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Youth, mental health counselors split on whether ‘glowing up’ is healthy or toxic

Chuying Huo/YJI

The quarantine phenomenon of “glowing up” – improving yourself – took parts of the internet by storm as the covid-19 pandemic raged.

Making the most of your time within the quarantine is important and reinventing yourself is a way to enjoy life, said Jonas Roi B. Amparo, 18, of Tagbilaran City in the Philippines.

In interviews with Youth Journalism International, some young people embraced the idea of enhancing their appearance through exercise, new hairstyles and makeup, while others called it unnecessary and even toxic.

Mental health professionals interviewed by YJI were also split on the issue, with some of them warning about possibly unhealthy habits developing from the glowing up trend while others said they thought it important for people to focus on themselves during difficult times. 

Antonella Cardoso

Sevgi Eda Keskin, 18, of Istanbul, Turkey, suggested that self-improvement and trying something new is a good way to keep occupied during lockdown. 

A fresh start is also appealing to 15-year-old Antonella Cardoso of Quito, Ecuador.

Ben Trad, 21, of Melbourne, Australia, said he understands the intention to spread positivity, but said it’s unhealthy to think that if you are not constantly improving, you’re wasting your time.

Ben Trad

“I think there’s a bit of toxicity in that,” said Trad.

The more time people spend on social media, the more it makes them feel bad, according to Kate Turner, a mental health counselor in Spring, Texas. Young people shouldn’t try to reinvent themselves, Turner said, because then they start asking themselves about their flaws. 

But Roseanne Erika Loquellano, a medical intern who has worked with youth in Manila, Philippines, said the glowing up trend is a great idea.

Kate Turner

It’s a creative way that some people can use the quarantine time for a major make-over, Loquellano said, adding that coming out of the pandemic alive, healthy and beautiful is one way to beat covid-19.

Maria Vitiadou, 20, of Athens, Greece, is all for it.

Roseanne Erika Loquellano

Usually, social media promotes habits and lifestyles that are far away from reality, Vitiadou said, but during quarantine, it is important to find the time to dedicate to yourself.

“So, go and have a mini-spa day, start a workout challenge, drink more water, fix your sleep schedule and find a new hobby,” Vitiadou said.

Some young people said that overall, the trend is a good thing, but people need to be careful of where they set their boundaries and how they go about it.

Seventeen-year-old Aliyah Kassam from London said it’s good to set goals for yourself as long as they’re achievable.

Similarly, Anna May, who is 23 years old and lives in an English town called High Wycombe, said it’s amazing if people can use the time in quarantine to discover who they truly are and how they want to live their lives, but that it won’t work if it’s forced.

Celebrities and social media influencers could spend their time making workout videos or trying out new skin products, but for everybody else this isn’t always realistic.

Sophie King, 15, of McLean, Virginia, admitted that she was doing workouts by YouTube star Chloe Ting to get in better shape.

While she thinks that reinventing yourself completely is a little “wack,” King added that having a lot of time to reflect and take a break and improve yourself is important. 

Chloe Connell, 15, of Melbourne, Australia, said that while reinventing yourself has drawbacks, it does inspire her to look her best even when she’s not feeling that way.

Outdoor exercise area in Melbourne, Australia. (Alyce Collett/YJI)

But Beattie Pritchard, 22, of Chichester, England said the trend’s portrayal of how everyone should be managing their time is annoying.

If people weren’t in their best routine before covid-19 then they certainly won’t be now, Pritchard said. And Pritchard said many people are struggling for money, worried about their health, or are overworked, making this kind of lifestyle a massive privilege.

Vedat Burak Sanel

“If you haven’t done this until quarantine struck, you are not going to be doing it now.  No one is going to truly glow up just because of quarantine,” said 17-year-old Vedat Burak Şanel of Istanbul.

Tia Hume-Jennings, 15, of Liverpool, England considers ‘glow-up’ a weird term. She said that it gives people false hope and makes people feel that they could be better.

Multiple youth agreed that if you do follow a glow-up challenge like changing your physical appearance through diet, exercise or coloring your hair, you should do it for yourself and not for others.

Nicolle DeGroft, 17, of Suffolk, Virginia and Jomel Goh, 18, of Singapore agreed that while taking care of yourself is good, obsessing could become harmful.

Nicolle DeGroft

“I think it’s kind of toxic, honestly,” DeGroft said. She said that if glowing up is going to help you love yourself, then that is great and you should work on getting healthy, but you shouldn’t do it for other people.

Goh said that while it is good to plan on taking care of yourself physically, which helps improve the mind, she doesn’t support obsession. That can derive from very unhealthy mindsets such as chasing clout, Instagram intentions, or unhealthy eating habits, Goh said.

Despite the buzz on social media around these challenges, there are some teens who either don’t have a strong opinion or who hadn’t heard of the phenomenon.

Muhammad Tariq

Fifteen-year-old Li Zing Yi of Beijing said that while there have been weight loss and exercise videos circulating on social media platforms, she doesn’t have an opinion as it doesn’t affect her.

Muhammad Tariq, 22, of Nicosia, Cyprus has never heard of the challenge. He said that he keeps himself occupied so he doesn’t follow those trends.

Psychotherapist Helen Butlin in Ontario, Canada, said it would be great if people are willing to use this time to change certain unhealthy habits. But she went on to explain that many are obsessed with weight loss and a beautiful body and have a narrow definition of what beauty means.

Helen Butlin

If someone’s struggling with body image and a difficult relationship with food, Butlin said, then what’s coming at them through social media has no filter, and it’s extremely difficult to switch that off.

It’s about trying to have a healthier relationship with oneself, she said, and filtering out the things that don’t help.

Following the glowing up trend is one way that some young people have been coping with the pandemic, but it’s clearly not for everyone.

This story was reported by Salma Amrou in Suffolk, Virginia; Mariama Barry in Coastal Road, The Gambia; Aileen Cevallos in Quito, Ecuador; Nisha Chandar-Nair in Lincoln, England; Alyce Collett in Melbourne, Australia; Rosie Evans in Liverpool, England; Bilge Nur Güven in Istanbul; Holly Hostettler-Davies in Bridgend, Wales; Chuying Huo in Ontario, Canada; Erin Kim in Andover, Massachusetts; Manar Lezaar in Fez, Morocco; Katrina Machetta in Spring, Texas; Lyat Melese in Alexandria, Virginia; Nivetha Nandakumar in Cardiff, Wales; Purnima Priyadarsini in Bhubaneswar, India;  Aimee Shah in London; Parnian Shahsavary in Tehran, Iran; Lucy Tobier in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Daisy Wigg in Dartford, England.  It was written by Holly Hostettler-Davies, Lyat Melese and Aimee Shah. Alyce Collett made the photo and Chuying Huo created the cover illustration.

Covid Mood is a global project by Youth Journalism International examining how the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 impacted mental health among the world’s young people. Its 17 news stories and accompanying photos and illustrations are by 21 students from a dozen nations on six continents. Together, they interviewed 56 teenagers and young adults in 18 countries and mental health professionals from five different nations. All Covid Mood stories are accessible here.

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