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Soft Grunge, Tumblr, and the Glorification of Mental Illness

Ahh Tumblr. The breeding ground for fandoms, memes, arm-chair social justice, self-expression, and the new wave of “soft grunge” (yes, that pun was intended). Urban Dictionary defines soft grunge as “A term generally used to describe modern-day teenagers, typically girls between the ages of 14-18, who like create a “hardcore” persona on Tumblr by reblogging pictures of inverted crosses, dip-dyed hair, ying-yang symbols and toilets.” Suffocating sarcasm aside, this definiton only hits the tip of the iceberg. The “soft grunge” culture is heavily based in using imagery (often black and white, featuring flowers and Lana Del Ray) paired with meloncholy or masochistic quotes (often misquoted or without reference) to highlight the perception of beauty in tragedy. Furthermore, what the soft grunge culture drives home is the glorification of depression, trauma, and suicidal ideation.

Mental illness is not meant to be idolized. It is not meant to be a commodity, or be perceived as a glamorous thing. For those who suffer daily from mental illness, having your pain displayed on a tumblr post with poorly photoshopped images can feel incredibly invalidating. It can feel as though your lived experience is simply a trend, and not something that holds significant weight in your life. Publicizing eating disorders, depression, suicidal ideation, and anxiety as a lifestyle choice is a form of marginalizing the voices and experiences of those who wake up and face these every day.

Similarly, Vice Magazine received a serious wake up call after publishing “Last Words”, a “suicide photoshoot” where models were posed as female writes such as Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Iris Chang, Dorothy Parker, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Sanmao, and  Elise Cowen committing suicide. The photoshoot was used as a marketing tool to sell clothing, and apparently the image of a woman hanging herself with a pair of tights is supposed to encourage purchases. Vice took a lot of heat after an outrage of readers and mental health activists, and quietly deleted the set from their website with a cold message from the editors that they “apologize to anyone who was hurt or offended.”

It is the act of making suicide and depression fashionable that is sick and invalidating, while simultaneously encouraging people to strive for pain because it is “beautiful” or “glorious” much in the same way that thinspo blogs encourage eating disorders. There is nothing glorious about starving and purging. There is nothing glorious about feeling so low that you stare down a bottle of pills. There is nothing fashionable about ending your life early. The culture of soft grunge is something I can only hope will fade away soon.

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