*Sidenote* This is a piece I wrote for uni, I got the grade back today and was really pleased, so I thought I would share it with you all! *
As my Facetime call progressed from ‘dialing’ to ‘connecting’ my heart began to race a little. After all, this was only meant to be a test run, so far we had only agreed a rough time for our chat by email and I was sure that technology would fail us. I rang 15 minutes early just in case and 15 seconds later, her face had filled the screen. She lit up, seemingly just as surprised as me that our online call had worked first time.
Her hair is up and of course, her head is adorned, as per usual, with a hat; a dark brown cowboy one this time. A section of hair either side of her face has been let down to showcase her “chipmunk” cheeks as she calls them (or lust worthy cheekbones to you and I). She looks warmly at the camera as we exchange pleasantries, her bright eyes framed by dark brows.
I have to admit that I was disappointed we couldn’t meet in person, but in a way an online chat seems all the more appropriate given how this girl has made her name. Mika Francis is a 19-year-old fashion blogger and Youtuber who has launched herself into the spotlight recently with her 1970s inspired boho style and infectious personality. More importantly than that though, on her Tumblr blog, she’s become both an inspiration and a mentor to over three thousand girls who are growing up under modern day social pressures. With one in ten young people now suffering from mental health issues, Mika advises them based on her own experiences with anxiety, self-harm and eating disorders.
Like many young girls who grew up idolizing the fashion industry, Mika faced issues with body confidence and eating disorders from her early teens.
“I’ve got body dysmorphic disorder,” she said, an illness that affects around 1 in 100 people in the UK and causes the sufferer severe anxiety as they see a distorted version of how they look.
“I think I’ve always been really hard on myself, especially when it comes to my appearance. When I was going through puberty, I realized that I didn’t look like any of the models online or in magazines. I developed a terrible relationship with food where I would starve myself and then binge. In the past I’ve self-harmed because of how I look, it’s just a feeling of helplessness. It was horrible.”
In 2011, Mika received some tragic news. Her Dad was admitted to hospital and after a series of tests, the diagnosis was given: the dreaded C-word. For a young girl who is already feeling vulnerable and helpless, you would think that her mental health would have spiraled out of control. But the shock of her Dad’s ill health prompted a complete lifestyle change for the whole Francis family. In their effort to fight the illness together, Mika began tackling her issues with food in a healthier way.
“We completely changed the food in the house and started doing more exercise as a family, it brought us together because we all wanted him to beat his illness. When he began recovering, I started to notice I was getting closer to the body image that I wanted, without starving myself, and I felt great, it made me feel better. I felt like I was recovering too.”
As Mika and her family changed, so did the fashion industry, with the rise of fashion bloggers. Now more than ever, normal women and girls can showcase their style, without having to battle with any of the beauty constraints placed on high fashion models. Some of these young women attract millions of followers and as a result, girl power has a newfound prominence in society.
“In the last few years alone I’ve seen so much more on Twitter and Tumblr about feminism and breaking down the idea of conventional female beauty. When I was growing up, the one thing I noticed was that all the popular girls had a thigh gap, so it was engrained in me that that’s how I should look.”
So does she think the industry so infamous for its poor representation of women is improving and sending out a better message to vulnerable teens?
“If you look at all the ‘famous’ bloggers now, they’re not models, they’re not perfect and I think that’s what girls like. There are so many different ethnicities and body shapes; everyone’s being represented because anybody can blog. It’s not a selective industry.”
Mika herself has been blogging since 2011; something that she says has helped both boost and distract her during some of her lowest moments. She not only receives messages from girls seeking advice, but also countless comments thanking her for being such an inspirational force in their lives.
“Blogging definitely gives me a confidence boost. People send me the most amazing messages on Tumblr and I still can’t get over the fact that people do that, I read them in the morning and that’s my motivation.” She smiles, before glancing down and pausing for a second. “My insecurities will always be there, it’s just engrained in my brain, but I’m attacking it in a more positive way now.”
The way she talks about her recovery process is fascinating, and inspiring to the thousands of girls who flock to her site for guidance – be it about fashion choices, like what to wear to a festival, or more serious topics like self-harm or anxiety.
“I will always try and give my best advice, but I always suggest self motivational strategies. Whenever I get really low and I’m crying I’ll go and sit in front of the mirror and I’ll be like: ‘Listen, you!’ and I’ll talk to myself as an outsider, for me it works.”
From an outsider’s perspective, looking in, it’s hard to see any shred of this self-doubt that often resurfaces from its dark and murky depths to pull her back in. She appears nothing less than a captivating, confident and charismatic young woman. But that’s exactly why we’re conducting this interview, and that’s exactly why thousands of young girls follow her online. Although she may seem entirely extraordinary, Mika Francis epitomizes the modern day teen, and there are a lot more of these vulnerable girls in your life than you may know.
Love Ellen xx