Beauty and the loneliness.
Loneliness in the fashion industry is worse than you’d expect.
– Guest feature by Harvey James.
The admission of a young, sociable model to feeling lonely might be perplexing to some, perhaps weak, arrogant or negligent to others, but it’s the confusion around this topic that I want to examine. 3.3 million people in the UK suffer from loneliness and various sources point to the idea that lonely people are at increased risk of “just about every major chronic illness” and that feeling socially isolated also increases the risk of “anxiety, stress, depression and eating disorders” [Sarner, New Scientist]. Combine this with the fact that the condition disproportionately affects our younger generations and it is easy to see why loneliness is worth a discussion this LFWM.
Modelling is not your typical job. There is no LinkedIn profile, no tea-stained office sink and no centrally located social nucleus (A. K. A. the office). For all of the exotic travel, wild irresponsibility and unforgettable people; modelling can be an isolating experience.
Long flights, short flights, incessant flights, delayed flights, missed flights; then long taxi rides, single hotel rooms, solo taxis to work (or with other deathly silent models); then the studios where the main language isn’t English and the inconsistency of your colleagues as it could be the only time you work them, or a few months or years before you see them again.
When this routine is repeated over and over, it can begin to grind you down.
Finding yourself back in London when you’re not working (waiting for work is all part of the job, ironically) and your “conventional” friends are “happily” engrossed in the 9-5, while you’re sat on your arse weeping into the carpet as an existential storm sweeps through your bedroom happens all too often. You’ve had to turn down almost every social event for the last year due to being “away for work”, so you and your friends are tentative to make plans. All your social life amounts to is one drunken night out at the weekend, which no one can or ever will remember.
This is the cycle that then further keeps you from being socially active, because if social interactions don’t live up to a sense of decent social connection, why bother? Without this sounding whiny and weak, this is exactly what loneliness is: “a mismatch between expectations of our social interactions and the reality”, says journalist Moya Sarner, who wrote about this issue in The New Scientist. I craved a sense of community but did not know where to find it. I wanted truly strong social relationships, but no matter the effort put in, people were too busy or I had to let them down.
I thought I was being ridiculous and needed to sort my stupid, self-loathing head out. But it turns out I’m no hipster of emotional statistics, but more a mainstream digit in the trend of loneliness.
When we think of loneliness, we think of the endearing old person sat on their couch with the TV on while looking longingly out the window at happy, laughing groups of people. As heartbreaking as this is, this does not tell the whole story. In the flat above our hypothetical elderly person, there is a family of four and the daughter is mindlessly trying to scroll her way out of loneliness. The youth are the worst affected.
48% of 18-24-year-olds say they often feel lonely; 38% of 25-34-year-olds; and finally 33% of 35-44-year-olds say they’re affected [from Aviva Health Check Report 2014]. This baffling conflation of youth and loneliness does not bode well for the modelling industry, with the majority of working models in the 18-24-year-old age bracket. Add to this the fact that it can be an isolating career and I wouldn’t be surprised if the figure for young models was far higher. It’s something that needs to be addressed within youth culture and the industry at-large.
When looking for reasons to explain why youth loneliness is so high, there’s a large, technological elephant in the room: social media. Originally it was meant to make human connection better, but the evidence points squarely to the contrary.
“Brian Primack at the University of Pittsburgh surveyed more than 1700 people aged 19 to 32. He compared time and frequency of social media use with feelings of social support or emotional isolation”, reports Moya Sarner. They found a direct correlation, between time spent on social media and loneliness. Not one to assume causality, Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan, then devised a specialised test and concluded: “the more you use Facebook, the worse you feel.” This is particularly worrying for our new generation of models who are compelled to have a strong presence on their social media for their careers.
While researching the genetic expression in white blood cells, Cacioppo and Steve Cole (University of California) found there was a far higher activity level of the genes responsible for inflammation in people suffering from loneliness. Inflammation when feeling socially isolated makes evolutionary sense: if a person is away from the tribe they are more prone to attack from predators.
Chronic inflammation has been linked to cancer, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and obesity, and it has psychological effects making “the brain a little more suspicious, vigilant and irritable” and it “dampens down brain areas involved in motivating you to interact with others…”. Again in terms of the predator/prey dynamic, this is a useful trait in avoiding being eaten, but, as Cole argues “in the modern world, these kinds of behaviours create a vicious cycle towards increased loneliness.”
Removing stigmatisation: 1 in 3 Britons think it is embarrassing to admit to being lonely (Mental Health Foundation). So, let’s open up an honest conversation.
Changing your mind and body first: Intuitively one might assume the cure is to throw yourself into all manner of social situations and watch your loneliness dissipate. However, because of its close link to inflammation, the best way to get out is by changing your mind and body.
Chemical balance: There are numerous ways to combat inflammation, including light exercise, CBD products, a healthy diet and not smoking.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: CBT is recommended to work your way out of the vicious cycle of loneliness bringing on more loneliness and isolation.
Building a sense of purpose: Something like social volunteering can help to switch your outlook on life and give you more reason to interact with the world. Also in this category an internationally transportable hobby, something to focus on and something sociable. Climbing is my go to.
Use social media in the right way: Research has been done to suggest that if you use social media predominantly for connecting and socialising with a lot of people, it is far more positive than simply scrolling and viewing from afar.
Please do check out the CALM website for further advice and a fantastic support network if this is an issue that affects you and you need to talk to someone. Statistically, you are lucky if this issue doesn’t affect you.