Representing Disability in British Television

How are images of the disabled, race and class produced and consumed? Include references. 

Throughout the history of television and film disability has hardly ever been represented accurately in the media, within Hollywood disabilities can be glamorised in order to gain more views and have a gripping storyline. However, because of this the imagery painted about mental and physical disabilities creates a false stigma around it. In my blog post, I am going to talk about two contrasting television shows where mental illness is represented Skins and My Mad Fat Diary. Both shows were aired on E4 and were a huge part of my generation’s culture and have very large influences over my generation and have the same target audience.

Growing up in my generation one of the must-see television shows Skins centred around a group of delinquent teenagers using substance abuse to run away from their problems instead of facing them. The show is a major culprit for glamorising mental illness and representing it in a poisonous way to its impressionable target audience of 16-20-year-olds. In the second generation of the programme, the character Effy played by Kaya Scodelario gets self-diagnosed with psychotic depression by her boyfriend. The character is portrayed as a self-destructive loose cannon she treats people horrendously with no remorse for her actions, blaming them on her mental illness. Effy’s character is built to revolve around her mental illness, being shown as damaged and mysterious, not as an actual person who happens to have a disability.

After the show aired the episode where Effy tried to commit suicide and ended up institutionalised people praised the programme for being brave and talking about the taboo subject of mental illness, however, they only made the problem worse by having a mental illness look cool and aloof and make you more interesting. The writers created a toxic relationship between the audience and mental illness because the audience is being fed the hyper glamorised version instead of an accurate one. But after E4 received a lot of praise for airing a programme with a character with mental illness they went in a better direction in terms of representing disability and released the show My Mad Fat Diary. The show centres around Rae played by Sharon Rooney who was institutionalised as a teenager when her mental illness and eating disorder got too much for her to handle on her own.

The show My Mad Fat Diary centres around Rae played by Sharon Rooney, who was institutionalised as a teenager when her mental illness and eating disorder got too much for her to handle on her own. The show follows her rehabilitation into the world, her friends and her family. Free from a lot of the cliques found in many of these types of programmes the writers approach the story line with humour and sensitivity which work in harmony with each other. Rae is a girl who suffers from obesity and mental illness, but she doesn’t want pity off of others she wants to be the best version of herself and has so much love to give to everyone. It’s one of the best non-toxic depictions of a girl suffering from mental health making Rae a role model for a teenager and young adults in the UK.


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