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Wellbeing Editor, Tianna Graham, looks at the glorification of Skins’ Effy Stonem.

*trigger warning: anorexia mention, bipolar disorder, suicide and mental health slurs*

I am sure many of you have heard the term ‘hot and crazy’ to describe a girl who is sexually appealing but unstable in some way.

Or maybe you have heard of the ‘crazy-hot’ scale which outlines how ‘crazy’ a girl is allowed to be until she is dangerous but how being a little ‘crazy’ can equate to a ‘freak in the sheets’ and therefore the perfect woman.

To some there is a level of crazy women are allowed to be and then there is an unacceptable amount which stops them being attractive. However, the take away from this idea is that being attractive and being mentally ill is somehow linked.

I love Skins just as much as the next person, not simply because Bristol is my home but it is a wholly nostalgic and enjoyable show (well the first four seasons at least).

In many ways watching Skins can feel like a rite of passage for young people, one which promises a future of freedom, excessive drinking, drugs and life-long friendships.

It brings out that rebellious teenage nature in you. At a time in your life where your experiences are limited, Skins can be your introduction to problems you yourself could face in the future and, in many ways, it acts as a deterrent.

However, due to the age of those who watched Skins, who were usually fairly young, it can be hard to differentiate between destructive behaviour and beautiful people and here is where the lines blur.

When I found pictures of Cassie on a pro-ana website I knew these people intrinsically linked their love for Cassie with her anorexia and many times I have heard young girls reiterate the phrase ‘I didn’t eat for three days so I could be lovely.’

However, one character often more subtly glorified for all the wrong reasons is Effy Stonem.

When we are first introduced to Effy in season one, she is Tony’s younger sister, and while silent and subdued in her private school uniform, at night she dolls herself us and hits the streets only to be seen the next morning, black eyeliner running, hair dishevelled, sneaking back into her house.

She is the ideal ‘cool girl’. She is beautiful, mysterious, assertive and ‘crazy.’

Here lies the problem with Effy’s character. Despite suffering from severe mental illness, this doesn’t change how desirable and elusive she is in the eyes of many young people who first watched her on TV, because to them, Effy’s character is synonymous with destruction.

When a young person idealises Effy, suddenly ‘depressed’ is a synonym for ‘mysterious.’

Effy messes up, she causes havoc but that is what makes her the life of the party. It would be foolish to not link the glorification of Effy with her looks.

The reality of a chain smoking, depressed, drug-dependent teenager is far less glamorous in reality, but the shabby-chic look to her character means she maintains a love triangle with two attractive men who think she is perfect just the way she is.

Cook has his own problems and loves Effy because she understands him and Freddie is in denial about the mental health problems Effy exhibits because of his mother’s suicide.

There are all real issues that young people can face and coincides with the behaviour of these characters. However, Effy would be ‘boring’ is she found help and was ‘normal’. Effy is different from other girls and this is what makes her attractive, this message that there is something sexually appealing about being ill is dangerous, despite this not being the intention of the creators.

Skins’ controversial story-lines have explored issues such as dysfunctional families, mental illness (such as depression, eating disorders and bipolar disorder), sexuality, gender, substance abuse, and bullying.

When a young person idealises Effy, suddenly ‘depressed’ is a synonym for ‘mysterious.’

Being suicidal is just a cry for help which results in your lover taking care of you at your hospital bed.

Drugs are fun rather than self-medication and being ‘damaged’ makes you attractive.

At a time in your life where being popular can seem like the most important thing in the world and all you want to be is an adult, characters like Effy can give you a warped idea of what mental illness really looks like.

The reality is that many people shun those who show outward signs of being mentally ill rather than embrace them.

This is very similar to the ‘party-girls’ of early 2000’s Hollywood, Lindsey Lohan falling out a club drunk in a designer dress and clambering into a limo with Paris Hilton can appear glamorous on the surface of a magazine but just a few years later you see the results are less than appealing.

The truth is Effy was bipolar, sad and neglected by her family, a situation no-one would idealise if it was shown to be happening to an unattractive socially-awkward girl.

The reality is that many people shun those who show outward signs of being mentally ill rather than embrace them, in reality Effy would have no pedestal to stand on.

Now I know you may be thinking that Skins isn’t supposed to be realistic, and I would argue that in retrospect it isn’t, but when you are young it can definitely appear to be.

This is why it is important for us to inform young people that glamorising mental illness is harmful despite how the media portrays it.

Idealising drugs, depression and eating disorders is far from ideal, especially if this is to allure a potential crush.

The sad reality is those who are suffering from mental illness are usually the victims of abuse rather than the perpetrators, meaning that being taken advantage of by someone who notices you are in a bad way can easily happen.

Your health is always more important than your appearance. So when anyone, especially teenage girls, begins to idealise depression because it has connotations with mystery and allure, please point them to the real devastating effects it can have on a person’s life.

Effy may be just a character to many but to some she formed their adolescent ideas about mental health and linked them to beauty, when sadly there is nothing beautiful about struggling.

Having enjoyed Skins when I was younger I was excited to see Skins: Fire, the continuation of Effy’s story into adulthood only to be deeply disappointed when her bipolar disorder was not mentioned once.

I knew why the creators had not shown Effy to be on medication or suffering, because this would mean sacrificing the alluring character they had created.

Rather Effy is still beautiful, successful and again in a highly intense romantic relationship, her ‘bad-girl’ edge and partying still a constant.

Sadly, Skins isn’t the reality of what it is like to be a mentally ill teenager or adult. At the end of the day, Effy may be just a character to many but to some she formed their adolescent ideas about mental health and linked them to beauty, when sadly there is nothing beautiful about struggling.

The beauty comes from persevering and this is the message that the media should be sending out.


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