Rhiannon D’Averc explores how the fashion industry treats its workers – and whether enough is being done to safeguard both professionals and consumers from negative mental health impact.
The fashion industry is littered with reports of fabulous designers who committed suicide, models pressured to the brink of starvation, and a party lifestyle that takes its toll in so many different ways. We don’t need to look far to find brilliant fashion professionals who struggled with their mental health. Lee Alexander McQueen, Kate Spade, Isabella Blow – their names trip off the tongue. For every designer, model, photographer, or other creative who happily makes it in the fashion industry, there must be more who bowed out due to the pressure or suffered badly.
The workplace is not a happy place to be, no matter what industry you work in. The UK’s Health and Safety Executive reported in 2018 that stress, anxiety, and depression now make up 43.8% of all workplace illnesses – up from 32% in 2002. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 71% of adults had at least one symptom of stress in 2018.
With all of this stress flying around anyway, it’s no wonder that fashion – which is notoriously difficult to break into, full of prima donnas, and puts a big focus on personal appearance – is afflicted by so much poor mental health. Those in creative careers are reportedly 25% more likely to experience mental illness.
Kate Spade had been seeking treatment for depression and anxiety for five years, according to her husband Andy, and McQueen’s friends candidly spoke about noticing his issues in the recent documentary.
His death came three years after his friend and long-time collaborator Blow took her own life.
Marc Jacobs has been checked into rehab twice for alcohol issues, and John Galliano recently said that he was at risk of ending up “in a mental asylum or six feet under” if he hadn’t been embroiled in the controversy that saw him lose his position at Dior. Back then, he was overseeing 32 collections a year. How could anyone truly manage that?
This is no hidden secret – it’s right there on the surface. We talk about mental health all the time, but that doesn’t mean we are necessarily getting better at dealing with it.
Creatives are especially at risk of poor mental health because there are so many pressures associated with this type of work – and because it is so personal. Being brought up on a mistake in your data entry in the office does not hit as hard as being told that someone doesn’t like your designs, or thinks you have bad ideas.
Many professionals in the fashion industry also get started young, with models being scouted as early as their pre-teen years. How difficult must it be to live your whole life in the public eye as a teenager, with hormones and peer pressure and all of the things that causes us to make stupid mistakes at that age?
20-year-old Carissa Pinkston feels like a case study. The young model featured in campaigns for Savage x Fenty, but her reputation took a huge hit this May when she made transphobic comments on her Facebook page. She then came out as transgender – before revealing a short while later that this was a panicfuelled lie to try to stop the vitriol spewing her way.
Multiple profile name changes later, you will still come across the odd angry comment on her profile. While it was not right for her to make transphobic comments, it must also have been incredibly difficult to deal with the hate and death threats that came her way after the posts – from a private Facebook account – were made public. You can’t justify her actions, but you can certainly understand how a scared young woman could make those mistakes.
The whole saga led to her losing her agency as well as work contracts, which must have been still further of a mental blow. Though she later commented that she simply hadn’t been educated enough about trans women to form the right opinion, and now holds a different view, the damage was done.
And this is far from an isolated incident. Popular model Belle Lucia recently shared the whole journey of her pregnancy with her social media followers, as well as the birth of her child. This positive experience attracted hordes of negative comments, from people telling her she was a bad mother to commenting on her body and appearance. Belle made a personal choice – something that could not possibly be harmful to others, unlike Carissa’s posts. Does she really deserve to attract hate for it?
With models and designers now expected to be social media influencers in order to get anywhere, the conversation is becoming more and more valid. We ran a series of polls on our social media pages this month, asking you for your opinions on certain issues relating to mental health.
The results were as follows:
Do you think social media negatively affects your mental health? – 75% yes
Do you feel the fashion industry is open and accessible to all? – 68% no
Have you ever felt that you weren’t good enough while working in the fashion industry? – 83% yes
Have you ever contemplated taking your own life? – 65% no
Should the fashion industry as a whole be doing more to support positive mental health? – 100% yes
It’s clear that there is a lot more work to be done on making sure that everyone in the fashion industry feels welcome, accepted, and supported.
So, what can we all do to make a difference?
One key factor has to do with social media. Head to the page of any instafamous model and you will see hundreds of negative comments on each of their posts, criticising everything from their looks to their lifestyle. What do we really gain from making these comments? Calling out a wrong is one thing, but telling someone they look fat or that you don’t find them attractive is totally unnecessary.
The anonymity of the internet makes us feel like we can say anything, but our words are not without consequences. They can pile onto the mind of an influencer, model, designer, or simply your friend from school, making them feel more and more worthless every day. If we had to receive the same words back upon ourselves, we would not feel great about it.
Kindness to others costs nothing, and it’s very simple and easy to do. When you feel like being negative, just don’t say anything. Say it out loud to yourself if you have to. Say it inside your head. Just don’t post it on that person’s profile.
On the other hand, when you see something you like, say that. Be more positive in all of your interactions, and give praise where you feel praise is due. Not only will this make everyone you interact with feel better about themselves, but it will also feel better for you.
If this all sounds like hippy rubbish to you, do yourself a favour and watch The GoodPlace on Netflix. Great lessons about how being a better person is just, well, better all round, wrapped up in great comedy and great acting. You can’t ask for more.
Rhiannon D’Averc is on Twitter at @rhiannondaverc and will send you a compliment if you @ her