Trigger Warning: This article deals with mental illness and mentions substance abuse. Because this may be a sensitive topic for some, I urge anyone who may be affected by this to not read any further.
Tumblr is one of the most prominent social media apps, and it’s been notorious since its inception in 2007. You can create essentially any sort of blog post you want, and many people make communities within the app. As someone who grew up on Tumblr, one of the biggest issues with the platform was their consistent romanticization of mental illness. It was especially prominent in 2014, but the posts are still frequently found all over. Users on Tumblr would make “aesthetic” posts related to depression or suicide, attempting to make it seem “beautiful.” The consistent glorification became popular on the app and dangerously affected users because of it.
Talking candidly about mental illness shouldn’t be stigmatized; the issue with Tumblr was they turned having a mental illness into something “cool.” The trend started around 2013 to 2014, and it most likely occurred because of the “soft grunge” aesthetic that was found all over Tumblr at the time. Most of the posts were of teenagers engaging in drugs, drinking, and smoking cigarettes. The fashion was a modernized version of the ’90s with a mix of goth styles as well. Other posts would be dark or blurry with muted colors over it. Many song lyrics from artists like The Neighbourhood, Lana Del Rey, and Arctic Monkeys were referenced heavily. The ideas of recklessness and refusal to conform to society were mixed with darkness to create this aesthetic. Mental illness was posted alongside this aesthetic and the two ended up mixing. Shows like “Skins,” which featured many destructive characters — most notably Effy Stonem and Cassie Ainsworth — were constantly praised and idolized on the website. Photos of Effy or Cassie could be found on Tumblr in black and white with a depressing phrase written on them. They weren’t the only ones that were put on a pedestal though. Lana Del Rey was frequently referenced because of her depressive song lyrics and music videos. Kurt Cobain’s suicide has been subject to morbid fascination as well. The idolization of celebrity figures for their mental illness differs from relating to them. If you’re idolizing them because they’re destructive, you are romanticizing it. As someone who has seen so many of these posts, it’s clear the mental health part has become an aesthetic.
Many people used Tumblr as an outlet to find people they could talk and relate to. It turned toxic when depression and anxiety started to be seen as something “cool,” making depression seem as if it was this tragically beautiful thing. Since Tumblr’s demographic gears more toward teenagers to young adults, these posts can leave a lasting impression. Posts that portray depression as beautiful can trigger someone with depression and make them not want to get better. It can also influence people into wanting to have depression or believing they have mental illness. Graphic imagery of self harm can trigger users because the images are created to make it romanticized. Depression and self harm are the most popular posts, but eating disorders and suicide are also very popular as well. Posts under under specific hashtags can lead to photos of girls severely underweight to “influence” users to get their ideal weight. I’ve seen posts related to limiting calories and quotes encouraging starvation. There have been violent images and gifs of nooses and gunshots, which was honestly really shocking to me. Some other common images include razors with flowers to be “beautiful” or handfuls of pills as if overdosing was a lovely tragedy. The imagery can be extremely triggering to many and it’s almost encouraging people to have worse mental health.
Since Tumblr was such an influential platform when these posts were at their height, young teenagers would assume that being sad was beautiful. The thought of self destruction and mutilation was something they could take a photo of to post online and get reblogged. The posts of eating disorders also were extremely triggering, with the encouragement of starvation on every single post. The influence these posts had were damaging, and as someone who grew up on Tumblr around this time I can see how it would affect people’s views of mental health. Tumblr became notorious for this kind of content, to the point where The Ringer and The Atlantic had both written pieces on the topic.
Tumblr’s popularity has decreased since Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram boomed in popularity in the last few years. Many of Tumblr’s users were teenagers who grew out of using the app. There are still many active blogs that create romanticized content and you’ll see it from time to time. Luckily, we as a generation have moved past that, allowing for healthy conversations regarding mental health to occur. The glamorization still happens though, especially in recent tv shows like “13 Reasons Why.” There needs to be a better approach in social media to these sorts of topics to avoid glorifying someone’s pain. Mental health needs should be openly spoken about, but not in a way that will make it seem “aesthetic” to have a mental illness.
Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-880-273-8255
Eating Disorder Hotline: 1-880-931-2237