Hi, my name is Rebecca, I’m 21 and a member of the LINKS Young People Advisory Group. I work at NCB on the LINKS project while finishing up my Theology degree at Queens University Belfast. I work with young people in a range of different organisations and hope to become a youth worker in the future. In my spare time I enjoy nothing more than a mug of tea and a good book!
Sometimes Superheroes Wear Masks
Ever since I can remember I have been a huge superhero fan! Growing up it was not the usual princess tea party I was focused on. Instead it was Spiderman, skilfully spinning on ‘Spidey Web’ down the edge of our living room sofa.
I loved superheroes, I still do, but I think I loved the villains just as much! The Joker, Lex Luther, Loki - the list could go on! However there was always something in particular that struck me about the contrast between heroes and villains. You would think it would be a profound question of philosophical moral conflict or why technological advances of the 21st century do not match up. What it really came down to was the little details…masks.
Think about it, most villains don’t wear a mask but almost all superheroes do. At age 11 I can remember asking my Dad about this idea. “Well Rebecca, I think it’s because the villains have embraced who they are. They don’t care who knows about what they do or how they feel but the heroes, well, they still have some more work to do on that.” His response at that time went in one ear and out the other but in hindsight it was perfect imagery, projected from our world into the fictional one.
21st century society prides itself on the ‘Perfect Life’ mentality with only the best version of ourselves being put on display, one blemish and you’re toast! This can be applied even more strongly to our lives as young people. We can feel the pressure to post filters on our everyday situations or think that we will only be acknowledged by our ‘highlight’ stories; an unrealistic expectation! Just like the superheroes, young people today often feel like we have to wear a mask, to cover up our true feelings and identities to be accepted into the ‘normal’ bubble.
Let me explain… “More than 20% of young people are suffering significant mental health problems by their 18th Birthday” (Hope4lifeNI, 2018). In 2016, there were 297 deaths of 15-24 year olds in Northern Ireland through suicide (NISRA, 2017). 297! To put that into perspective that’s enough to fill ALL the seats of the Northern Ireland Assembly 3 times! Our mental health as young people is suffering by the filters we are putting upon our lives. We are feeling the pressure to have it all together, to know our future careers, have good grades and to fit into a ‘perfect life’.
Adults can help us by learning to look for the true hero under the mask! Promoting that it’s okay to be who you are and to not have it all together, all of the time. Adults mustn’t be afraid to delve under the persona that we as young people can often wear and must accept us as we are with bags and baggage. Practically, adults could use examples and programmes to show that the lifestyle that is depicted in the media is often unrealistic. It’s vital at this stage in our lives that adults are a constant presence in our ever changing world.
So dig deep, don’t be afraid to ask us young people outright: How are you really? Your task when working with young people is to help us aspire to be like Thor or Black Widow. Show us that strength can be found and the battle won without wearing a mask. By working together, adults and young people, we can rewrite the script of our world, change the story! We have to because no one else will!
Sometimes Superheroes DON’T Wear Masks