Instagram's Migraine Pose: Please Don't Trivialize Migraine

Why it’s not fair to minimize the experience of migraine


“What a silly thing to be upset over.”

This was a comment I received after posting a video with my thoughts on the #migrainepose that was all over Instagram and making headlines in beauty magazines and mass media.

On one hand I agree with that sentiment. It is a bit silly to even care what hashtags the beauty industry is using in any given week. On the other hand, migraine (and pain, in general) is a very big deal to me.

What is the migraine pose?

In June 2018, makeup artist Nam Vo launched what she called the “migraine pose.” Models and influencers alike jumped on Instagram and social media to show off their migraine pose, displaying themselves holding the side of their head, or with fingers at their temples, in a pose that is not at all unfamiliar to me, or to anyone who lives with migraine. The response from those who live with migraine was instant. We saw this as a major attempt to trivialize migraine, something that has damaging effects on our life every day.

I’ve spent many hours with my hands wrapped tightly around the top of my head or putting pressure on my temples from any direction possible. However, I can promise you that at no point did I look pretty. Nor, did I care to.

Had it just been Nam Vo and a few celebrities posing on Instagram we might not have even noticed this trivialization of migraine. Unfortunately, the media chose to get involved and showcase this pose rather than condemn it. By doing so, they jumped on the bandwagon of minimizing migraine, an illness that has stolen so much from so many.

Living with migraine is no small thing. Whether you suffer one migraine every few months or live with chronic migraine - experiencing migraine for 15 or more days a month - migraine steals your life.

Take an advil and get over it.

To those who have never experienced a migraine, it’s just another headache. They can’t see that it is a debilitating disease because they’ve not experienced it. They don’t see how it impacts our lives, not just when we are experiencing a migraine attack, but every day. They don’t understand that head pain is just one symptom of migraine.

It must be nice to be healthy, to only occasionally have minor aches and pains that you can simply take a pill for and go on about your day. Those of us who live with migraine are not so lucky. We can’t just take an Advil and get over it. Migraine pain often lasts for days, and with it comes sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and even vomiting. These are not symptoms you can just ignore.

Migraine is not a trivial thing.

Living with migraine is no small thing. Whether you suffer one migraine every few months or live with chronic migraine - experiencing migraine for 15 or more days a month - migraine steals your life.

Every hour that I’ve spent hiding in a dark room is an hour of my life I’ll never get back. It’s work that I couldn’t complete, it’s time with my family and friends that I wasn’t able to enjoy, and it’s an hour of pain and suffering that I’d rather not have had. In many cases, it was pain that made me question whether I wanted to continue living.

While some may find it silly to be bothered by a hashtag, hundreds of people with migraine spoke up on Instagram and elsewhere, sharing their personal stories as well as real migraine poses.

As a result, Nam Vo apologized (sort of), and some of the media opted to change their reference from “migraine pose” to “headache pose.” Some might see this as a win, but it wasn’t.

The change in name only changed the focus. For many it’s easier to see a headache as no big deal. Just take an Advil and it’ll go away. However, for thousands that’s not the case. While head pain is only one symptom of migraine, there are several serious headache conditions that can’t be helped by just taking a pill. Changing the name to “headache pose” only trivializes a different issue.

No pain should ever be trivialized. Millions of people live with chronic pain every day. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, 39 million adults in the United States experience migraine, with 4 million experiencing chronic migraine. That’s far too many people for their experience to be trivialized. If anything, not enough attention is being paid to the way that migraines and head pain impact our lives on a day-to-day basis.