With high profile celebrities addressing the impact of media scrutiny and how this has affected their lives, Vogue.me takes a look at the relationship between the press and online coverage of public figures and mental health.
At the 2020 BRIT Awards, Billie Eilish – who swept the board on the night, taking away Album and Record of the Year – used her emotional speech to address mental health and the online “hate” she has received. “I’ve felt very hated recently and when I was on the stage and I saw you guys all smiling at me,” Eilish said holding back tears, “it genuinely made me wanna cry. And I wanna cry right now, so thank you.”
After the event Eilish talked frankly about “cancel culture” (boycotting public figures in response to their opinions) and the criticism she has received from online trolls and the media. She opened up about her struggles of feeling persistently body shamed and pressured to defend her fashion choices, which has led her to taking a “break” from the internet. “It’s worse, it’s way worse than it’s ever been,” said the artist. “It’s insane that I’ve even been reading comments up until this point. I should have stopped long ago,” Eilish went on to explain. “The internet is ruining my life so I stay off.”
The singer’s brother, Finneas O’Connell, blamed a “lack of accountability” and fellow artists including Justin Bieber, expressed concern for Eilish, in a recent interview. “I just want to protect her,” Bieber said, talking through streaming tears. “I don’t want her to lose it. I don’t want her to go through anything I went through.”
In her latest Netflix documentary, Miss Americana, Taylor Swift talks candidly about dealing with an eating disorder triggered by the constant scrutiny (both criticism and compliments) of her body. “You just start to accommodate everything towards praise and punishment, including your own body,” Swift said.
More recently, Khloé Kardashian took to Instagram to address a photo of her that was accidentally posted and deleted off the platform but not before it was widely circulated online. Although perfectly natural in itself, the image was unedited unlike the other finely tuned and retouched photos that populate the reality TV star’s Instagram. Addressing both, the photo, and her rush to have it taken down in a statement, the 36-year-old opened up about her struggles with body image and the unkind comments she finds herself on the receiving end of. “The pressure, constant ridicule and judgment my entire life to be perfect and meet other’s standards of how I should look has been too much to bear,” she said before citing the comments she gets: “‘Khloé is the fat sister.’ ‘Khloé is the ugly sister.’ ‘Her dad must not be her real dad because she looks so different.’ ‘The only way she could have lost that weight must have been from surgery.'”
Psychotherapist and trauma specialist, Anna Yates, founder of Mind Solutions Dubai, helps us to understand the mental affects of negative media coverage. “There are so many subconscious cues that are silently programming us to believe that thinner is better, that beautiful means skinny. Headlines commenting on ‘Amazing Weight Loss’ for example, or ‘Transformation Tuesday’ posts… Everything that reaffirms the message that our value is based on our body or how we look, is damaging to self-esteem.” She continues, “A negative comment can slip into someone’s subconscious like a splinter and embed there and fester, causing sensitivity in that area.”
“We are living at a time when what we put out into the world is highly measured by our presence in a digital space”
Yates talks about managing the everyday exposure. “If every time you ate a kiwi it made you feel sick and left you with a week of anxiety, depression and self-hatred, would you keep eating kiwis? Apply this same rule to other areas of your life,” says Yates. “If anything— a magazine, an Instagram account, a doctor, a job, a relationship — makes you feel and think negatively about yourself, cut it out of your day and potentially your life. There is no need to sit in sadness and fear. If you can’t control your eating habits or your thoughts on your own, find someone who can help you to do that.”
Beauty mogul Huda Kattan explains, “Living at a time when what we put out into the world is highly measured by our presence in a digital space, where people can control the way that they present themselves down to the little details— it’s challenging not to be fixated on that.”
Businesswoman and social media figure, Karen Wazen, touches on her experience of media scrutiny. “I’m someone who has thick skin and I grew to be this person because of social media (it taught me so much), but I do see how people are affected by negative comments and judging people from the outside. I know people who have been very negatively impacted by this and it can be really painful, so people need to understand that whatever they think about that person, they are human.”
Addressing body insecurities the 33-year-old mother of three explains, “Being in fashion, for work and shoots they would provide me with sample sizes, which are usually a small and they would not fit me. Every time I would try clothes on it was a reminder that I did not fit into the fashion world. I do see this improving year by year. I’m so glad that the world is changing and it’s thanks to players like Vogue Arabia who now highlight these issues of body positivity.”
Nutrition and sports therapist Oliver Thompson, from Dubai’s Five Dimensional Health training facility, D5 Gymnasium by James Heagney, trains clients from all walks of life, but the gym’s main base is high-profile individuals and athletes. Thompson talks about some of the issues facing his clients. “A healthy body that functions as it should can look very different from woman to woman and let’s face it ‘ideal bodies’ change like fashion over the years; from Marilyn Monroe’s 1950s hourglass curves to the very svelte look propagated by Kate Moss in the 1990s, and now the much curvier looks from today’s Insta ‘booty’ queens including Kim Kardashian. Focusing on healthy lifestyles rather than criticism and quick fixes is a message that needs to be promoted.
Wazen responds to how she manages the criticism. “My weight has constantly fluctuated, but the one thing that came out of my insecurities was that I created a business out of that. My love for glasses came from when I was young and I was teased about my eyes and even when I gave birth and wasn’t able to feel stylish or dress the way I wanted to, I always felt like putting on a cool pair of shades made me feel good, almost a sense of power like, “I got this!” So out of something that was negatively affecting me I turned it into something positive that is a business for me today, that I’m really proud of.”
Huda Kattan talks about self-acceptance and the benefits of feeling good on the inside as well as the outside. “One thing that’s really helped me to love and appreciate my own body is using it! I feel most comfortable with my own body when I get it moving. I love doing yoga and have recently started belly dancing again. I feel good about taking time out of my schedule to challenge and treat my body with these things that I love.”
So does the responsibility lie in the hands of the press and social media? Oliver Thompson addresses the need for accountability of public figures. “Celebrities also have a duty to their fans. Many have admitted to not even using the products they advertise. Celebrities pushing detox teas or weight loss supplements need to be stopped. It’s particularly destructive and encourages a reactive, ‘solution in a bottle’ mentality.
What are some of the warning signs we can lookout for from platforms that encourage unrealistic body expectations? “Be aware of extreme transformations focused on aesthetics, with lots of language like ‘not being lazy’ and ‘no excuses’. Anything offering a ‘tried and tested’ ‘one-size-fits-all’ formula should sound alarm bells. We all respond differently to exercise, food, supplementation, and should have the approach tailored accordingly,” Thompson says.
Mental Health: Don’t be afraid to seek help
If you are feeling depressed or bullied, you are not alone. Speak to someone:
The Out of Blues community: a Facebook group that holds weekly coffee mornings for members
Priory Group: Wellbeing treatment center.
Maudsley Hospital Clinic in Abu Dhabi: there are two facilities, the Child and Adolescent Mental Heath Services and another for Adult Mental Health.