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Sofie Hemmet

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‘People are afraid of being alone because they are hesitant to rely on themselves for happiness, but there is no escaping one’s self.’

Thomas Dumm

Thomas Dumm is a professor of political science, and wow, how – true – is – that? There is something about that sentence which resonates with my own and others’ experience of modelling, which has included feelings of solitude and loneliness. How is it possible to get comfortable being yourself and being on your own, when your success and happiness within your work is depending on other people’s opinion and perception of you?

Recognising loneliness

I am going to highlight two common ways of being lonely as a model; firstly, when you are physically on you own, most likely somewhere away from home, and feeling the negative implications of it. And secondly, there is the loneliness you experience when there are loads of people around you, but no one seems to register or simply care about your wellbeing. The latter one I recognise as being quite intense in modelling, as constantly working in new environments with strangers touching and pulling you can be overwhelming and surprisingly lonely.  

It wasn’t before my old psychotherapist said to me:

‘It must be so hard, to be the centre of attention, but when it comes to it no one really cares’

that I recognised it as a kind of loneliness.  Even then I remember being apprehensive towards the idea, but there really is some truth to it. The fashion industry is many things; creative, openminded, inspiring, but it is not known for looking out for the individual’s wellbeing. 

Long story short, I have never, ever felt as lonely as the times where I have been uncomfortable, anxious, tired, or unwell at work and no one really cared to take it in to consideration.

Then there is the simple element of you being on your own a lot. You just spend a surprising amount of time on your own… Everyone has heard the part of modelling where we travel the world, go to parties and work for famous clients. That’s all true and amazing, but it is also so incredibly lonely a lot of the time, as you are travelling on your own.

Travelling is by far one of the greatest perks and opportunities this job offers, but with the loneliness factored in, it creates a major contradiction within you. This is because, despite loving the travel and excitement, you sometimes cannot help yourself hating it from the bottom of your heart. I find that this loneliness often appears when you find yourself going somewhere that you do not really want to be. For example, often you must compromise important personal plans to travel for work, which creates the feeling of missing out.

Another example is perhaps you have been based in a new city for a while without having any success booking work. In the latter case, you might start blaming yourself for not being good enough, and then, once more referring to the words of Thomas Dumm, it becomes difficult to thrive in solitude.

Well then, who is out there then when I feel lonely?

On a more positive note, I have really noticed how people in the industry have started to recognise loneliness and distress in models and colleagues. There will always be a hair or make-up artist, a stylist assistant, or a photographer who ‘has your back’. Seek them out and stick to them as much as possible, do not try to go through a hard day on your own.

Moreover, I know that many models try to connect with other models when travelling and working, and I believe that this is one of the best ways to tackle loneliness – by making the effort to make friends if you can!

You may think this an obvious suggestion, but I must admit, making model friends hasn’t always been easy for me. I do not know why, perhaps it is my disinterest in mainstream fashion and social media… probably it is a longstanding apprehensiveness towards girl groups, especially big ones, formed in my adolescent years. This has probably resulted in me being lonelier than others, who knows? But I wonder if not most will be able to relate to this somehow. 

But most importantly, how to deal with myself?

When all comes to all, modelling is one big evaluation of you as the right fit for different brands, so you will need to make that extra little effort to make yourself more content and at ease, as it is hard on your self-esteem!

Because of this, I have focused on discovering self-indulgence. I always try to do the things that I want to, like going out for food and drinks while people-watching, enjoying the fact that I don’t have to compromise with anyone about what I want to do or what restaurant to eat at in my spare time. On good days like this I just love travelling solo!

However, bad days do happen, and even good days can turn into lonely days. If I get lonely, I try to call my husband, a friend, or my family.

If I don’t feel sociable, I will run a bath, buy a drink, and order a Deliveroo to my room. Indulgence has so many shapes, the important thing is that your choice of indulgence really makes you content and happy to be where you are on your own. Stop focusing on what you think you need to do, to
be liked by clients, like eating less or posting more.

It’s your time, so listen to what you need.  And just like that, you don’t feel so lonely anymore.

What is it like to be a model? Do you get free stuff? Have you met anyone famous? Are you allowed to eat that

Numerous questions about what it is like to be a model and what the lifestyle entails, have been thrown my way over the last seven years. Honestly, I never really know what to say or at least I struggle to articulate it in a way that does the job – and your efforts made within the job – justice. No matter how many times I feel like I finally understand what to expect and how to explain modelling, life always seems to send me back a note saying, ‘try again’. Try again to define the life of a model. 

Nevertheless, I am going to try. The best way for me to explain my life as a model is by comparing it to playing a game; a game where the odds are your level of success. Modelling should not be seen as a deceitful game or in that case a fun game, but it is a game where you win or lose over and over again, based on luck and how well you play your cards. This is the hand I like to play: 

A game of strategy and persistence

As with any other creative job, you need to be able to work hard and believe that at some point, someone is going to see that what you do is special and worth investing in. You need a style, an image and confidence, all something your agent should be able to help you with. I don’t know if I should consider myself lucky to have had great agents, because it should be something everyone has, but I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have been as successful as I’ve been, without them. If your agent does not support you or you don’t get along, I suggest you change – it is a crucial relationship to keep healthy, both for your career but also for your own mental health. 

Moreover, you need to accept that everything is last minute, and that the right opportunity could present itself anytime, so you need to be willing to sacrifice holidays, social events and other normal things you may need to plan for. You need to be resistant and be able to use the large amount of rejection and criticism you will face, as a tool to build your strategy, rather than taking it personally. Trust me, this is easier said than done… The whole industry is unpredictable, but that is part of the world and part of the game. You need persistence, patience and continue to form your strategy until it bites. 

If your agent does not support you or you don’t get along, I suggest you change

A gambler’s game

Contrary to popular beliefs you don’t roll off the plane onto the catwalk and then jump on a motorbike off to the next job, without having put blood, sweat, time and money into it. As matter of fact, you may never experience anything like this, but that does not mean you won’t try to achieve it by investing non-stop. You need to pay constant expenses for travel, accommodation, clothes, you name it, to meet and establish relationships all over the world. This can be a really positive experience if you love to travel, but as you are investing time and energy trying to get jobs it can be hard and draining, especially as you most likely will be doing it on your own. More often than not you will be spending money and time that you don’t really have, giving up other things that also are important to you. 

The dangerous bit here is that you are in control of so little when it comes to modelling, that the few things you do control you can get obsessive over – such as the way you look and how you behave in front of others. I know that both myself and others have tried to change weight, look and attitude in order to fit into the industry, and trust me when I say that this is in no way necessary! As a model, you do need to look after yourself and stay fit, but there is a really fine line between an unhealthy and healthy attitude to your looks, which should not be crossed. Constantly being in limbo over whether you are pretty enough, cool enough or skinny enough is not going to land you many jobs; Confidence is in the end always the most attractive feature which clients look for. 

There is a really fine line between an unhealthy and healthy attitude to your looks, which should not be crossed. 

A waiting game

This part is by far the most prominent of them all… You spend hours on hours waiting, I think you probably spend 70% of your modelling career just waiting by yourself. Waiting at castings, waiting in airports, waiting in transport and waiting at home. If you do not wait you will lose out, so you wait no matter how long if you want the job. It is boring, but you deal with the wait and you learn how to fill the time – I managed to study a BSc in Psychology while waiting for planes and clients. Even when you don’t have any work scheduled, you never know if a job or casting may come up, so you are always waiting even if you are doing something else. Leaving it up to other people to manage your time is tough and I have personally found it extremely challenging. You are nearly always on your own, so being able to handle this can be easier said than done, as the loneliness can be really anxiety-provoking. I found that filling the time doing things that make you happy when you are on your own, like reading, studying, making phone calls or writing, makes it easier to manage. 

The feelings that all this provokes includes excitement, adrenaline rushes, joy, boredom, frustration and anxiety. It is such a spectrum of emotions, where a lot of the time you can be feeling perfectly content and happy and within an hour you are close to having a panic attack, because of the last-minute changes and your inability to predict and control anything. It is a beautiful job that may create many opportunities, adventure and money. But it may also leave you with a pocket full of bad experiences and loss of money. Often, It’s both. Long story short – whether you are in the modelling industry, looking to join or simply watching from the outside, you ought to level your judgement, attitude and expectations. 

There is no real definition of a model’s life, so just play your best hand and expect the unexpected!

How many times have you been running around at work trying to meet a tight deadline and suddenly noticed your heart pumping faster, your head hurting, you are perhaps even feeling some stinging in your chest? How many times have you then decided to pop a couple of paracetamols, ignore it, and continue as is? Sound familiar? It sounds like fashion to me.

Charlies D. Spielberger, a late renowned New York psychologist and writer, quoted:

Anxiety seems to be the dominant fact – and is threatening to become the dominant cliché- of modern life.”

I believe this is what’s happening. The way that we work to the point of anxiety has been normalised over the years and more people accept the work pressure, without really understanding what anxiety does to you.

Researchers generally define anxiety as a feeling of tension, worries and physical changes such as headaches and high blood pressure, and further studies suggests that more serious cases of work stress could lead to a variety of anxiety disorders.

It does not come as a surprise that a stressful work schedule is known as one of the leading factors for anxiety, and I recognise this as the main source from my own experience with anxiety.

As a model I have been expected to be 100 places at once several times; You may have different castings at the same time, been booked for two/three shows that overlap each other, or you may simply be trying to catch a flight that you are never going to make because work finished late.

The adrenaline, excitement and commitment get you through it, but the consequences are stress, extreme tiredness and sometimes panic attacks. I have witnessed everyone from designers, to agents, to assistants, to photographers, go through similar pressure and I often do not think we recognise how significant and unhealthy if has become.

Times like fashion week where everyone is working around the clock under horrendous pressure, to make unrealistic deadlines, leaves us wondering why we do it.

Our Emotional Attachment to Fashion

I believe one of the reasons we take on this amount of work pressure, is connected to the emotional importance people attach to their work in fashion. For many people their creations and their work are their pride and joy, which makes it so much more than ‘just a piece of fabric’, and missing their deadlines means that they do not get to showcase their emotion, personality and passion. All these things are important and are somewhat incredible to have in your profession, but the issue is that this level of importance causes us to avoid listening to warnings of anxiety and stress.

The Continuity of a Hierarchical Attitude

Another reason for why we accept anxiety in the fashion industry, could have something to do with an outdated hierarchical attitude that dominates how things run. People over many decades have been treated so badly by someone in a higher position, making them feel entitled to pass that attitude on to someone else whenever they find themselves in a position of responsibility.

Even though the latest generation are slowly breaking down these norms, the subconscious justification people have of certain behaviour keeps it relevant to discuss. I wonder whether the way people are processing being treated so poorly, is by reassuring themselves that this is the way to success, and that it therefore should continue to be so? Some food for thought.

The Work-pressures Effect on our Judgement Skills

In some cases, it even seems like the work pressure and the tight deadlines somehow give the work more meaning and importance, as the pressure makes us dedicate all our time available to the task. When the stress and anxiety kick in due to the amount of work, our decision-making skills and situational awareness have shown to be affected. We will then not only struggle to make constructive decisions at work, but our ability to make judgement calls on when the work pressure becomes too much and how ourselves and others should be treated, diminishes.

It is not difficult to recognise that anxiety is greatly represented within the fashion industry, the difficulty lies in justifying the priority of our own mental wellbeing over the industry’s tight deadlines. Easing anxiety is not done by taking a coffee break now and then, but smaller things do make a difference as they give you a space to listen to yourself and reflect.

Give yourself breaks, make time for yourself, make time for an alternative stimulus such as a hobby or friends to take a bit more priority in your life, and most importantly; talk about it! Talk about your workload with friends, family, colleagues, a therapist, whomever you feel comfortable talking to – we are all going to be able to relate somehow.

At some point you will know when the pressure is worth the outcome, and you will be able to flush those paracetamols down the toilet and still find a way to outlive your creative passion, without having to neglect your mental health.