Celebrities, Mental health & Honesty

Recently Business of Fashion founder Imran Amed hosted a podcast with journalist Amy Odell who, after three and a half years of extensive research and interviews, published a biography of US Vogue Editor-In-Chief Anna Wintour. Ms Wintour has been the editor of US Vogue for unprecedented 37 years and even though rumours of her departure continue to surface and swirl, she continues to be steadfast in her leadership of the glossy industry. She also clearly remains passionate about both her job, as well as the fashion industry, and her methodical approach is probably one of the reasons why she has been and remains successful, feared and respected in equal measure. But I do wonder how in tune is Ms Wintour with the true state of mental health pandemic and the role celebrity & influencer culture plays in the diminishing individual self-confidence across the generations…

April cover of US Vogue

Unfortunately over the last decade content of the US edition of Vogue (like that of many other upscale glossy publications) has become more and more youth facing and less inclined to cover issues relevant to older generations of loyal readers. A paradox, when younger generations aren’t particularly loyal, yet fashion and other industries increasingly cater only to their tastes and wallets, believing that that’s where the profit lies. Reading April’s Editor Letter I was once again reminded of how dual the narrative of content has become. Model Bella Hadid was interviewed by US Vogue, talking frankly and with a palpable vulnerability about her health issues, depression, eating disorder and anxiety that she has been dealing with behind the scenes since her childhood. In the Editor’s Letter Ms Wintour wryly observed “how unfathomably difficult it must be to be young today”.

Editor’s Letter, US Vogue, April 2022

A friend of mine, who is a child psychologist, started ringing alarm bells about mental health pandemic during UK’s first lockdown, saying that we will be dealing with the aftermath of the pandemic effect on the mental health of children and young adults for decades to come. Since then we experienced another lockdown and the NHS continues to struggle with surgery and appointment lists, let alone the funding for the mental health services. And the statistic recently shared on Twitter by the founder of The HappySelf Journal from The Guardian article is now much more than a simple cause for concern, but rather an urgent call to action.

tweet by The HappySelf journal with a staggeringly upsetting statistic

I agree with Ms Wintour that “we all need to reckon with the gap between our inner lives and the selves we share with the world – especially through those platforms we’re all addicted to”. But what about the influencer culture and its growing prominence on public display? Filtered reality & actual dangers presented by social media platforms? When I wrote about the dark side of TikTok last year, a well-known parental platform initially declined to feature it and some journalists that I approached simply shied away from the thorny conversation. Glossy magazines also continue to share retouched images – all of the above do nothing to help solve the problem of the horrifying statistics related to suicide, self-harm and depression among the young, including children, and the diminishing sense of individual self confidence!

April edition of US Vogue

We can praise authenticity, honesty and humility, but sadly those amazing qualities are now used as marketing tools and often are attributed to celebrities – who at the end of the day are just human beings, like you and me – just more successful and thus more visible for us all. Their issues are no less, but also no more, important than those faced by an average person. Many celebrities live in a world very different to the one that regular people inhibit, with few, if any, able to retreat and not work in order to rest, recharge and solve their health or mental issues. Until we address THAT elephant in the room, we will continue to exist between the distorted world of smoke and mirrors. And I would also humbly add that middle-aged people also suffer from depression, anxiety and exhaustion, as they try to raise children, look after their health and mental wellbeing, while also caring and supporting their own, often frail, parents.

April 2022 American Vogue editorial of Bella Hadid

We all lead increasingly stressful lives and we all suffer, often silently, behind the scenes, thinking that our issues are incomparably smaller or less important when compared to the suffering of others, more afflicted by global issues and social inequality. We observe UK government spinning the story of the PM having a drink with colleagues during the lockdown as a credible way to de-stress – forgetting the sacrifices of doctors, nurses, front-line staff, shop keepers, delivery drivers and many others made at the same time, without being able to rest or recharge in pleasant company. We kept distance from each other and many were simply unable to see their loved ones or say goodbye to family members or friends who were dying.

Now glossy magazines and social media platforms have gone back to being full of joyously pink bubble gum bubble of celebrities and influencers, selling us things and luxurious experiences. Many of those people have access to resources and help, which are simply unavailable (or unaffordable) to too many. For that reason we need to make such conversations less about a particular celebrity and more about finding ways – and funding – to help more people emerge from their personal turmoil and darkness into the hopeful sunshine. Without looking after ourselves and setting a good example to our children, we also won’t be able to raise them strong, confident, honest and resilient. As always, food for thought and an opportunity for an open and respectful dialogue, no matter your opinion on the subject.

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