Dominique Dunn is a London based model who has been a part of the fashion industry for 9 years, working with the likes of Juilen Macdonald, Henry Holland and Maybelline. She is also a travel and lifestyle writer, who strives to integrate her openness and passion for empowerment into the fashion industry. We contacted her in the run up to our Voices of Fashion on Mental Health event and she told us about a piece she was writing for the fashion industry about mental health which she agreed to allow us to use in this blog:
The fashion industry's exterior of excessive glitz, glamour, flamboyance and exhilaration, often distracts from the underlying issues within the industry. Far from the 24/7 flashy lifestyle, professionals across the board are subject to unique and relentless pressures. With high emphasis on finding/being ‘the next big thing', constant turn-overs and staying on top of trends, the industry is in truth a stressful environment for professionals across all sectors of the creative industry. Statistics show that people in the fashion industry are 25% more likely to experience mental illness, due to its fast paced, demand for the highest standards and heavily anticipated nature. Studies conducted by the US centre of disease control compared suicide rates amongst occupations, the fashion industry came in seventh, supporting the claim of higher than average mental health issues within the industry. When I heard about iCAAD's Voices of Fashion on Mental Health event, I was already working on a post regarding mental health awareness. So when Sam Quinlan, director of iCAAD asked me to write a piece for the lead up to the event, I knew this article would be perfect. This is something really close to my heart and I really hope the more we talk about it, the more we are able to destigmatize mental health in the fashion industry and begin to make positive changes.
Over the years mental health has seemingly become less taboo in the fashion industry, the tragic deaths of highly revered designers Kate Spade and Alexander McQueen shone a spotlight on mental awareness. Further renowned people such as John Galliano, Isabella Blow, Kate Moss and Adwoa Aboah have publicly opened up about their struggles with mental illness. These acts have in no doubt brought attention to the problem, but yet there is still an awkward silence amongst individuals in the industry. People who are not revered and sought after, may feel they don’t have the status to open up about their mental health; fearing loss of status and being perceived as not coping and unable to do their job. The fashion industry itself is not the sole cause of mental illness in people working in fashion, but I do believe that it plays a big part. And although for some, mental illness may have not begun in the industry, anxiety and depression is only exacerbated by the industries fast-pace, exceeding pressures and high demands. As a model there are a lot of standards that we are expected to meet- such as, being consistently active on social media, having perfect skin and being of a required weight. Appearance is an important factor in modelling and over the years the industry has been continually criticized for it’s weight regulations. There has been many campaigns for body diversity in fashion, with consumers demanding more relatability to advertised models; This saw the industry opening up to a wider range of body types. Though, despite this apparent acceptance, ‘plus size’ models are still at times expected to stay within a certain size and body appearance.
ITS NOT ALL DESIGNER CLOTHES AND TRAVELLING THE WORLD
The job comes with comes extreme competitively, scrutiny and instability. Modelling is incredibly saturated and intensely competitive, with clients always searching for ‘the next big thing’ most models submit to strict weight restrictions and beauty standards, going to extreme extents in the hope of climbing the ladder. Models are constantly under scrutiny by agencies, clients and social media, so there’s an everyday pressure to look flawless, edgy and interesting. Essentially we are own business and product, therefore we are continually having to prove and sell ourselves. But at times this can make you feel like an object, a "thing", leading to feelings of low self esteem, low self confidence and worthlessness. These feelings are then enhanced when having to face weeks or months without work, which is the norm for most models. Unless you’re very popular model, modelling is not a very stable job. Work rates fluctuate throughout the year often seeing models go from being super busy, to doing absolutely nothing for months on end. And if you’re not working regularly, you could end waiting for up to 3 months for payment from your last job, creating stress and financial anxiety.Since the up rise of ‘influencers’ social media has begun to play a massive part of being a model and models are now expected to have a high following and engagement on their social media handles. Castings known as ’10k castings’ are held by clients only wanting to see model with 10 thousand or more followers. This puts excessive pressure on having to look cool, interesting and popular, this typically results to models portray a false life on social media, having a seemingly lavish, rich, busy lifestyle and editing pictures making their skin clearer and bodies thinner. I’m not out to vilify the fashion industry, but due to poor regulations the industry has its doors open for an array of unsafe, unhealthy and in often cases deadly possibilities. Models are exposed to various forms of mentally destructive experiences such as, sexual harassment, coercing, bullying, manipulation, scrutiny, wild parties, drugs and alcohol. Most models start at the tender age of 14 or 15 where self esteem and self identity are being cemented, so exposure to such an extreme environment often causes sever mental damage from a young age.
MORE RESPONSIBILITY SHOULD BE TAKEN BY THE FASHION INDUSTRY
It begs the question, is there any support for mental illness in the creative industry? The quick answer is that there is. Although not as much as I'd like to see. Organisations such as The Model Health Pledge, Equity and Kering foundation offer help, advice and support to those struggling with anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses. But that is only a drop in the ocean, I believe that so much more can be and needs to be done. Not just models, but workers throughout the creative industry are not readily equipped to manage the pressures of the industry and thus lack the ability to look after their own wellbeing. I’m fortunate enough to have a very caring and thoroughly supportive mother agency, who I can trust to have my back if I’m mistreated at work, feeling uncomfortable or worried about anything. They make time to offer constant reassurance and professional help when needed. This is not the case with most agencies, many girls talk about being scared to even confront their agency about mistreatment at work! Having support and guidance from my agency, has played a massive part in me being able to overcome work related anxiety and depression. It infuriates me knowing that so many models could have at least one burden taken off them if they were given some extra support from their agency. In addition, it is also the duty of the fashion industry to take responsibility and ensure its workers are receiving sufficient support regarding mental health. Fashion directors, fashion houses, artistic directors and modelling agencies have a responsibility to think more broadly than the nucleus within which they work.There is no training when one becomes a model, we are left alone to deal with our mental wellbeing as we go. Whereas, companies such as BT introduced a programmeme called “Positive Mentality” in 2006, providing their employees with a “BT Mental Health Toolkit” giving them ample information on how to effectively manage and get through mental health issues. A simple movement like this would offer immense support, not just in the fashion industry but within the creative industry as a whole! More agencies need to provide counselling, therapy, nutritional advice and I believe regular workshops should be established to combat mental health issues. It’s all about developing strategies to allow models and professionals across the board to be more resilient. With greater resilience we are able to effectively combat negative situations, ensuring we are not caught in the tight grip of mental health issues. Stress is inevitable but we can learn to deal with it in a positive way, if workers are treated well, it reflects well on the industry.
CHANGE IS FORMED BY UNITY
In support of workers in the fashion industry and limiting the negative impact of mental illness, a spotlight must be shone on the taboo surrounding this issue. There is currently a prevailing stigma around mental illness in the fashion industry and very few suffers from mental health issues are willing to discuss their problems, which in turn makes it harder for companies to provide support. Readily opening up discussions about mental health is a crucial step in helping sufferers overcome their problems. The lack of understanding about mental health simply creates a breeding ground for it, more education and support systems need to be put into place, but it’s only by talking about mental health that we can start to initiate change. I would like to thank iCAAD for sharing their platform and allowing me to voice my experiences and opinions. The Voices of Fashion on Mental Health event will bring together everyone under the creative umbrella and shine a light on the changes that need to be made. Movements such as this are great steps to creating a much safer and secure environment for all working in the creative industry. If you have any questions or quires feel free to contact me. Need professional help?