Pink‘s music videos are nothing but provocative — and that’s why I love her. “F**king Perfect” is an angst-ballad about loving and respecting oneself, but the NSFW video, which appeared online yesterday, is all about a young women’s self-hatred. She snorts drugs, shoplifts, and in one gruesome scene, cuts the word “PERFECT” in her arm with a razor blade.
A friend DMed me this morning about Pink’s video, calling it “exploitation disguised as empowerment,” “highly uninformed,” and done for “shock value.” I agree that, standing alone, a woman cutting the word “PERFECT” into her arm with a razor blade is over-the-top and gratuitous. But in this particular video, with this particular song, it works. And I’m willing to forgive it being a little too gratuitous because I think she’s ultimately depicting a very real problem that young women experience. While I think a lot of mainstream depictions of mental illness, or its symptoms, are exploitative (“Hoarders,” anyone?), I also think that’s the price you pay for having more awareness. There used to be a time when individuals who were unwell were practically forced to suffer in silence; the landscape of how our country deals with mental illness is huuuugely different than it was 50 years ago. That’s because some people were willing to be accused of being “exploitative” or “gratuitous.”
Personally, as someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety all of her adult life, I think being more open about the ugly stuff that goes on when people are mentally unwell is better than keeping it under wraps. I wouldn’t describe myself as a “cutter” or someone who had a problem with self-harm. But I did cut myself a couple of times in college when I was angry, frustrated and feeling a loss of control. I felt — and still feel — profound shame about that behavior. As I age and get further away from those dark experiences, however, I can see how they were a symptom of larger problems that were too big for me to handle alone.
The fact of the matter is there are enormous pressures on young women. I can’t do it justice here to highlight the educational, financial, physical and work-related pressures that we all experience, but I think Courtney E. Martin best summed it up in her generation-defining book,Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters (I paraphrase), “They told us we could be anything and we heard ‘be everything.’” The pressure to feel “perfect” — whatever that may mean to you — is making some young women crack. It is happening; it happened to me. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that this is reflected in pop culture. Other than the movie “Secretary,” there are not too many examples coming to my mind with mainstream depictions of cutters and certainly not ones that portray a “happy ending” like the one depicted in Pink’s video. (We see the character has a partner she’s cuddling in bed with and a young daughter — which apparently are proxy for her newfound self-love and self-respect.)
I don’t mean to give Pink too much credit; it is only a three-minute-long music video after all. But if it helps one woman or girl to realize, “I shouldn’t feel ashamed by the problems I’m having!” or “It gets better!” then it will be worth it. Being open about the uglier side of mental illness is a million times better than the alternative.