On Tumblr’s Romanticization of Depression


Before really diving into talking about this, I’d like warn you that I am going to get angry. Also, huge trigger warning for depression, addiction, self harm, enablement and romanticization of mental illnesses– all that fun stuff.



Look, baby, I love you. You know that, seeing as I’ve wasted at least a little time on you nearly every day for the last three years. And this isn’t a break up letter, you’ve just kind of started scaring the shit out of me lately. There’s this part of you, this, dark, freaky part– that really loves to romanticize mental illnesses. It’s the Soft Grunge part of you. I don’t like it. It’s really dangerous behaviour. You’re worrying me.

Text me or something, alright?



If you’ve been following my internet adventures then you probably know that I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety a while ago. I’ve tried to be fairly forthright about it recently, because 1) it’s pretty obvious anyway, 2) the shame that so many people feel about their mental illnesses is really really awful, and I’d like to be part of the admittedly small portion of people trying to end that stigma, and finally, 3) I’m trying to do this thing called Get Better, which for me involves embracing it.

Also, I really love Tumblr. And teenage girls. Not in a Humbert Humbert kind of way, more in a, “we are young, smart, strong ladies, and we’re going to take over the whole damn world one day,” kind of way. Discovering feminism has made it pretty hard for me not to be bursting with girl love.

Which is probably part of why the soft grunge craze makes me so angry– this is my own kind, severely disappointing me.

“Soft Grunge” isn’t what happens when you put a Nirvana CD in a washing machine with some fabric softener. It’s a term that evolved to describe a specific type of aesthetic common among teenage girls on Tumblr in recent years. Lana del Rey is basically the human embodiment of this phenomenon. This Urban Dictionary definition is condescending, but also pretty accurate:

[They] create a “hardcore” persona on Tumblr by reblogging pictures of inverted crosses, dip-dyed hair, ying-yang symbols and toilets. They like to pretend that they listen to grunge music by wearing stylish Nirvana tees that match their $200 pair of Doc Martens. If you were ask them who the Misfits were, they’d probably say anyone who isn’t sporting spikes this season.

This breakdown, however, misses out on the really weird romanticization of mental illnesses, especially depression, that runs rampant in these blogs. I creeped a few Tumblrs (that I would normally link to, but I’d really rather not encourage more people to look at this stuff, but reverse image searching is a thing if you really care) and found a lot of seriously fucked up imagery– it’s wildly popular, too, judging by the notes these posts get.

77493 notes at the writing of this post.
1164 notes.
7089 notes.
77709 notes.
2137 notes.

You see this, right? You’re seeing these pictures?? They’re there in front of you and you can see them??? Or am I just losing my mind completely???? Do people not find this messed up????? I also found a lot of pictures of bruised knees and bleeding cuts in my travels to the terrifying side of Tumblr, but looking at them makes me want to vomit even more than the above images, so I’m not posting them here.

I’ve tried to describe what depression feels like a thousand times before, and I can never really get it right. Sometimes, depression feels like nothing. It’s the absence of feelings. Which is why to people who’ve never really learned about it, someone with a severe, life-threatening mental illness can just kinda look like some dude who sleeps too much and won’t do stuff.

Notice how the words “pretty,” “beautiful,” “romantic,” or “#pale” didn’t show up in that description. Because it’s none of those things. It just sucks. In one of my vlogs I described depression as “kind of like a 24/7 party inside your brain, where everybody that you invited is a sad drunk, so really you’re all just sitting on a couch together, like, sobbing over nothing, and it’s like, hey, brain, wanna… not? Maybe? That would be cool.” And I’d say that’s still right. Although the sobbing part isn’t always apparent in people– it’s indicative of a marginally less severe form of the illness than an apathetic kind of depression.

Basically, no matter how it manifests, depression doesn’t really tend to look like decorated cigarette boxes and artfully running mascara. And I’m willing to bet money that a huge chunk of these girls have no diagnosed illnesses.

Which isn’t to say that no girl with a soft grunge blog is actually diagnosed with depression (or any other mental illness), because I’m sure many are. And I think I can kind of understand the appeal. Feeling like you’re a part of something can be comforting, and so can seeing that other people feel the same way you do. When you’re in the healing stages of a mental illness, having support isn’t just important, it’s a necessity. But the soft grunge subculture doesn’t support the “Sad Girls” it idolizes, it enables them.

Every time you reblog pictures of a computer screen that says “stupid sad girl” or Marlboro cigarettes with sticky notes pasted on them saying “because you broke my heart,” every time you contribute to a culture that makes depression seem like a quirky thing to add to your “about” section instead of a serious disorder with one of the highest death rates of any illness, you are actively making it okay for people to ignore their health problems and just be sad. That’s enablement.

People need to stop posting pictures of pills and tagging them #death, #suicide, #self hate, #soft grunge, and #pale. Trust me on this one, overdosing on pills: not really a good time. It’s nothing like the pictures of parties that are scattered all over your dashboard. A pretty blue-eyed boy will not come up to you when you’ve been lying in an ER bed for four hours because you can’t walk and tell you how beautiful you and your sadness are. Maybe that’s because you won’t be wearing pants at the time (I wasn’t), or maybe that’s because you’ll barely be able to speak because your mind is so distorted by the drugs. He won’t kiss your fucking scars. In fact it’s likely that nobody ever will, because seeing the mutilated flesh of someone you love is terrifying.

I think that’s something that needs to make its way back into our perception of mental illnesses: terror. I don’t mean that we should regress to a state where as soon as someone tells you they’re depressed, you run and hide, but we can’t look at depression as something that’s beautiful in any way. I would never want anyone to be afraid of a loved one of theirs with depression, but they should probably be a little bitafraid of the depression itself. Because in my experience, the fear is really what winds up getting people to get help. The things that depression can drive people to are terrifying. The way your own thoughts turn against you is terrifying. The shitstorm that your life turns into is terrifying. I’m gonna go full white girl for a second and quote some really beautiful Kendrick Lamar lyrics from Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst

In case I’m not here tomorrow, I’m hoping that I can borrow
A peace of mind, I’m behind on what’s really important
My mind is really distorted, I find nothing but trouble in my life

The song isn’t about depression, it’s about growing up in Compton, California, and trying to resist the magnetic pull of gang life and violence, but I remember the first time I heard those lines they hit me like a slap in the face because they were just so easy to identify with. “My mind is really distorted” basically sums up depression in half a sentence. And before this rant turns into a post about how much I love Kendrick Lamar, let me just say this: creating a space where depression is so accepted that it verges on being promoted is just as dangerous as creating a space where depression is unaccepted. Much like everything else in life, we need to find a balance.


And really, it’s not that fucking difficult to just stop reblogging shit that promotes unhealthy views of mental illness.


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My youtube channel turned four today and I feel very, very strange about it.

By the time most humans are four they can talk and walk and go potty and do, y’know, people stuff, and they’re becoming people. But I still feel like I have absolutely no idea whatsoever what it is I’m doing. Yesterday I looked through my uploaded videos, and it sort of shocked me how little sense the journey I’ve come on has made.



1: August 27th 2009 – August 27th 2010

The first video I ever uploaded was a 2:07 clip shot on a webcam of my best friends in the whole world excitedly dancing around the playground of the apartment I lived in at the time. It was the summer before sixth grade and we were having a goodbye party for one of my friends who was moving away. At the time I’m sure I felt very grown up, but looking back at it made me feel like the video immoralized the last real grasp I had on childhood.

I spent that whole first year uploading little skit videos with my friends. They amused us at the time and are cringeworthy now. Gradually these videos became more complex, with, like, editing (wow) and the first video I’m willing to call a ‘short film’ was uploaded around this time. The shots were amateur and the acting was awful, and the whole “wow ok I want to make movies that is a thing I’d like to do with my life” thing didn’t really click until 8th grade, but it’s interesting to see how much being on YouTube while growing up nurtured my interest in film. …Even though it created more cringe material for future me than I’d really like to admit, but if you look back at your art and don’t cringe, I think you might be doing something wrong.

I think July 10th, 2010 was the day I uploaded the first video that I can look back on and firmly tell that I am a full blown ~~tween~~ in, and that was around the time I started to wean off my attempts at this “humour” thing and just vlog.

Also I’m pretty sure I started wearing a training bra at this point so my SPIRAL INTO WOMANHOOD is obvious.

2: August 27th 2010 – August 27th 2011

One year down. I had 26 subscribers. PURE UNADULTERATED SUCCESS.

I uploaded a video on 10/10/10 that kind of amazes me, because my demeanor is actually fairly similar to how I act now, I’m just so unbelievably awkward looking, and my editing is terrible. That year was the height of my awkward phase, so it’s really great that I uploaded the infamous Slut Shaming and Why it’s Wrong then…

I haven’t really talked about the impact of that video on, well, my whole life basically, and I won’t go too in-detail here, but  it almost dumbfounds me how out of the blue its entire creation seems in retrospect. I’d never, never, never uploaded anything at all like that video before. There is nothing in my uploaded videos that could indicate that I’d ever do something like that. And then suddenly I just did. And I think there’s a kind of beauty in that, in just making a video about something you care about for no other reason than because you wanted to. I had 33 subscribers at the time, it’s not like I thought anyone would really see it. I wasn’t setting out to become a Big Bad Feminist Vlogger (watch out). I mean, the editing goes completely downhill halfway through it anyway, who would want to watch that? And yet it resonated with (at the time of this writing) 662,281 viewers. Which is insane for several reasons, the most prominent of which is that I don’t even think I fully understood what I was saying at the time. Part of why I wrote that script out was to help myself understand a concept that was so new to me, this form of opression I’d been socialized to not even notice. It was weird.

3: August 27th 2011 – August 27th 2012

The first video I uploaded in my third year involved me dancing around downtown with ketchup. Solid way to start, honestly. I also ranted about school, hit 100 subscribers, and uploaded A L T A I R, which is kind of a landmark video for me. As you can tell from the spaces between letters in the title, that was the first video I’d ever made with the intent of creating art. And I think it sort of worked out? That was when a lightbulb went off in my mind saying “yo. Dude. You could maybe do this legit film thing,” and that led to a lot of uploading of similar videos throughout the year. This was definitely the year I got serious about improving my filmmaking.

A Storm in New York and Always On were my way of remembering my whirlwind two day trip to Manhattan to be on Anderson in January when the slut shaming video was really picking up steam. I was still hella awkward looking at that point, which leaves me a little embarrassed, but it also makes me kind of happy to see how jarring it is to watch a dorky-looking kid smack down people with the unholy hands of feminism, you feel me? It’s hilarious.

This was also the year I decided starting Other Zine was a good idea (it turned out not to be, but you live and learn).

4: August 27th 2012 – Today

This is the year of “I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing with this youtube channel and I’m not sure how I feel about that.”

Most of what I upload now are short and slightly uncomfortable vlogs, and film-y type things. I wouldn’t call myself a feminist vlogger at all, but that’s what most people think of me as. I have no clue what I’m doing. I’m not sure I ever did.

And, as is obvious, I decided to write this whole reflection out instead of make a vlog about it, which I think says a lot, but I’m not exactly sure what.




Here is a list of some of the things I did two days ago in no order:

  • Worked on Opalside
  • Wrote rap lyrics
  • Played the Sims for like 3 hours and wondered if I’d be an entertaining host for a Let’s Play series, then decided that no, I wouldn’t, because my entire simming experience relies on cheats
  • Cried
  • Sang to myself
  • Illegal things (not bad ones, calm down)
  • Wrote poetry
  • Did something I’ll upload on my beauty channel soonish

I’ve been thinking a lot about What I’m Going to Do With My Life and What I’m Going to Be When I Grow Up and How the Actual Fuck Am I Going to Graduate and What On Earth Will I Study in College and How Will I Get a Job That Doesn’t Make Me Want to Die More Than I Already Do, but mostly The Future is Really Scary, and I keep wondering how all the weird shit I do with my time will translate into that. There are so many different things I want to do, and I want to do all of them at once, but I don’t know how I’d manage that without breaking. And is it even possible to be a musician/poet/art magazine editor/filmmaker/makeup artist/E.E. Cummings anyway? Can I do that? Is that a thing? How would I make money off it so I can pay for the Tiny House (or maybe just studio apartment, I haven’t decided yet, it just needs a hairless cat in it) I want to live in one day? Provided I can even stay alive long enough to get there with this fucking brain demon called depression and his pet dog, anxiety, living in the penthouse suite of my body and not paying rent. hOW Do U DO THE “”LiFE”” THING????????¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿?????

It seems like four years, once you’re older, doesn’t always mean too much. No matter what, any year will bring you countless things– not all of them good– but I feel like it makes more of an impact when you’re still young and figuring out what exactly it is you want to do in life, and who exactly you are. I’m fifteen. Four years is ~26% of my life. Did I spend that well? Do I like who I’ve become and who I am becoming? I don’t really know. And maybe that’s a depression thing, and I know I’m just having some slight teenage existentialist angst problems, but Sarah From Four Years Ago probably wondered about some of the same things. While I realize the immense pressure to specialize and worry about careers so early in life does more harm than good, I’m still affected by it, and it almost makes me a little sad that I’m still essentially lost in life.

Aaaaaaaaand now I sound like an 80 year old man who regrets his whole life. I’m not, I’m just confused about how I feel about the past and the future.

i know one day

life won’t be so

hard, but that

doesn’t really make it

any easier right



I’m sorry this got depressing– it was unintentional but happens a lot.

Thank you for reading this and caring about the things I say and do and generally making my life a little more interesting and a little less scary.




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So. We’re starting a thing.

Opalside.com (which is currently a working site but is hella ugly because we don’t have a design figured out yet– if you’re willing to help us out with that that’d be super cool) is going to be a website dedicated to the arts of all kinds (with a special focus on photography and poetry) with monthly themed content curated by myself, Sarah Sloan MacLeod, and one of my favouritest people ever, Mikyung Jung. We’re both teenage girls from Vancouver and art fanatics who’d like to offer unsung artists an opportunity to, like, PUBLISH STUFF. ON A REAL, INDEPENDENT, FREE TO USE WEBSITE. BECAUSE HOW COOL WOULD THAT BE.

So you’ve read all this and want to submit? WELL LUCKY FOR YOU THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT WE WANT YOU TO DO.

The first issue’s theme will be IDENTITY. By which we mean, what is an identity? What defines us as people– our sexualities, the places we’ve lived and loved, our aesthetics, our favourite foods? Is identity something you’re born with or do you grow into it? Is it fluid? Is it fate? Can you choose who you become? Who even ARE you, anyway, at the core?

Yes, we know this is super ~~deep~~ and we hope it’s a decently inspiring prompt. There’s also a moodboard below for visual artists looking for inspiration.



clockwise from top left: victor enrich, peter garfieldli hui, alex colville


clockwise from top left: kate lyn sheil, jenny holzerandrew volk, steven reinke


clockwise from top left: ximena forero, still from the wizard of oz, sid blackli hui

If you’d like to apply to join the staff (aka contribute to multiple issues) fill out the form below and just email me at astrorice@gmail.com. We keepin this application and publication process chill. Yo.


URL to a blog/vlog/somethin’ along those lines:



What would you contribute? Attach/link to samples of your work.

  • Poetry – 3 seperate poems (slam poetry is accepted in video or written format)

  • Photography/Illustrations – 5 seperate pieces

  • Videos – 3 seperate pieces

And if you’d like to submit on a one-time-only basis, email the work you’d like to be considered to astrorice@gmail.com.

Aaaaaaaaand finally if you’ve just got questions, ask them in the comment section below, I spend too much time on this website anyway.


Carry on, my wayward sons.


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I always feel like the first post of a blog, first entry in a journal, first note taken in class, should be something consequential. Meaningful, y’know? Important.

But I had a blog before. The same blog, basically. It just got hacked (by a hacking group from Bangladesh??? WHAT??? I laughed for like ten years when I found out I s2g, not a hyperbole at all) and I got forced to scrap it and try again.

The first entry in my journal is never really more important than purchasing it in the first place, finding the journal with the perfect line width and texture and page size, then decorating it (every single one of my journals since I was 13 has been decorated– my favourite so far has the words “DO NOT FUCKING OPEN THIS,” with letters snipped from various magazines, glued on the front).

I’m taking a grade 10 English class this summer, getting it over with and whatnot, earing my four credits and abiding the education system that I loathe so intensely, and we took notes on various literary terms. Like metaphors. Which I already understand.

Doesn’t mean anything.


For our first assignment in the aforementioned English class, we had to pick a line from a list of quotations– they were referred to as quotes in the actual assignment sheet, but they’re called quotations, DAMN IT, AND THIS IS AN ENGLISH CLASS, GET IT RIGHT— and respond to it in any way we saw fit. The one I went with was an Alfred Lord Tennyson one, “words, like Nature, half reveal and half conceal the soul within.” I wrote a shitty poem in response (mainly because I didn’t wanna write a paragraph, let’s be honest here), and not all of it was very good but the one verse I actually liked is as follows:

See, words,

even when strung together in lines,

even when they’re “about you,” or “I don’t know, not that good,”

even when wrapped in the red string of fate and handed to you as a gift,

they are not yours.

They will not mean to you what they meant to their author.

And maybe that’s for the best.

John Green talks a lot about books belonging to their readers, not their authors, and words and sentences being up for interpretation, and I think that’s a really cool way to look at things. Like, my boyfriend’s written a few poems about me (they’re pretty great, but I’m a little biased), and I’m never ever ever gonna know what exactly he was thinking of when he wrote them, even though they’re about me. I’ll never get the same message out of them as he does. I’ll never understand them they way he can. They’re not my words. I can interpret them however I want. They can mean something to me if I let them.

When I talk about wanting a blog post to mean something, I guess I’m just hoping I’m poetic enough to slap someone in the face with ~~deep thoughts~~ or whatever.

So does this post mean anything?

I don’t know.

I think the point here is that that’s kinda up to you.


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