Working in fashion gave me such crippling body anxiety, I quit
A year ago, I walked away from my decades-long career in the fashion industry.
I found that everywhere I looked I saw images that were designed to motivate me to be fitter, thinner, more beautiful. They just made me feel depressed and worthless.
Even though I’d been party to making them, working in fashion had taken its toll on me. The way I felt about myself and how other women should look were totally skewed by the industry where thinness and beauty were the only currency.
Research conducted in the US suggests Americans see between 4,000 and 10,000 adverts each day, not including the people we see on TV, in newspapers, magazines, or endless scrolling on social media.
In our conscious mind we know some images have had weeks, if not months spent on them, manipulating them into whatever it is compels us to be parted with our cash.
These images have to make us feel bad about ourselves so that we will only feel better if we buy the product. We know this, but somehow this messaging still works and it all goes in on some level.
It’s becoming much harder to be mentally resilient to marketing or to not feel bad about how we are all measuring up against perfected images. The rational knowledge we have to process them as fake or irrelevant is being drowned out by quantity.
I know when I am looking at something that’s harming me. That bad feeling can be a sensation in your stomach or solar plexus or in your breathing – my mind never says stop looking, but when I feel uncomfortable I stop breathing properly.
Coming from fashion, I have a theory: that body perfectionism started with developments in manufacturing technology. Suddenly new technology meant we had new ways to do things but no idea of the impact it might have (sound familiar, social media?)
When we stopped getting clothes via makers and started buying standardised sizing, we started to diminish the uniqueness of our bodies. We had to fit the clothes, not the other way round.
This, coupled with the 60s reaction to post war contentment, ultra-skinny was flagged as the new, desirable (but for most unachievable) body image and the teenage, waif-like model Twiggy was held up as the pinnacle.
My mother developed a life-long eating disorder around that time. She died at 60, having never recovered and the after effects eventually made me completely revaluate life and career.
Fast forward to today, and our bodies are vehicles for commerce. Add in a host of technological advances that mean we are inundated with messages about body image, the multi-billion pound industries that are health, diet and fashion, and you can see why big business and the government aren’t super keen to go, ‘hey guys, you know what? You’re OK just as you are’.
I left the fashion industry to find out why I – and I suspected loads of others – felt cripplingly bad about themselves and their bodies. Why, no matter how we tried, we could never be ‘enough’.
It’s because when you are not allowed to like yourself for who you are, only what you buy, it will never be enough.
I’ve now started a project Body of Work to try make myself and others feel better. It’s a disruptive project of self nudes with no filters, no retouching, no diet or work out schedule that’s making waves on Instagram. It just shows my 43 year old, post baby body as it is.
I’ve learned a lot along the way. Muting or unfollowing anything or anyone that makes you feel negative works – it doesn’t matter if it’s your best friend, a Kardashian or news alerts.
It doesn’t have to be forever; the feelings might pass, they might not, but you are in control of testing what works to secure your own peace of mind.
I know people bang on about mindfullness. I know it seems like another mountain to climb to ‘learn’ to meditate. I’ve found that sitting down with my eyes closed and giving my brain a break from seeing and processing images is enough.
Try it at bed time and when you wake up instead of screen being the first and last thing you see. Two weeks to create a habit both good and bad, who knows how long to break them.
I stopped dieting and exercising solely for my body image, which can become a form of control and stressor. We have been convinced that a buff body is a healthier, but this doesn’t take into account the role our minds play.
I walk, run and do yoga when I know I need it and try to eat intuitively. Fads and diets don’t work, listening to yourself about what you want to eat and why does.
I used to have epic meltdowns about how I looked and how extremely unhappy I was. Now I’ve turned the tables to say no, it’s society that needs to change, not me. I’ve never felt more liberated.
I think about it like this: every time you feel bad about yourself, it’s because someone wants to take your money. It really helps give me perspective. It’s not you. You aren’t broken. You don’t need fixing.
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