THROWBACK

IN CONVERSATION WITH MEGAN  BARTON-HANSON

by Isobel Warner, Guest Contributor, UK

“Everybody, no matter how much you’ve got in the bank, no matter how many  Instagram follows you have, no matter what surgery you have, we’re all human and  we all have down days.”  

28th June is the date in which the infamous Love Island returned to British screens. This reality TV  show has established itself as a summer cult classic for British teenagers and young adults, with  casual conversations with friends, colleagues and acquaintances all revolving around the same  question: “Did you watch Love Island last night?”. The success of the show has led to multiple  series around the world, with Love Island launching in Australia, Sweden, Germany and US. The  ‘Big Brother’ style programme, in which singletons all desperately try to ‘couple up’ and find love,  has catapulted ordinary 20 something Brits into influencer stardom, with fashion deals, spin-off TV  shows and Instagram followers at their fingertips. 

However, Love Island has been hugely criticised for its failure to protect and safeguard the  contestants’ mental health. The pressures of overnight, instantaneous fame combined with  damaging trolling from social media and the press alike creates a toxic atmosphere of judgement  and bullying, leading to low self-esteem, anxiety and unhappiness. The horrific consequences of  this can be seen in the deaths of two Islanders, Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassistis, and the  show’s presenter, Caroline Flack, in which all tragically took their own lives. These deaths have  created multiple campaigns in a bid to treat those in the lime light with more respect and privacy,  with these ranging from the social media campaign, #BeKind, to a petition to create a British Law  in memory of Caroline Flack, where the press would be held responsible for sustained bullying in  the aftermath of someone’s suicide. As conversations about the shows’ handling of mental health  came to the forefront, Adwoa spoke to ex-Islander Megan Barton-Hanson about her own  struggles with mental health in May 2020. From the beginning of Megan’s journey on Love Island,  social media trolling was rife, with images of Megan pre-cosmetic surgery and details of Megan’s  past work in strip clubs circulating. This, alongside the “man-eater” character the Love Island  producers cast Megan as, created negative press on a huge scale, ranging from viral tweets to  published articles and anonymous trolling.  

“I thought a bigger pair of boobs was going to fix my confidence” 

However, Megan revealed to Adwoa that she struggled with depression and anxiety before staring  on Love Island. Megan described how her mental health deteriorated after being bullied  throughout her teens and early twenties, starting at school for her appearance and then  exacerbated by her job in a strip club. This bullying led to very low self-esteem, and, in a bid to  raise this self-esteem, she underwent cosmetic surgery. Whilst continuously supporting womens’  rights to do whatever they like to their appearance, Megan revealed that the surgery did not have  the effect she originally thought it would: “As a 19 year old girl, when I had bigger boobs and a  nose job, I thought I’d spring off the operating table and feel like Beyonce, but that’s not real.”  This wrongly-placed faith in cosmetic surgery to improve self-esteem is prominent and to hear  Megan openly confess to this train of thought and depict its falseness is hugely beneficial for  young women and girls. Megan built on this, stating plainly, “I thought a bigger pair of boobs was  going to fix my confidence” and “Fact is if you have bigger boobs or smaller nose you’re still  going to be the same person inside”. Megan openly speaking about her cosmetic surgeries  dispels the glamorous and dangerous illusion that social medias can create, and demonstrates  the realities behind the Instagram looks. 

It is essential that we look beyond the outside shell and focus on whether we are happy and  healthy inside first. Megan revealed this to Adwoa, stating openly, “It took a lot of therapy to love  myself”; she further explained that it wasn’t the cosmetic work which helped her self-esteem and  mental health, but instead that “the real work was… CBT therapy, and that really really helped  me.” Cognitive behavioural therapy, otherwise known by its abbreviation CBT, is a common  technique used by therapists and doctors to battle depression and anxiety. This involves breaking  down negative thought cycles and attempting to reframe these harmful thoughts and feelings into  individual and positive ones. Again, hearing Megan speak so openly not only about attending 

therapy, but also specifically the positive effect which CBT has had is an important tool to break  down the stigma around therapy and behavioural therapy. Furthermore, Adwoa and Megan  discussed the sheer time and patience which is needed with these therapies and counselling,  describing how “When I first went to therapy, I had three sessions and said “Mum, I’m fixed!”, but  it’s not like that, it’s an ongoing thing”. This long-term approach to therapy is essential to  successfully creating strong mental attitudes and resilience.  

“It took a lot of therapy to love myself.”  

The impact of Megan speaking so publicly and openly about these experiences should not be  underestimated or undermined. Indeed, Megan even admits that her followers might not see what  they expected when they follow her on Instagram, with her posts about mental health  interspersing glamour model shots and full-glam make-up looks. However, this candid approach  to speaking about mental health not only normalises an otherwise taboo topic, but demonstrates  that even those some might idolise or cast judgement on, such as reality TV stars, suffer from the  same emotions as everyone else. As such, if you are tuning into Love Island, or when you’re next  scrolling past picture perfect influencers, let’s keep in mind what Megan said, that “Everybody, no  matter how much you’ve got in the bank, no matter how many Instagram follows you have, no  matter what surgery you have, we’re all human… we all have down days.”