The relationship between popular media/celebrities and mental health has always been inharmonious. From the thin figure of the 1930’s movie star Judy Garland–attained through severe bulimia and misuse of amphetamines–to current rapper Lil Uzi Vert’s praise of the benzodiazepine Xanax in his platinum single “XO Tour Lif3,” it is clear that the concept of the media glorifying poor mental health is not a new one. A certain image or individual, although only temporarily, becomes ubiquitous and consequently molds the values and appearance of society at large. The names and faces of these idols are replaced by others in time, but the unhealthy nature of the messages they push is not.
Social media websites, in particular, have been viewed as major players in the development of unhealthy ideals in today’s society–with Instagram at the forefront. Recently, Instagram has been flooded with advertisements for fad diets and weight-loss products, mainly targeting women, as promoted by hired ‘social media influencers’ with large followings. Fad diets are particularly harmful, as they commonly encourage starvation–but they are nothing new. Similar to the cigarette diet of the 1920’s, which instructed women to smoke instead of eating, Instagram fad diets are merely putting a new face on the unrealistic standard that all women are meant to have thin waists. The issue with this trend is not the promotion of a healthy lifestyle, but rather, the profit earned from insecurities and the glamorization of eating disorders and being unhappy with one’s body.
Social media is not the only platform contributing to the societal norm of poor mental health, however. The music genre “SoundCloud rap,” has exploded since its origination in 2010. Although SoundCloud, the music distribution website, included songs of all varieties in the genre’s title features, this genre refers specifically to melancholy hip-hop songs, or ‘sad rap,’ which are often about drug abuse, suicide and self harm. Within the past two years alone, there have been several chart-topping songs which revere the harmful consumption of opioids and benzodiazepines, as well as promote suicidal behavior. One of the most notable lyrics of this sort coming from XXXTentacion: “I’m in pain, wanna put ten shots in my brain.” While writing music of this sort can be cathartic for the artist, it also presents the subject matter in a trivial manner. The fact that society is so willing to accept these lyrics without questioning them proves that there has been a shift in perspective to one which perceives mental illnesses and drug abuse as mere trends.
The problems within media, regarding its glorification of harmful mentalities, are not problems easily solved, because many of them are as old as popular media itself. These issues will continue to resurface in new forms to mold with each new wave of trends. Despite their continuation, there have been several other trends which combat these dangerous fads, including the recent popularity of body positivity on social media and the increased acceptance of ‘asking for help’ with mental illnesses. We cannot expect that media will ever completely resolve its promotion of dangerous fads and ideals, but we can hinder the popularity of these messages by advocating against them and recognizing that, as individuals, we are not designed to fit in a mold someone else makes for us.