On February 24, 2022, I got the chance to attend a talk by mental health advocate and former division one athlete Victoria Garrick hosted at UCLA. Victoria Garrick is also a TED Talk speaker with 1.5 million social media followers, where she is known for unfiltered campaign hashtag real posts. She is the founder and CEO of mental health nonprofit The Hidden Opponent. Victoria now travels to universities and high schools throughout the country in hopes of de-stigmatizing the conversation around mental health and encouraging all people to be their unfiltered selves.
Today, she sat down at UCLA’s De Neve Auditorium to talk about her journey and the lessons she learned from it.
“When I first got to college, I was not really focused on issues like anxiety, depression, mental health, or eating disorders,” Victoria said. She, like many other athletes, had the mentality that she was “too tough” for mental illness.
But her busy college schedule, pressure to perform well in volleyball and concern of making friends slowly started to sink in. “I just got increasingly more anxious and that’s when I started dealing with performance anxiety,” Victoria said. “I fell into a depressive episode.”
Through counseling with her team nutritionist, a prescription from her therapist, an inspirational book that her mom gifted to her and a series of encounters that made her question her actions, Victoria was able to recover from her anxiety, eating disorder and depression.
“I realized that this is not my fault; this doesn’t mean I’m less than as a human,” Victoria said. “I grew this passion to talk about it so that anyone else who was going through those things could either be prepared or would feel less ashamed with whatever it was that they were struggling with. And through a few rogue Instagram posts and a TED talk that I got really lucky to give, I ended up here.”
Even though this was a difficult topic, Victoria managed to sneak in some humor into her stories, keeping us all engaged. She explained that she had a difficult time coming up with the courage to tell her mom about her eating disorder. But Victoria’s mom, noticing her nervous attitude, had an unexpected response.
“My mom goes, ‘Are you pregnant?’” Victoria said, recreating her mom’s voice. “And I’m like, ‘No, I’m not pregnant. But that was a great icebreaker to tell you that I have a binge eating disorder.’”
Victoria also delved into serious topics such as her steps to recovery. One concept that stood out to me was “intuitive eating.” Intuitive eating is when you block out all societal expectations of food and just ask yourself two questions when choosing to eat a certain food: Am I hungry? Will I be satisfied from eating this?
“I like to think of it as peeing,” Victoria said, grinning. “You just get the cue from your body and you go do that. And so eating, in its most natural, infant form, is that I’ve got a cue from my body that I need nutrients and fuel. And I want to have something that satisfies me and can give [me] that energy that I need.” She was introduced to his concept through a book her mom had bought her, Breaking Free from Emotional Eating.
Although at first, her diagnosis made Victoria feel like a label, Victoria said that letting her mom in on the struggle was a big factor in helping her overcome her eating disorder. Victoria’s mom was in the audience tonight, along with the rest of her family, including Victoria’s fiancée. After the event, Victoria and her family embraced one another and gathered for a family photo.
Victoria also commented on the way she changed her social media usage after a conversation with her brother that made her rethink her relationship with Instagram.
“He said, ‘Why do you want to post that?’” Victoria said about their discussion over a highly photoshopped bikini photo she posted. “And I think, okay, he wants to have a conversation.” As he kept on asking her why she wanted so many likes and comments, Victoria realized that she was posting on Instagram only to seek social validation. Immediately after, she started experimenting with her feelings by posting unfiltered, authentic shots of everyday life with the hashtag #RealPost.
When asked for advice on how to maintain body positivity in the age of social media, Victoria gave two main pieces of advice. First, she encouraged us to unfollow accounts with a negative influence on us.
“Crack a bottle of wine, get a beer, pull out your Instagram, click on who you’re following and make some cuts,” Victoria said. “It’s powerful! Just be like ‘Do you serve me?’ ‘Does it make me feel good when I see what you post?’”
Another piece of advice she gave was to stop getting in photos. She said that this helped her stop worrying about her friends potentially posting unflattering images of her or rushing to edit the photos first before they post.
The interview was followed by a Q&A session where many eager audience members had the chance to ask questions. After the Q&A session, many audience members stayed for a meet and greet with Victoria. Victoria hugged each fan and talked to each person for as long as the fan wanted.
Coming to this event made me realize how much I needed this talk. Although I have not suffered from a mental illness, social media has sometimes blurred my idea of beauty. Victoria’s ideas can help a lot of women struggling with body image issues or student-athletes with anxiety or depression.