This week, Ellie Dyson writes about the effects that perfectionism within the fashion industry can have on designers.
With Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui’s documentary “McQueen” premiering this month at the Tribeca Film Festival, it revives the conversation about the stress that designers may face during their careers.
The problems caused by perfectionism in the fashion industry have already been emerging, such as models sharing their horror stories of agents telling them to lose even more weight, and the terrible effects this has on their mental health. But there is another topic which isn’t acknowledged as much – that is the mental wellness of designers. Those working in a creative industry are 25% more likely to be affected by mental illness.
Fashion designers live with the pressure of staying on trend, releasing multiple collections every year, and are constantly networking. As Emma Hope Allwood said in ‘Dazed’(1), “In a world of fast paced fashion, expectations on designers are reaching fever pitch – do we risk driving them to the brink?”
Lee Alexander McQueen was seen by others as successful but still had pain in his life, and obsessed over achieving perfection in his work. John Galliano admitted that he took on too much work, which resulted in him spiralling into substance abuse, and losing his position at Dior after a stream of anti-Semitic comments.
The media is insensitive. When a well-known personality reveals a personal struggle, it is used as fodder for tabloids to pick that person’s life apart and for the writer to decide at what point that person’s life ‘went wrong’. Fashion critics focus more on their public personas than thinking about the negative effects their comments have on a designer’s mental health.
A fashion designer’s work is never done, only continually improved – until the deadline dawns for the work to be submitted, and they take a step back, thinking phrases such as: ‘that will have to do’, or ‘if only I’d had more time.’
Top this off with the anxiety of fulfilling a client’s vague brief, and the fact that all they have to work from is that they want something ‘edgy’, and you’ve got yourself a negativity sandwich.
In a 2013 interview with Charlie Rose, John Galliano said (2) “We’re in search of perfection. We’re setting that bar impossibly high…”
So, what can designers do to prevent burnout?
Self-care is all about taking care of ourselves. It won’t specifically cure depression or anxiety, but when implemented it can be like a mental tool kit. If we look after ourselves properly from the beginning, it could prevent a burnout.
Several things prevent us from utilising self-care in our routine. We think things like: ‘Isn’t that ‘for girls’?’, ‘I have no time for this!’, ‘Isn’t it selfish to just focus on myself?’
Self-care is often misconstrued as involving nail varnish and face masks, but it is more about actions we can take to maintain our general wellness. One of the excuses above is having no time, but there are techniques for busy people.
We can try drinking enough fluid, opening a window for some air, keeping our workspace tidy, preparing meals in advance, and most importantly, pencilling in some non-negotiable time to clear our heads, even if this just means taking a long shower.
It is important for designers, or everyone, really, to remember to look after themselves.
Self-care is imperative to keep a person thriving, otherwise, just like Galliano and all the rest, it will be too little too late.
Learn your limits
Mental health can be hard to discuss, and unfortunately even those trying to help can sound patronising. Sometimes, the only advice we hear from doctors involves going for a walk in the sunshine, or going to the gym every morning. This misses the point that people with depression and other mental illnesses struggle to find the energy or interest to do such things, with it even manifesting itself in physical symptoms such as the socalled ‘lead legs’, and slow movements. Busy designers and creatives struggle to find the time to dedicate to exercise because of the quantity of work.
There will be times when we are completely burned out with no energy. We might be exhausted and just be trying to make it to a deadline, but this is terrible for our health. People are like phones – the more you use them, the quicker the battery goes down, and so we need that screen-off time to recharge.
In the sink or swim environment of fashion, there is a pressure to be ground-breaking and push the limits of fashion every collection.
The lesson here is that we need to learn what we as individuals are capable of. Ask for help if you need it, and most importantly, be kind to yourself.
Let yourself feel
So many times, we might be ashamed of ourselves for being upset over a criticism we received. But why should we be ashamed for feeling this? Our work is an expression of ourselves, so of course it is hard when it is criticised. Perfection is impossible, after all.
We shouldn’t block the emotion, but instead learn to be aware of it. The thought doesn’t define us, and it doesn’t make us weak. Instead, aren’t we stronger, because we feel this way but we still power on?
Sometimes, though, we tend to catastrophise situations. We might discover that a design doesn’t look as good on the physical form as we had hoped, and our response is to think something along the lines of ‘I am terrible at my job, I will never be successful’. This is assuming the worst and is therefore not an appropriate reaction. Next time you catch yourself thinking in an all or nothing way, try to take a step backwards. Do you really know for sure that this scenario will happen?
It’s been eight years now since McQueen ended his life, and as the time has passed, it feels like people have forgotten how brutal the industry can be. The standards are so high, with every collection having to top last year’s, that it is only a matter of time until another creative feels the pressure of perfection.
However, the sooner we realise that perfection is impossible to achieve, the sooner we can take a step back, and make taking proper care of ourselves a priority.
Sources: (1) Dazed article – http://www.dazeddigital.com/fashion/article/23582/1/menta l-health-in-fashion-it-s-time-to-talk (2) John Galliano interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rZtTFfFIHk
Images via Pexels; Ed Kavishe; Damian Cugley