Social media is often blamed for damaging our collective mental health, there are multiple examples of how Instagram, Facebook, Watsapp and Twitter have caused harm. However social media has has become an intrinsic part of society and altered our lives exponentially, so we might as well find ways of using it constructively. The Body Positive movement has challenged society’s oppressive standards of beauty and its activists champion defiant self-acceptance. Megan Crabbe of Body Posi Panda is a powerful advocate for eating disorder recovery and Chidera Eggerue, also known as the Slum Flower, originated #SaggyBoobsMatter and has become renowned for her take on self-confidence and mental health. Jamilia Jamil and her I Weigh campaign has waged war on toxic diet culture; she’s gone after the Kardashians for promoting bogus weight loss products, such as appetite suppressing lollipops.
I’ve admired these women for a long time, but one of my favourite body positive warriors is Olivia Callaghan of Self Love Liv, who I’ve gotten to know recently. Liv talks about her mental health with unapologetic candour and while scrolling through her feed, I noticed that we have the same delightful group of conditions: Bipolar type two, with a history of bulimia and self-harm. She’s could just be my mental illness doppelgänger. The morning that I spoke to Liv, I realised that I think of my Bipolar in the same way I think of Donald Trump; a narcissistic arse hat with no regard for the truth. I asked Olivia if she personified her mental illness and without missing a beat she said: “I see it like Donald Trump.” Great, if somewhat malfunctioning, minds think alike.
I asked Olivia how she manages her mental health and she said that talking about it openly is one of the most effective ways to deal with it:
“As well as the medication, talking to people and being honest is really helpful. When I was a teenager I wasn’t talking to anyone, now I’ll tell every living soul.”
Liv is not only candid about her mental health, but she also offers support to her followers with the assurance that they are not alone. Liv told me that the key is to be authentic, as so many people heavily edit their photos presenting a perfected, insincere image:
“If you can be real, people won’t feel so down about themselves. I’ll say, I’m having a down day today, then they’ll say me too.”
In our image-obsessed society, reaching out from behind the filter and daring to show one’s whole self is a brave and disruptive act. Liv often encourages her readers not to be ashamed of their struggles:
“There are so many people who identify with you and you’re not alone. It’ll be ok.”
The simple assertion that things will be ok is a common theme in Liv’s posts.
Olivia was diagnosed with Bipolar when she was just 18, after four years of undulating depression, mania, self-harm and bulimia. She explained that the illness manifested itself over night when she was 14:
“It was new-years eve and I felt really low and depressed for no reason. It lasted for 2 weeks. When it changed I had this elated high and I suddenly felt amazing. I knew something wasn’t quite right, but I put it down to teenage hormones.”
Her diagnosis was a relief because it meant she had a reason for her behaviour; it was an answer to her question. Despite the comfort that came with knowledge, she was still too embarrassed to tell her friends:
“I felt ashamed, because back then mental health wasn’t really talked about. The idea of sitting down with a friend and saying ‘hey, I have this illness’ was just not going to happen.”
Now 25, Olivia is an advocate for mental health, body positivity, recovery from eating disorders and addiction. Through social media, she’s found a platform that not only helps her manage her own mental illness, but also reassures others that they need not be ashamed.
Liv has a distinctive glam-goth style and uses applying makeup as a way to stay calm. Her feed is populated with images of Liv with her Siberian-blue eyes framed with smoky eye shadow, her cheekbones glinting with highlighter and her lips a deep red. She explained how this is helpful:
“I love nothing more than sitting at my desk for a good hour, doing a full face of makeup because it’s so therapeutic. I’m not worried about how I feel. All I’m thinking is how can I make my brows look strong and my eyes pop.”
This is yet another area of common ground between Liv and I. For me, makeup and personal style is a way of giving myself a bit more confidence when I would rather not leave the house. It sounds simplistic and obvious, but it really helps.
Olivia often posts images of herself in her underwear, looking confident and powerful. I wish that I’d had a role model like Liv when I was a teenager, in the grip of body dysmorphia and bulimia. There’s something very generous and altruistic about exposing oneself to criticism and scrutiny, in the hope that it may make strangers feel less isolated. Her message is positive, simple and accessible. ‘It’s ok not to be ok and you are not alone.’ Although there is a lot that is wrong with social media, women like Olivia are leading the way and making our online lives more authentic, compassionate and kind.