Destigmatising mental illness is an ongoing campaign. Is it helped by Khloé Kardashian on TV popping beta-blockers that she gets from her mum?
No. Let me remind readers upfront and outright that beta-blockers are not candy, and you should never take any medication not recommended by a doctor – especially ones whose side-effects can include nightmares, vomiting and heart failure. Maybe Khloé Kardashian has seen a doctor, in which case we shouldn’t be concerned that there’s Kris Jenner, on their show, handing out the meds like E at a 90s rave. “Oh, I love those!” Khloé says, and quaffs. “I know. They’re really great!” responds her mum.
Casualising medication doesn’t destigmatise mental illness, but honestly examining its context really does. Kardashian tells a friend her anxiety’s due to the scrutiny of her body in public and on social media. It affects her self-esteem, confidence and the way she views herself.
The valuable lesson here is Khloé Kardashian’s problems aren’t even special. They’re screamingly common.
I tremble to think what – as a 47-year-old woman – my own investment in this area has cost. I’ve hardly experienced the mass assessment of a Kardashian, but I’ve internalised the micro-scrutinies provoked by the occasional public appearance, and they’ve had a material effect. Alas, “I’m not rich enough to be pretty,” sighed a friend when a recent group chat of media-adjacent types got into pricey recommendations for eye-cream.
Khloé Kardashian is rich enough to be all kinds of pretty. Yet “I think it’s gotten to the point that it’s literally safer to stay at home”, she says, of the self-consciousness that has her scooping up the pills.
Cosmetic procedures now constitute an annual billion-dollar industry in Australia: 90% of procedures are for women. In 2021, the Australian beauty market turned over 22 times that, with women spending an individual $3,600 on beauty every year.
What does it say that you can literally beautify to Kardashian levels and still be made paranoid about how you look?
I mean, apart from “levels of depression and anxiety for women are growing globally” – something which probably should be said more often. A recent article appeared in The Atlantic about a sadness epidemic swallowing American teens, particularly girls. It traced its beginnings to 2012 – the year when the number of Americans with mobile-social-media-capable smartphones went over 50%. The writer explained that girls have an intense sensitivity to peer judgment, which social media “seems to hijack”.
Only teenagers? A 2018 study showed women in general were less likely to be happy with their bodies if they spent more than an hour on social media a day. Kardashian mentions its “deteriorating” effects on her by name.
So why do we all keep going back there? Social media usage has been stable for the past five years, despite women’s widespread experience of bullying and “heckling” Kardashian describes.
We know why; social media is our public square, to avoid it is to shun society. Worth more analysis is how that digital square is built from visual content that implies society doesn’t change – when people do.
Philosopher Susan Sontag described photographs as memento mori. By slicing out moments and freezing them, she wrote, “all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”
Once, a metaphor for that relentless melt was in the physical properties of photographs themselves. They’d fade, crack, pick up creases and stains. Their shapes and borders were subject to fashion, just as clothes and hairstyles in them pinned their contents to a specific point in time. But photographs are no longer artefacts of a deteriorating past. Digital photos represent an eternal visual present.
Bullying only works when it names a weakness its victim can already feel. Heavy tradition encourages women’s self-esteem to be based in how we look – so how strong could even a Kardashian be, when the most obvious sign of time’s passage is on the body that you live in, ageing and changing while its visual world does not?
Our flaws can be scrutinised to the pixel. Digital photography turns living women into the Picture of Dorian Gray.
This week, 78-year-old model Lauren Hutton appeared shirtless on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. Tempering any celebrations – OMG! She’s even got wrinkles! – was Hutton’s line in an accompanying interview, about her career. “I was about to become 30,” she says, “and I knew I was about to expire”.
No wonder we’re spending up big on the eye-cream; even supermodel Hutton’s had botox. There’s an existential terror to beauty. I’d block it out if I could. Wouldn’t you?