Stop crying your heart out for the sake of aesthetics…
Wallowing and adorning oneself in sadness is not something new; from Shakespeare’s tragedies to John Green’s novels, where the sadness and anxiety felt by female characters is turned into a desirable character flaw. Depression has, and god I loathe to say it, become sexy. It is quirky, interesting: a cheap way to develop a female character into someone with meaning without actually touching on the serious reality of mental illness. It is a lazy way for male characters to discover themselves; a sort of twisted adaptation of the mindlessly happy ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ character coined by Rabin back in ’07. Think Kirsten Dunst in ‘Elizabethtown’, which is where he originally derived the trope.
Except Rabin has since expressed his shame at coining a term which began to be used widely where it shouldn’t have been applied; he was using it to highlight the inherent sexism in developing female characters that existed purely as a way for male self-discovery. It was not desirable; it was derogatory, even more so when it began to be seen as something beautiful. Why isn’t the same realisation occurring with the ‘Sad Girl’ culture that permeates pop music and tumblr feeds? The Lana Del Rey types, glamourising poverty and prostitution through cloudy, drawling music videos and tear stained selfies. An image projected onto cyber-space with the depth of a few pixels.
You may be #PrettyWhenYouCry but crying is not what makes you pretty. You may be an interesting human who suffers from depression, but having depression is not what makes you interesting. Perhaps it’s a leap; to jump from aesthetic sadness to issues of mental illness, but when you are glamourising something that plagues those who suffer from depression, or anxiety, how can the two not begin to intertwine?
Personally, I don’t suffer from mental illness. Perhaps that negates some of my authority to write about it, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t have direct experience with it in another way.
What has my experience taught me? Being sad isn’t cool.
The people I know who suffer from a mental illness are not interesting because of that illness; I hate that they have to deal with that. I hate that these wonderful, kind and intelligent people sometimes feel like they can’t speak, or get out of bed in the morning. It frustrates me that sometimes they can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel; that they feel like a burden or that they feel anything less than human. No person deserves that feeling. What makes my friends interesting is that they persevere. They’re strong and brilliant; they make me laugh more than anyone else; they make me think about things in a new way and they’re good.
To reduce a human to the sum of their emotional or mental state is not beautiful; to aestheticise and glamorise feelings associated with real problems, faced by real people, for the sake of a good Tumblr persona is not beautiful. Appropriating mental illness and propagating a culture whereby the word ‘bipolar’ is thrown around as a casual allusion to mood swings, and depression is quirky, is not beautiful.
So I’m calling bullshit on Sad Girl culture, because we all have the right to feel sad, but being sad is not a desirable character flaw. It isn’t a culture I want to be a part of.
I don’t want my friend who suffers from a mental illness to feel like she’s damaged; I don’t want her to think being damaged is cool. I don’t want her to contain her identity and depth within the boundaries of the illness that has come close to taking her away from me more than once. I’m selfish. I want her to reject it, I want her to fight. She has nothing to be ashamed of, in fact she has so much to be infinitely proud of. She is the kind of person I want my children to be like: strong, intelligent and caring. The kind of person she is cannot be contained or limited by the words ‘mental illness’. And while she has every right to feel sad and I never want her to apologise for it, I hope she doesn’t celebrate it.
Mental illness, sadness, tragedy, loss; these are not aesthetic values. These are real problems faced by real people. Why is generation Y degrading them? Taking away their serious nature and making people afraid to discuss their feelings for fear of not being taken seriously. ‘The Virgin Suicide’ adoring teary eyed teens use sadness as a way to promote a certain aesthetic image; but real sadness is not concerned with image. Real sadness is unavoidable at times for most, inescapable for some. It is corrosive and destructive, sometimes to the extent whereby your self-image becomes too distorted to be recognizable. Meanwhile, Del Rey’s mascara doesn’t even run as she sits in a bathtub contemplating her own narrative, her affected-ness. That isn’t admirable. There is no beauty in that. Being sad does not make you interesting or cool and it does not make your life the next candidate for a Sofia Coppola movie adaptation.
We can’t all be happy all the time, but nothing is more powerful than fighting for your happiness when you can.
Follow Camilla on twitter: @camillaackley or @intothefoldmag