On Saturday 1st November I was fortunate to catch Bethany Rose Lamont talking about 'Doll Hospital Journal' on a panel of women discussing Women's Mental Health at the The Feminism in Theory and Action conference at Wadham College, Oxford. I was absolutely taken with the idea of a magazine discussing and focusing on Women's Mental Health, as to my knowledge there was nothing quite like it out there. I was incredibly fortunate to catch up with Bethany this week and ask all about her work, life and Doll Hospital Journal.
Hi Bethany, thanks for chatting to us today.
Aww, thank you for having me! I’m so happy you got in touch, and that you could make it to the talk I did at Oxford!
1. So, tell us a little bit about Doll Hospital Journal:
Doll Hospital is an art and literature print journal on mental health. I see it as a quiet, crafted space for other people dealing with mental health troubles to share their stories in all variety of mediums. We publish poetry, personal essays, cute comics, anything and everything really! Whilst, in many ways, it is a personal project, as it’s a subject I care deeply about and affects me personally, the journal itself is not about me, or one singular editorial vision. I’m more interested in letting our contributors who have honoured us with their work guide the process.
The first germ of an idea, started in a tweet for submissions I posted when I was really struggling with suicidal thoughts and other overwhelming brain things, in my final term at Oxford. I was struggling so much to express all the bad stuff I was feeling, yet lacked the language, resources and appropriate platform to express them. I wanted a different option from like posting depressing, probably quite unsettling stuff on twitter haha. Or the personal essay genre spearheaded by many online magazines, such as the ‘It Happened to Me’ series on xoJane. This stuff is great, but not everyone feels strong enough, or is in a position to, to share their stories on the Internet, I wanted people to have another option, another medium to share and reflect on this subject. Something away from the noise of toxic comment sections and constant link skipping.
3. How has it been so far?
Amazing! The response has been utterly unexpected and overwhelming. I mean, to see how quickly we reached our goal on Kickstarter, in less than a week, was just...wow! And coming back to Oxford to talk about Doll Hospital felt like a total movie montage moment. It’s been especially awesome to see the range of people who reach out to us to connect, to share their stories, I often feel like a rather hopeless human, but to see that, to be a part of that, gives me life.
I try not to get too caught up in the positive praise though! Whether from our wonderful readers, or from cool magazines, I mean it’s utterly amazing and feels like a dream most of the time, but I really don’t want to get lazy or complacent! After all, to truly pay our respects to the readers, all those kind souls who are into what we do, it’s important for us to be always looking forward, always questioning ourselves, thinking of ways for us to improve.
4. How do you feel regarding the way women's mental health is represented / addressed in the media?
I feel very ‘meh’ about it to be honest. There is a binary in representing mental health with the tortured (white) male genius one side-*-*-cough-*-*- David Foster Wallace-*-*-cough-*-*- and the delicate (white) girl muse on the other. The subject of women’s mental health gets appropriated and fetishized so much, to the extent where I suppose it qualifies as a historical literary trope in and of itself. F.Scott Fitzgerald’s copy and paste attitude to Zelda’s work is a particularly striking example of this. And what does it mean to consume that stuff when you are a mentally ill girl like me? I mean I basically thought I was Cecelia Lisbon for most of my teenage years!
The issue of whitewashing in media representations of mental health should also be raised. It feeds into this misconception that mental health troubles are an inherently ‘white’ thing, a privilege of sorts, which is gross and wrong! If women, particularly women of colour, cannot recognise themselves in the public idea of what a woman struggling with mental health looks like, how can they know when to seek help, when to speak out? As a woman of colour (albeit an incredibly privileged one) this was definitely a contributing factor to why I didn’t go to the doctor for so long, I didn’t think that people ‘like me’ dealt with this stuff.
5. How do you think the media could be more aware / supportive or representative of women's mental health?
I think it’s necessary to allow women to speak on their own terms, and in their own time. Women, particularly women suffering with their mental health, are not here to uplift you, to make you feel better about yourself! Once we go beyond simplistic feel good narratives, and can honestly express our stories free from shame and sanctimony, then I think we’re on to a good start.
But to present these stories with integrity and honesty I think an intersectional lens is key, understand and educate yourself on how racism, classism, ableism, colonialism and cissexism contributes to these subjects. It is necessary to recognise and respect the context, the individual backgrounds and identities that underpin all of our lived experiences, that affects how we navigate our world, and our bodies. Here it is appropriate to sit down and listen, to take in knowledge rather than enforce personal preconceptions.
This is particularly relevant when understanding the Western medical model of dealing with mental health, I mean my Grandma was like ‘you don’t need a doctor you need Jesus!’ It makes me think of this Kristina Wong quote, in our interview with her, for the first issue of Doll Hospital, she says:
“The western therapy, which is what’s available on campuses or available on health plans, is very taboo – it’s not something that people of color, specifically Asian American people, are accustomed to understanding, or understanding, “OK, so, what I’m going to sit and tell a stranger my story?” You know, or explaining to older relatives, “You have to go into this room now and tell this white person all your secrets” – they’re not going to do that. So, we have to think about how to recenter a conversation so that the people on the market, people whose voices we hear the least, are the ones who are inside these systems that have always excluded people.”
It is also important to realise and recognise how different mental health subjects have different, and varying stigmas and prejudices surrounding it. A member of the public may be accepting of someone who suffers from anxiety, but not of someone who is dealing with psychosis. This is a subject that needs to not only be addressed, but also challenged. To be supportive of mental health, you cannot simply support the mental health areas you regard as ‘non-threatening’ or ‘socially acceptable’. That is not only hypocritical, but extremely damaging.
6. You mentioned in your talk at Wadham college the consistently arising idea that we need to be over an issue in order to be able to talk about it. This particularly stuck in my mind, please could you elaborate a little on this?
Of course! I think this idea is rooted in respectability politics. By that I mean policing who can talk, and in what way, based on their background. For instance, I’m, pretty sure most people would rather have some respected academic with lots of letters to their name create like a super detached PowerPoint presentation on ‘mental illness’ in an Oxbridge type institution than say, listen to say a young female celebrity like Amanda Bynes who is often mocked due to her mental health troubles, go off on twitter, y’kno?
People suffering with their mental health are regarded as unreliable, unstable, and even frightening; the thing that makes us ‘qualified’ to discuss this subject (as in we have to deal with this stuff everyday) is the very thing that makes people uncomfortable about letting us speak. How can we tell our experiences accurately when we are regarded as such unreliable narrators? I think this is foolishness, all individuals are, by their nature, unreliable, and allowing people, especially women, to discuss their first hand experiences openly, without feeling like they need to provide a ton of footnotes to show it’s true, is the most powerful thing we can do to challenge mental health stigma.
This question of respectability politics also feeds into reductive notions of what recovery is, as if it is this simple, neat thing free from relapses and messiness, which is definitely not my experience! Like one day I’m going to wake up and be cured and become like a motivational speaker? Yeah, that’s not gonna happen, let’s be honest about our struggles, admit that no one 100% has their shit together, and that’s okay.
7. What are you doing when you're not working on Doll Hospital Journal?
I’m a freelance artist and writer. I write for magazines on subjects I care deeply about, disability, post colonialism and pop culture mostly. Subjects I am still trying to figure out myself! With my art, I mostly make watercolours, mutant animals and Mickey Mouse, that sort of thing. I paint weird paintings, and weird people buy them!
I’m also applying for my PHD right now; I want to write about the space of trauma in online culture, the repetition of upsetting images online and how we relate to them. I think that’s an important subject to explore.
In terms of non-work stuff, I like dressing my cat up as a pumpkin, watching gross horror movies (I just saw Mermaid in a Manhole and it’s the greatest thing ever??), making posts for my blog ‘Milk Teeth’ (which is technically meant to be like my grown up portfolio site, but it’s basically just a vomit bag for my feelingz), eating junk food with my friends and generally trying to figure out how to be a functioning human being.
8. How can FemaleArts readers access a copy of the journal?
Digital copies are currently up for grabs at our Kickstarter. But if you wanna hold out for a print one they’ll be going on sale online in December, but we’ll keep you posted on exact dates on our Twitter.
Kickstarter Link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1311505965/doll-hospital
Keep up to date with Doll Hospital Journal using the links below:
About Bethany: Bethany is a 23-year-old freelance artist and writer, and founder and editor in chief of the art and literature journal Doll Hospital. She graduated from Oxford University’s Mst. Art History programme in the autumn and studied at Central Saint Martins for her undergrad. Amongst others, Bethany has previously worked with the British Library, Rookie Magazine, For Books' Sake, I Shape Beauty, Unchosen, The Style Con, The F Word, The Ardorous, Hackney Citizen, Cut Out and Keep and Girls Get Busy. She curated the exhibition Don't Take me Too Lightly! which received critical praise from the V & A and the Royal Academy, and is the author of the novel Christ the Wolf. Her art has been shown alongside such artists as David Shrigley and Gary Webb. She has been exhibited at @rt b@by g@llery, had a solo show with Antlers gallery and was featured in Tavi Gevinson and Petra Collins', 'Strange Magic' show in Los Angeles.
Interview by (c) Amie Taylor 2014