Recently, espnW published an in-depth feature by writer Kate Fagan on former University of Pennsylvania track and field athlete Madison Holleran, who died by suicide, on the very filtered life she led on Instagram, then launched a social campaign under the hashtag #LifeUnfiltered to start a conversation around mental illness and the ways people filter their experiences — both online and off. espnW Editor-in-Chief Alison Overholt provided the backstory on the genesis of “Split Image” (which is also in ESPN The Magazine’s “Perfection Issue”) on Facebook and answered a few questions for Front Row.
How did the SportsCenter companion piece come about?
For our most impactful pieces, we always try to create full multimedia experiences — because you never know whether someone will relate most to the written word, to a video story, to a social quote post, or to an audio listening experience. In this case, Madison’s family was willing to sit with Kate [see sidebar below] for an on-camera conversation, as well as sharing with her for her written feature.
– espnW editor-in-chief Alison Overholt
They had expressed how important it was to them to have a larger conversation around mental health and hoped their experiences could help someone else. Lindsay Rovegno, associate director in our digital video group and digital producer Steve Hodolitz worked with Kate to craft the video piece, and Lindsay shared it with all our partners when the package was ready for publication. Perhaps appropriately, the greatest impact of the video feature has been socially — it’s been viewed nearly 7 million times, and 5.5 million of those video starts have been on Twitter. The main story and the complementary piece with Madison’s friends have generated nearly 3 million hits.
What were your impressions after seeing how much conversation the story has generated?
I’m incredibly grateful that our entire company embraced sharing this story on all our platforms, because it’s an absolutely vital conversation to have. And though it is one that transcends sports and demographics, this story resonates so powerfully because it is being told through the prism of a young girl’s experience. We talked so much at Seventeen [Editor’s Note: Overholt was previously part of the editorial team at Seventeen] about “the pressure to be perfect,” because that forms the fabric of so many girls’ lives — which are then painstakingly examined by their peers under the microscope (and broadcast by the megaphone) of social media.
Having a conversation that not only asks, but empowers people to say, as Kate wrote, “It’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to show people you’re not OK,” could be life-changing. I hope the #LifeUnfiltered conversation continues as long as possible.