Exposure Asks: how staying active and open supports change

July 17, 2021

L-R: Rosie, Grace, Ollie, Ellen and Olivia

Exposure asks young people about their passions, pursuits and protests during these unpredictable times

The implications of the coronavirus pandemic mark both tragedy and possibility. Last year saw a steep rise in social activism and that energy has continued into 2021.

Young people have a lot going on in their lives right now. They battle with identity, relationships and a sense of belonging, let alone dealing with school closures, youth unemployment, increased anxieties about the climate crisis and an uncertain future.

There has been a 50% increase in those suffering with mental health issues so we have been enabling the conversation. Many young people talk openly on social media about personal struggles and offer support to one another. Likewise, movements such as Black Lives Matter, Reclaim These Streets, climate strikes and student protests have swept across the nation and the world.

Here we explore the rising power of young peoples’ voices and share perspectives on how awareness, knowledge and getting active is empowering. Young people are now proactively having a say about their futures and their communities alike.

Scroll down and use the slider tool to see how we responded, and to view relevant thoughts and facts we wanted to share. The images on the left show how we felt, while the images on the right provide information on each issue.

We’ve come a long way recently but the pressure to suppress negative feelings is real — by Ollie Opara, 18

The pressure to suppress negative feelings is real, especially in a cultural age that’s pro-positivity.

According to research by the Royal Mail, in partnership with Action for Children and The Prince’s Trust, 46% of young people aged 11 to 21 in the UK find that writing down their thoughts and feelings about difficult emotions makes them feel better.

If you struggle with stress, depression and anxiety – as I do – writing poems, prose or keeping a journal is a great idea. It can help you gain control of your emotions and improve your mental wellbeing.

I find writing helps me create order when my world feels like it’s in chaos.

For me, poetry creates intimacy with emotions that I struggle to comprehend, emotions that plague me. But through poetry, my emotions – like myself – become multidimensional. They become metaphysical.

Depression is so much more than being sad. Sadness is a ‘normal’ feeling to experience but depression is a sadness so deeply ingrained in you that it affects all areas of your life, including your physical health.

Here’s a useful guide to support you by the Mental Health Foundation.

If you’re feeling consistently sad and you’re struggling in your day-to-day life then you can get help. Please check out the Samaritans.

Other Exposure projects by Ollie

Sexuality makes up a big part of our identity, if we’re taught to hide it, it’s harmful — by Grace Egan, 17

Sexuality makes up a big part of our identity and if we’re taught to repress it or that it isn’t normal, it’s harmful. It leaves people feeling alienated and alone.

With these fixed heteronormative opinions it forces anyone that doesn’t fit into enclosed binaries to explain themselves, whereas gender-conforming and heterosexual people are not expected to. This can be detrimental to young queer individuals who are confused and trying to figure out who they are.

We are exploring what defines gender and what it means to each of us personally. Therefore, we shouldn’t be pushed to categorise ourselves; labels are only appropriate if it provides comfort for the individual using them. It’s okay to be gender fluid.

Often, our creativity and self-expression come hand in hand with our identity. Therefore, the repression of our sexuality or gender can inhibit personal growth.

In a study by Out magazine, less than 50% of teenagers identified as completely heterosexual, leaving the other 50% part of the queer community in some way. Therefore, if we are equating normal to what is common, heterosexuality isn’t even the default!

If you’re struggling to feel comfortable with your identity, or are questioning elements of yourself you can find support here.

Other Exposure projects by Grace

How far can individuals really go to have an impact on climate action? — by Olivia Eken, 17

As global temperatures edge towards the 1.5ºC limit of warming, climate change has never been a more prevalent issue.

The release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere has driven us towards a devastating climate crisis, threatening our ecosystems, public health, food and water security.

Extreme weather events have already begun to displace communities, particularly in the global south, highlighting the pressing need for action.

When faced with a crisis, we often consider what we can do personally. Adapting our diets has transformed our understanding of our role in climate change, encouraging us to believe that we are personally responsible.

Veganism has immensely influenced the UK’s eating habits. A survey by a shopping comparison site finds the number of people adhering to a plant-based diet quadrupling in the last five years, ushering in a new wave of hungry vegans.

Veganism as a solution to climate change has become yet another way for the duty of protecting our environment to be shifted from polluting industries to individuals.

According to a report by Carbon Disclosure, only 100 companies are the source of 71% of the world’s emissions. Are individuals really expected to bear the responsibility of climate action?

Unless we reform our global production systems there is not much we can personally do to escape the unsustainable reality behind the food industry.

As a practice and ideology, veganism can be considered a brilliant and efficient way to reduce the personal role we all play in the climate crisis.

Yet for us as individuals to find the balance between the unviable and the sustainable is close to impossible. And so the opportunity to cast veganism as the messiah of environmental demolition must end.

Other Exposure projects by Olivia

How safe do you feel walking alone on the streets…? — by Rosie Pundick, 17

Recent research by UN Women UK, a charity dedicated to the empowerment of women, found 97% of women and girls experience sexual harassment in public spaces. You or someone you know will have been affected.

Most of my friends have been sexually assaulted in some way. Whether it’s being catcalled or groped on the bus, we all have a story. I have been harassed countless times, regardless of my outfit, regardless of who I’m with.

For me, the ‘Reclaim These Streets’ (RTS) movement is important because it’s challenging the idea of blaming women. Rather than being told what not to wear so as not to attract attention, we are teaching men how to treat women. The movement is bringing women together rather than blaming them.

A few days ago I was travelling to a friend’s house on the bus. As I got to the bus stop I noticed an older man staring at me weirdly. This I was used to and thought nothing of it. I moved away from him, he followed me. A bus arrived and he stood there, leering at me as he waited. Every story I’ve heard from women cropped up in my mind and I was overcome with fear to such an extent that I turned around and walked to another bus stop. It was the middle of the day.

When I told my male friends about this, they said it was “disgusting”. Some were shocked. Unsurprisingly, my female friends rolled their eyes, asked if I was okay and shared similar stories.

Whether or not the RTS movement is effective, it’s bringing women together. Women are speaking up about previous stories. This is particularly important as it removes the shame factor. Slowly we are being taught not to feel ashamed or guilty for something out of our control.

As part of being encouraged to share your story, @everyonesinvited on Instagram is a page where you can anonymously publish your story.

It can be a huge relief to share something you once thought you never would.

Other Exposure projects by Rosie

I know exercise can seem like an impossible challenge when you’re having a tough time — by Ellen Joseph, 18

Especially in such trying times, it is most important that we take care of our mental and physical health.

Being physically active also gives your brain something to focus on and can be a positive coping strategy for difficult times.

When you exercise, your body releases feel-good hormones (endorphins). These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain and trigger a positive feeling in your body, similar to that of morphine. You can find out more about the benefits of physical exercise on our mental health here.

According to NHS research, there was an amazing 92% increase in downloads of Public Health England’s Couch to 5k app. This and other fitness apps have helped beginners and those more advanced in taking positive steps towards a healthier lifestyle.

Having a fitness routine positively impacts my mood and focus. With the uncertainty brought by this pandemic, particularly in regard to education and employment a daily sweat session has done wonders for me.

To be honest, it’s not always been easy to keep my exercise routine going, with work piling up, but, for my own sanity, I am glad I haven’t quit. The visible improvement in my form, strength and resilience has encouraged me to continue.

What’s most important, when creating an exercise routine, is to find something that you find enjoyable. In my experience, time flies when I’m working out with Sydney Cummings (fitness instructor). Her powerful words motivate me to push for one more repetition.

Other Exposure projects by Ellen

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