows a thing or two about this pressure. And his honesty in dealing with anxiety and depression has helped a lot of people who struggle with the same things.
Justin’s posts on Instagram have included words of encouragement for fans. He urges them: “Don’t stop fighting the battle has already been won… fight for what you love and who you love don’t let fear and anxiety win.”
Let’s Talk. Let’s Really Talk
Have you ever met someone that looks like they have it all together? I have. And I’ve also seen these same people collapse under the weight of grief, despair and sorrow. And as hard as these deeply vulnerable moments can be to watch (much less experience), that vulnerability opens a window into a real world we rarely see. It humanizes them. And it opens our minds to realize that people are all the same: broken and in need of a Savior.
I think this is why celebrities being transparent about their struggles with mental health issues has been so encouraging for so many. We realize that they’re not above the little things. Or the big things.
But it’s not just celebrities that can influence our children. In fact, when it comes to the biggest influencers around, it’s … us.
Our children hear how we talk about ourselves, and if all they hear is negative self-talk about how we look and think, they’ll begin to internalize that criticism in their own lives. When we don’t show much love or confidence in ourselves, we’re teaching our son’s or daughter’s that shame is natural.
But we have the beautiful, difficult, grace-filled privilege to speak life over our children. We can’t control every image they see or every opinion they hear, but we can create a loving, uplifting culture in our homes. And we can start by using our words to remind our children that they are loved and adored by us and their Creator.
Looking For More?
For more resources regarding any of the issues that we’ve talked about here, be sure to check out family.org for more.