What are the psychological implications of creativity? In this talk Dr Mair will discuss how the pressures in the fashion industry can lead to or exacerbate mental health issues and explore how psychology can be applied to help alleviate these.
Thank you for inviting me to give a keynote presentation at the Voices of Fashion on Mental Health.
Today, more than ever before, the onus is on us all to take responsibility for our health. This is easier for some than others. Most of us need support to maintain good mental health. Regardless of our demographics, psychographics and other individual differences, we are all susceptible to life’s stressors and of course, pleasures.
The aim of today is to claim a space to hold courageous conversations about associations between creativity, mental health and the fashion industry.
I am a cognitive psychologist. I consult with the fashion industry via my consultancy, psychology.fashion. My goals are to support the industry to become more ethical and sustainable and through education, mentoring and career coaching.
My book, the Psychology of Fashion was published in March this year.
The thriving fashion industry is a popular career path for many While its exhilarating lifestyle, scope for creativity and magnetising environment are all positive attributes, the chaos and excitement can be a double-edged sword.
The industry has had a long-standing curiosity about mental health and mental illness. We know of many high-profile fashion designers who have suffered with their mental health and many have taken their own lives.
In my talk, I define the psychological concepts of creativity and mental health and how they manifest in the context of fashion
We all know those classic stories of the “mad” creative genius Many are aware of the suicides of famous writers, musicians and actors such as Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, and KurtCobain, Robin Williams, and of course fashion designers.
Creativity comprises originality and functionality and its output ranges from the ability to solve everyday problems and adapt to change, to creating something that has a major impact on others Creativity, the creation of something new and useful is meant to improve one’s effective functioning, is studied across all areas of psychology
Mood predicts creativity because it is an intermediary state between situational and personality predictors and creative performance
To hear of so many creative artists suffering from depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorders, romanticises their struggles and become fused with their art and it can lead to a misunderstanding that they were great because they struggled so much. But in no way do you need to suffer to create great art.
Many artists come from chaotic environments, which prepares them to create with less structure. Artists tend to show higher rates of mental illness and related symptoms than the average population
Psychological factors, such as self-affirmation, aversion to dogma, flexibility, and affinity for difference and novelty, are fundamental to creativity Creativity is a form of psychological adaptation, but empirical studies have not demonstrated a connection between creativity and mental illness
Symptoms of mental illness block/derail creativity, whereas mental health facilitates creativity so when a creative person is mentally ill, they can be productive during periods of low symptom activity and anxiety
Psychiatric diagnoses often arise from biographies and hearsay, and pathography [drawing conclusions about state of mind from the artists’ perceived psychology and the pathological elements in their subject matter
Creativity and mental illness involve deviations from normative modes of thought…and both may involve extreme euphoria and productivity But in mental illness, euphoria and productivity are involuntary, devoid of judgment, and distorted, whereas creative artists’ productivity is purposeful, and euphoria results almost always from exceptional accomplishment
Creative people are liable to mood disorder, but a mood disorder doesn’t necessarily lead to creativity
Differences between deep depression, bi-polar disorder and chronic mild depression Creatives’ long bursts of activity in a state of flow could be mistaken for a mood disorder
The punishing lifestyle, financial instability, competitive nature, etc. could lead to a mental illness
Modelling conjures up an image of glamour and super-salaries; a small group of supermodels inhabit the world of celebrity. The reality can be very different. Young and potentially vulnerable women – and men – work in a pressured environment that is largely unregulated and lightly monitored. Their faces and bodies make a splash in the pages of national newspapers and glossy magazines but their voices are seldom heard. During Fashion weeks shows take place all day and into the night. Shows can run over which means models are under pressure to get to the next show on time leading to minimal opportunity for rest, let alone time to sleeping or eating. Add to this the need for models to look their best at all times, it’s not difficult to see the toll on mental health. The fashion industry has known this for more than a decade. As far back as 2007, the British Fashion Council commissioned an investigation into the working lives of models. The Model Health Inquiry reports the less glamorous side of modelling: “it is peopled by young and potentially vulnerable workers – the majority of them women – who are self-employed and do not have adequate support. For many, their careers are short, and they endure working conditions that are damaging to their health”. Fashion commentator and MSc Applied Psychology in Fashion graduate, Prof Caryn Franklin is quoted in the report as saying that “the fashion industry sees thin and emaciated as ‘edgy’ or cool. In an ideal world, models would be size 12.”
The report makes many recommendations including ‘rigorously enforcing’ banning models under the age of 16 from the FW catwalks, bringing in chaperones for models aged 16-18. And checking on model agents, designers, photographers and casting directors like other industries working with children. Models participating in LFW should provide a medical certificate attesting their good health from doctors on an accredited list of medical experts with expertise in recognising eating disorders. FW: Venues should provide healthy food, be smoking venues, and test for drugs randomly. A self-funded representative body for the modelling profession should be set up to support and advise catwalk models on health-related issues. The report recommended the BFC establish of a permanent model health panel to monitor the industry’s response to this inquiry’s recommendations and to make new proposals.
As a result of the enquiry, Erin O’Connor, one of the world’s top models, set up the Model Sanctuary, a space during fashion week where models could seek advice from nutritionists and psychotherapists. During the shows the Model Sanctuary was visited by over 200 models per day, but sadly by the time of LFW Feb 2012, the model sanctuary had been forced to close. She said “Models should welcome the recommendation of medical assessments; ensuring your health is checked and you have the right information about nutrition are vital to a model’s wellbeing as well important steps towards personal empowerment. A certificate of good health should be as fundamental to a model’s toolkit as a portfolio of photographs. For too long models have been without a voice. We need to work together to create a body that will provide that voice, offer support and opportunities to learn from each other and, importantly, drive out the myths about our profession.”
Rosie Nelson was told to thin down to the bone
in 2017 France became the latest country to vote to criminalise the use of models who are dangerously thin. Those breaking the law face fines and up to six months in jail. And there is growing momentum for change in the UK -- Caroline Nokes MP is the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image and is campaigning for the Government to look at the possibility of legislating to ensure models are of a healthy weight. The time is now for us all to come together. Victoire Dauxerre has written a book to warn young women of the pitfalls of modelling. Interviewed by the Independent in March last year, she tells how she survived on a diet of three apples a day, one replacing each meal, when she worked as a high-fashion model.
Aged 18, she weighed 56kg (8st8lbs) at 5ft 10 inches and was told to lose two inches around her waist and get herself down to a size two from a size eight. This led to an 8-month struggle eating disorders. After two months of extreme dieting, the said she was perfect at 47kg (7st 4lbs), and could fit into the clothes and start working.
The pace of the industry is hard, it provokes high-stress levels daily. I work 12-16 hour days pretty much every day. What I find personally hard is the creative pressure, the mental strain. Fashion forces you to be innovative and expressive within a schedule, which is sometimes impossible. I also think that working as a designer, it’s personal. You know, what you put out there is you. And the level of critique and competition is high. But then, that is the nature of the beast.
L’Wren Scott started her career as a model in Paris before moving to California and launched the first of her fashion collections in 2016. She took her own life in 2014 following a period of depression, at the age of 49. Kate Spade who took her life in June this year aged 55. Isabella Blow in 2007 aged 44 and one of the most famous British designers, the late Alexander McQueen aged 41 (1969-2010), was found dead in his flat after taking a mixture of cocaine, sleeping pills and tranquilisers. His workload was believed to have had a direct effect on his mental state. He had been suffering from anxiety and depression for at least three years and sadly, after 2 previous attempts to take his own life, he. Although workload is blamed, other factors that could have contributed to his mental state include the suicide of one of his closest friends, the designer Isabella Blow, who had taken her life 3 years earlier, and the death of his mother in 2010.
The designer, Marc Jacobs has been in rehab twice, “I had been running around with models, stylists, fashion people, and I would spend nights drinking and partying.” John Galliano was fired from Dior for his racist rant and later admitted to regularly downing bottles of vodka and taking pills to help him switch-off. Galliano expressed these feelings in an interview with Vanity Fair: “I had all these voices in my head, asking so many questions. I was afraid to say no, I thought it showed weakness... I was going to end up in a mental asylum or six feet under.” Alber Elbaz, formerly of Lanvin told British Vogue, “I don’t understand this marathon of fashion…you start to understand why some designers do strange things… you have to find a way of dealing with it all.”
But some very high-profile designers seem not be concerned at all: Karl Lagerfeld is quoted as saying, “If you are not a good bullfighter, don’t enter the arena. Fashion is a sport now: You have to run.”
Rick Owens says he doesn’t “really see a problem”. He says: “I tend to look at these things as evolutionary. I feel stimulated… and busy hands are happy hands.”
Model Adwoa Aboah has spoken about her attempted suicide and depression, saying she feels a responsibility to help others with mental health issues. "Mental health isn’t all of me but it’s a massive part of my journey and a massive part of my whole being. Having got through it - it’s 100 per cent my responsibility to use it for something bigger and to be one of many voices for people who might not have someone to talk to or understand what’s going on." Gurls Talk Cara Delevingne tweeted about her long battle with depression last year. She said "I suffer from depression and was a model during a particularly rough patch of self-hatred. I am so lucky for the work I get to do, but I used to work to try and escape and just ended up completely exhausting myself. I am focusing on filming and trying to learn not to pick apart my every flaw. I am really good at that.”
BFC’s Positive Fashion Ambassador for Model Health and Diversity is Adwoa Aboah (Gurls Talk). BFC and British Fashion Model Agency Association Model’s First Initiative to form an independent committee of leading individuals from the fashion industry to develop a charter that will protect and give voice to models.
Of course, these issues brought about by the relentless paced of the fashion industry don’t only impact models and designers. Fashion lovers are desperate to see what’s new, what celebrities and influencers are wearing and social media has brought this into the hands of everyone. The possibility of becoming an influencer and celebrity is open to anyone with a social media presence. It seems all we need to do is post selfies. This encourages us to buy and dispose of items for our selfies…we can wear an item only once. So what do we do with all the stuff we buy? We certainly don’t wear it all. In fact, we don’t wear 80% of what we have in our wardrobes.
This talk wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention my new book, The Psychology of Fashion, part of Routledge’s Psychology of Everything series which is published on 15th March and available for pre-order on Amazon now. Many of the topics mentioned this evening are discussed in the book.
We’ve covered a huge amount. I thank you for your time and welcome your questions.
Fashion Creativity and Mental Health. Keynote Presentation by Dr Carolyn Mair
mental health within
the fashion industry
Professor Carolyn Mair PhD
The Most Beautiful Job
in the World
Dr Guilia Mensitieri (2018)
“When we think of exploitation in
fashion, we think of sweat shops
abroad or sexual harassment of
models. But that’s not what I was
interested in. I was looking at the
creative side: stylists, makeup artists,
young designers, interns, assistants.”
The Guardian 2nd September 2018
Is working in fashion different to working in other industries?
Suicide by occupation, England: 2011 to 2015
• 12 deaths for every 100,000 = 0.012% of
• The risk of suicide is higher for those
working in culture, media and sport
• males (20% higher than the male average)
• females (69% higher than the female average)
• Risk is highest among those working in
artistic, literary and media occupations
• Jobs with low pay and low job security
• People at high risk of suicide may
selectively go into particular kinds of
• Having access to, or knowledge of, a
method of suicide increases risk
Surviving or Thriving?
The state of the UK's mental health
employed retired Total
75% 70% 66%
UK population who report having experienced a
mental health problem
2017 YouGov survey n = 3,006
Is there a link between mental health and creativity?
Rothenberg, A. (2006). Essay: Creativity—the healthy muse. The Lancet, 368, S8-S9.
What is creativity?
Measuring creativity is problematic
Duncker’s Candle Problem task (1945)
Guildford’s Alternative Uses task (1967)
Are ‘creatives’ more
prone to mental health
problems than the
• Is creativity an indicator of poor mental
health? e.g., the 27 Club
• Does poor mental health make us more
IMAGE: Psychology Forever, Wikimedia CC
creativity and mental
health is inconclusive,
Confirming evidence for a mood-creativity relationship
Positive vs neutral mood leads to
• greater cognitive flexibility and facilitates creative problem solving
• less creative production
Negative vs neutral mood can
• promote creative performance
• hamper creative performance
• make no difference
Negative vs positive mood can
• promote creative performance
• trigger less creative responding
Baas, M., De Dreu, C. K., & Nijstad, B. A. (2008). A meta-analysis of 25 years of mood-creativity research: Hedonic tone, activation, or
regulatory focus?. Psychological bulletin, 134(6), 779.
• There is a common biology for some
mental disorders and creativity
• “Painters, musicians, writers and
dancers are 25% more likely to carry
gene variants that increase the
likelihood to suffer from mental illness”
• The findings have been, misinterpreted
and exaggerated, but…
Stefansson, H., Ophoff, R. A., Steinberg, S., Andreassen,
O. A., Cichon, S., Rujescu, D., ... & Sigurdsson, E. (2009).
Common variants conferring risk of
schizophrenia. Nature, 460(7256), 744.
…a relationship does exist
• 2 meta-analyses of 3,000 papers by
Taylor (2017) concluded creative
• are likely to develop a mood
• tend to work in emotionally
• lack job security
• have a punishing lifestyle
• financial instability
Taylor, C. L. (2017). Creativity and mood disorder: A systematic review and
meta-analysis. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 12(6), 1040-1076.
How does this manifest in the fashion industry?
Designer, Jean-Raymond’s ‘Double Bind’ collection styled
by Erykah Badu
• “We are numb as an industry – we are so
used to looking at models on the catwalks
as clothes hangers that we fail to see
whether they are healthy or not. One of the
major worries is that the fashion industry
sees thin and emaciated as ‘edgy’ or cool.
In an ideal world, models would be size 12.”
• Prof Caryn Franklin MBE
Fashioning a Healthy Future
The Model Health Inquiry
• Prompted by BFC’s growing concern
about thin models
• Focused on developing practical and
effective proposals to ensure the
industry behaves responsibly,
providing support and protection to
The Model Sanctuary
Non-profit drop-in centre founded
by Erin O'Connor in 2007-2011
Offered models access to nutritionists,
life coaches, osteopaths, and physio-
fitness instructors, mixing with like-
minded people, food and time to
recharge during London Fashion Weeks
Never Skinny Enough
Victoire Macon Dauxerre (2016)
• “The leaner I was, the bigger I was”
• Paris is the worst for body pressures, followed by
London, Milan and New York
• I was dehumanised and was destroyed psychologically
by her experience of modelling
• I was not referred to by name or even looked in the
eye by many of the designers, or hair and makeup
Designers need to keep up with
demand and competition while living
up to expectations from buyers,
retailers, consumers, media and the
public as well as their own perfectionist
…but what about designers?
British Fashion Council
Models First initiative
with the British Fashion