Nobody can deny the fashion industry its glamour. From an outside perspective, models seem to have it all and the little squares of their Instagram account depict a life filled with high fashion shoots, exclusive parties and first class flights to exotic locations. But behind the scenes, the feel is very different and rather troubling.
“Mental health and the fashion industry are inextricably linked” -Elizabeth Peyton Jones, CEO and founder of The Responsible Trust for Models
Often scouted at a very young age – even sometimes 12 years old –, models enter the modelling industry with little clue about what the norms are. Keen to please and to thrive, they are easily influenced and genuinely believe what they are told they need to do. Emotional wellbeing and body image are threatened by recurrent casting rejections and harsh comments on weight, leaving many models with eating disorders, low self-esteem and anxiety. They are equally exposed to dangerous situations and abnormal behaviours including abuse of power, sexual misconducts and debt poverty.
“The advice they [models] get at a time where they’re just moving into adulthood is particularly impactful and has a long-lasting effect.” -Elizabeth Peyton Jones
Post Weinstein and with the #metoo movement, attitudes are finally changing, and people are more inclined to face the not-so-charming reality of these seemingly perfect worlds.
Pippa Khadija, the runner-up in the recent Super Model Canada Search 2019 contest, uses her Instagram account to pinpoint biases brought by social media and generate positive influence on her followers. With her feet on the ground, and a psychology degree under way, Pippa knows how to step away from the traps.
If pursuing a career in modelling equates with signing up to a frantic lifestyle made of early starts, late finishes, extensive travel, little sleep and skipping meals, for Pippa it is important “to not get too caught up with the fast pace and high-pressure life of this industry.”
“I make sure to always put in time for myself. Whether this be getting in some time to read a good book on set or taking 20 minutes to meditate when I can. This really helps me to stay grounded, present and appreciate the little things in a day.”
Relentless consumerism and the need for immediate satisfaction have pitched the young generations into an identity crisis that is exacerbated by the voracious appetite for ‘new’. This creates a perception that everything is disposable, including humans. With new faces emerging every other day, models are easily replaced, and the work environment can be extremely competitive.
Neutralising this pressure to compete, Pippa reveals: “I don’t focus on what I might be lacking compared to other models, rather what I am bringing to table and what my unique traits are.” “I always just try to do my best, make sure I’m easy to work with and contributing to a positive and creative atmosphere.”
Part of the public fascination for the fashion world stems from the fact that it entertains the dream of beautiful, young people leading a highly polished and thrilling life at all times. While this dream does not reflect reality, social media makes it more tangible than glossy magazines. And that is where the danger is.
Models see their value and success appraised by the industry according to the number of followers they get, which in turn can make their self-esteem dependant of people’s likes. “Although social media is extremely present in the fashion industry and central in modelling it is not crucial,” tempers Pippa. “The pressure to constantly produce content that people want can be very stressful and I recommend that models take a break from social media if they feel they need to.”
To the contrary, she chooses to see the constructive side of social media and the beneficial impacts she can draw from it. “As a model, social media is a huge part of my work; through it you can be connected to so many more brands. It’s also great for people who start of as Instagram influencers to move into modelling.”
As social media permeates an evergrowing part of our lives, its influence can dramatically affect people’s self-confidence. Conscious about this detrimental effect, Pippa makes a point of modelling positive behaviour. Her Instagram account features positive quotes aplenty such as “I don’t need to be in the mix. That’s how you lose flavour” and “success is just a process” – aimed at enhancing self-esteem.
“Following influencers that promote self-confidence is helpful to a lot of people with little confidence,” she states.
To ensure models are protected and supported, initiatives at a larger scale are also implemented. Elizabeth Peyton Jones, founder of The Responsible Trust for Models (RTM), is leading this change and strives to establish safeguards for young individuals entering the profession. Much like a Fair-Trade stamp on food, RTM puts a certification over modelling agencies and ensures best practice is maintained across the board.
Pointing out the lack of professionalisation and training for models, Elizabeth comments:
“These kids navigate new things without the tools to do so, they don’t have the resources to question what they experience” -Elizabeth Peyton Jones
RTM provides a Professional Model Business course designed to empower young individuals to value themselves as assets and equips them with the necessary skills. A month ago, the organisation also introduced a pledge which creates a level playing field where all actors, from the model to the brand, know the rules and collaborate to ensure best practice is implemented. This Pledge has a protocol which allows the cultural divide and the generational differences to be addressed, hence creating for the industry an overarching international standard, much like other industries.
“It is no longer about being a pretty face, it’s about being a brand, being their own business” -Elizabeth Peyton Jones
Written by - Severine Etienne