Throwback: In Conversation with Megan Barton-Hanson

“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.”