To the outsider, fashion styling is thought to be a very glamorous job. It looks like we get to hang out with models and celebrities, dress them up and be surrounded by beautiful clothes. We work in hotel rooms and have room service delivered to us, we are surrounded by the most expensive brand names and know all the inside news, and we get to shop at privileged prices. We work in exciting environments with celebrity photographers who have captured the most famous faces and the work we produce can make fashion history. But just like everything in the fashion industry, what we see on the outside is far from the truth.
I have been in this industry for over 20 years. I can still remember the first day walking into a high fashion boutique as a salesperson… and for the next few years I was completely owned by a force from which I could not extricate myself, but felt immense tension succumbing to. To put it simply, when I said yes to this industry, I was saying yes to a rhythm that fed on the disregard of myself, so every day at work I compromised my body by feeling a tension, which I did not know how to unravel.
For 3 years I stood for 10 hours a day in 3 inch heels, part of a uniform I chose to say yes to, and part of my job. When the shop was very busy, the time I ate was haphazard: I stood (still in my 3 inch heels) and chowed down something quick (usually high in fat, sugar and flavour) and because I starved myself so much, cigarettes, alcohol and coffee were also part of my daily diet.
I took a lot of abuse from customers because I worked with a high fashion brand and we were told the customers are always right, although many of them outright abused us by staying in the shop hours after closing just because they felt they could, and many stole from us as well, but we were not allowed to say no to them.
I was in constant anxiety and reaction towards the abuse that I accepted in this industry. In attempts to numb myself from feeling the abuse I chose for myself, my body was in such a raw and exhausted state every day that every night was a letting loose. When the whole company would meet I would drink and eat heavily, so much so that there were many occasions that within the hour I would already be completely gone, sometimes waking up the next day with yellow bruises from falling down and hitting things and losing consciousness.
The stress I was in from having to make monthly sales, dealing with difficult customers and flying constantly to Milan (as I had become a buyer and an assistant manager to the shop then) to buy for the next season, took an intense toll on my body. Flying to Milan was a complete nightmare because of the already high stress life that I was living.
Exhaustion was already a normal part of my life, and the added stress of a long haul flight and living in constant anxiety about the jobs that I would have to handle in a foreign country made sleeping on the plane impossible. Without sleep and having to start working in a showroom early the next morning for the next 12 hours, followed by a 3 hour dinner with clients, returning to the hotel room at midnight to continue working on the computer, was all part of the abuse that I chose for myself.
My body suffered. Physically I was plagued with insomnia and on days off I would often end up visiting the emergency room with sudden outbreaks of fever and pain. Emotionally I was depressed all the time and was constantly seeking stimulation to lift myself up.
All the money I made I voluntarily donated it back to the industry by shopping to keep up an image – for me that image was “help!” I wore long loose flowy clothes in black or white which I could disappear in, I did not want to be here. It was not funny and nothing fashionable at all, I had dark panda eyes just like the fashion models in the magazines, which are not trendy, but the way I and we as a society have sold out to this industry. My body felt desperately exhausted and therefore my whole demeanour was shouting exhaustion – my face looked tired, my posture was limp and had no vitality – and that is what the fashion industry has made as a trademark for ‘cool’.
The abuse continued when I became a freelance fashion stylist. I would be asked to find a large quantity of clothes in a very tight schedule, and often what I found would be unacceptable, not because it did not fit into the requirements of the job, but because the clients often changed their minds. So for one price that we charge, we were doing the work for 2 or 3 jobs and we would not say anything and bear it at our own expense, both physically and monetarily. There were many levels to get through in approval working as fashion stylist; usually there was the agency before the client and in each of these levels the abuse and control are an accepted part of the game, and something I chose to accept too.
I have discovered that there is nothing glamorous working this way, no fine wine or fluffy soufflé could ever soothe the raw and bleeding wounds I felt inside of me, and no double espresso tasted delicious, I just learned to “love” it because honestly, if I didn’t have it first thing in the morning and numerous shots after, my body probably would have just collapsed, so drinking coffee was a need and I convinced myself that it was a “fashionable” thing to do. No amount of shopping and adorning myself in brand names would ever fulfill the gaping hole I felt growing bigger within me, with each disregarding choice I made.
Until one day, when I said no to the abuse, and so for many years I had very few commercial styling jobs, but I began to work under my own terms.
Fast forward to now; I am still working deep amongst the intensity of this industry but I no longer choose to work as I did before. Neither do I want to escape from this industry, which I did for many years. Why? I simply began taking deep care of my body. The first thing that I did was to change my sleeping patterns by starting to go to sleep around 9pm, simply because I could not stay awake at night.
I had changed my lifestyle for that to naturally happen; I still worked in fashion but I also had a life outside of fashion. I cut gluten out of my diet because it made me feel heavy, and dairy because I found myself depending on cheese for comfort and the feeling of dependence has always been a disturbing feeling for me. Eventually I also cut out rice because it made me so drowsy that I could not work.
I further deepened this care by nourishing myself with fresh and healthy foods and drinking more water, and taking the care to make lunch for myself and to bring it to work. I don’t overtire myself, and I commit to having amazing relationships with everyone I work with by expressing to the best of my ability what my feelings are. Work has never been better.
On the odd occasion when big styling jobs drop me because of the way I choose to live and respect myself, I come back to the focus that no amount of recognition will ever compare to the lovely feeling I now have with my own body. I feel vital and joyful, even in the most intense jobs, from start to finish. There is connection with everyone and we all have an amazing time, and as a result the photographs reflect all of this. Clients and crew do not just remember how stunning the final product is, they remember how deeply met they have been and this feeling will always remain – longer than the fashion images will.
This is a way in which I am experimenting living every day with more understanding and deeper refinement. I choose to live and share this way because this industry is not just a name for me, this industry is all the friendships I have made over the last 20 years, it is everyone I have ever met and deeply care about. To me, this industry is a relationship.
By Adele Leung, Fashion Stylist, Photographer, Model and then some
Self-Care at Work Makes Sense, Why Is It Not Common Practice?
My Relationship With Work: Choosing To Be All of Me
No Longer Living with the Expectations, Stress & ‘Doing’ of Working as a Hairdresser
677 thoughts on “My Relationship with the Fashion Industry – Changed by the Way I Live”
I’m not in the fashion industry, but I understand the falsities of glamour and thinking that it must be great to travel around the world. Why do we do this? Why do we think another job is better than another?
I used to get the same reception working in the health care industry, thinking working in maternity must be fantastic with the babies. It is a far cry from this. We meet people at their most vulnerable times, we see many things play out that often plays out in their lives.
When we invest in images, it serves us not. If we go to any industry with no expectations of how we think its going to be, but we know what we can bring to it, then our lives are different.
Every industry has a role to play in the world, so let not the industry own you, you own you and the industry will be what it will be – for the time being…
Making working in the fashion industry about people brings beauty to where it is most needed – on the inside.
Adele its amazing around the world how many industries allow abuse just so that they can look the best. It’s interesting in particularly the fashion industry has come under scrutiny with how the models appear more and more emaciated and there’s more acceptance of bigger sized models.
I used to have this image that it would be awesome to travel, show your beauty around on the catwalk and that it was always a better life somewhere else. Yet we can change those thoughts in a heartbeat and realise all of those desires and needs are within us all and in that we can say no to what does not serve.
It is ultimately down to us what we say yes and no to and when we follow those impulses that are loving for us and our bodies, then any industry is offered a reflection that there is another way to love and live. Let us be that beacon and reflect that to others no matter what is going on around us.
Saying no to abuse, and yes to self-care and self love, ‘ I simply began taking deep care of my body. The first thing that I did was to change my sleeping patterns by starting to go to sleep around 9pm, simply because I could not stay awake at night.’ Sleep is a super important element of looking after ourselves.
The reflection may not change an industry, but it can inspire others to take care of themselves when something in a person sees a movement in you that is different to everyone else. It only requires you to be consistent for another to observe what is in you, and the ripple can be felt even it’s unseen by the naked eye.
Being joy-full in life eventually takes us down the path of appreciation, and thus a re-connection to our divine essences (Soul), which is what the abusive behaviour’s we all have had try and keep us away from.
What I love about what you have shared Adele is that looking after yourself does not mean you cannot work hard and have ‘intense’ projects. Looking after yourself is about consistently making choices that will support you with work and all other commitments in life. This is important to realize as it is not necessarily about stopping all the work one does, but rather about looking at how one does it and then ensuring the care is in this to the maximum and that the way one is in the job is not depleting oneself.
There is working hard in drive which keeps you in a cycle of turmoil, or working hard by staying with yourself and the love of serving others, then there is no exhaustion and burnout. A BIG difference to the way we live in our work.
Shushila I agree with you that when we are living life from drive and the need to get something done, then there is a tendency to go into overwhelm and stress. When we take care of ourselves as we work then there seems to be more space so that there is no sense of rushing it is a completely different way to live and is deeply satisfying.
Making consistent choices to support you with life and work is important, ‘I further deepened this care by nourishing myself with fresh and healthy foods and drinking more water, and taking the care to make lunch for myself and to bring it to work.’
Being a chef is another industry that is renown for unhealthy choices, and so is the building industry, and being in the Police force etc so there are many careers one can choose from that do not have the care and consideration of the body as a focus first and foremost. That said most careers in our society are not a package deal with care added to it – it is something that we must choose for ourselves. Even working as a naturopath, in natural medicine, one still has to make the choice to look after oneself as no one else can do this for you – late nights and early mornings can be a part of a busy clinic and juggling staff and ensuring that there is harmony in the team etc. Stress can follow us around and we cannot assume that is due to the career (though admittedly there are some careers that are certainly more wearing than others). Amazing sharing Adele as this really does open up a can of worms to see the lack of care in our society.
There are some industries that are pretty abusive on our health, it is up to us to choose to take care of ourselves no matter what, ‘ My body felt desperately exhausted and therefore my whole demeanour was shouting exhaustion – my face looked tired, my posture was limp and had no vitality – and that is what the fashion industry has made as a trademark for ‘cool’.’ I can back this up, because when I first saw you, your appearance had no vitality!
Adele, amazing to feel the turnaround that you have done here. And though this is an example from the fashion industry, this is applicable to so many other industries too and hence we can all learn from this that we do have a choice in the matter and that our body and who we are matters and the only person who will make that choice and that change is us.
The truth of the fashion industry revealed. Also shocking how because of status or positions people are in they think they can get away with anything ‘and many stole from us as well, but we were not allowed to say no to them’. However, what I absolutely love is that within this abusive industry you have completely changed the way you work loving and honouring you first … very cool and a ripple affect out to all that it is easy for us to do the same ✨
Absolutely Vicky, one day it will be “cool” to be fiery (Soul-fully connected) and an instrument of God in every industry.
People will have Adele’s reflection, and so question their way of living, ‘On the odd occasion when big styling jobs drop me because of the way I choose to live and respect myself, I come back to the focus that no amount of recognition will ever compare to the lovely feeling I now have with my own body.’ Absolutely.
What I am noticing is that the more loving and self-caring I am the less anxiousness I feel. I now place myself in situations where once upon time I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing and the beauty of it is that I am really enjoying myself, the joy in the connection to me.
A very powerful realization Caroline – and wonderful when we can share such an experience and how it has supported us in our lives.
Beautiful to read how you now enjoy yourself, and in situations that previously you would have said ‘no’ to.
A beautiful sharing Adele, of making choices that were true and loving for you… the ripple effect of that is far reaching.
We can bring change to every industry if we just live true to ourselves.
This is spot on Elizabeth – others will see and feel the choices we make and hence this can then in turn inspire them to do likewise. This is the true power of change – living the change so others can then choose likewise.
No matter how alluring something looks, we always have to ask what is really going on? So often people put themselves through all sorts of hoops to get the position and like the swan, it all looks good above the water, but underneath we are working like crazy to maintain our composure.
What if we flip that, and start with the natural stillness, and then let that roll out across our lives, our work, our family… never give up on that quality and always offer it to others? That would be totally different, bold, beautiful and inspiring.
That would be the true way to truly remain in the industry to serve and grow rather to burn out and feel fed up.
This part about the abuse from customers in the shop is appalling, and really breaks down the illusion that everything is better once you have lots of money or work in a glamorous place.
The customer is not always right. Because when we allow the customers to abuse us, in turn the shops abuse the customers in their own way, it is unavoidable.
“But just like everything in the fashion industry, what we see on the outside is far from the truth.” This could be said for many industries, but what you have shown us here Adele is that by coming to deeply honour yourself first, it is entriley possible to change the relationship you have with your work and who you work with. Something that we can all take inspiration from.
How one’s career can entirely change when there is the presence of self-love.
That is the simple way. But maybe too simple for us to think it would be life-changing.
“I choose to live and share this way because this industry is not just a name for me, this industry is all the friendships I have made over the last 20 years, it is everyone I have ever met and deeply care about. To me, this industry is a relationship.” Most beautifully said and brought to the true importance in life, it is the people, us people, in life that count more than anything else, and if we understand this and start living that way harmony and love will become our focus instead of security and personal profit.
Judgement is easy when we don’t know the person. Sure it still happens with those we know but with the initial realization that we are all people, with flesh and blood and feelings. We are all made of the same stuff, love, as we all feel hurt with loveless comments and judgments. So if an industry is a relationship, we understand and grow together. And yet, this starts with the relationship with ourselves. As an industry may not wish to have any relationship other than that involving money or self-gain, that again, has to be understood. But what we can offer our industry, can always be from love, no matter what.
Esther I have always said that what ever industry we all work in it is about relationships. I have worked in sales for most of my life, however I have always made life about people and not about trying to sell something to them. We are in constant relationships with everyone we meet what we are trading is energy we can feel energy all the time. When we are trading positive energy people naturally want to be with you, when we trade negative energy people stay away, simple.
Everything is a relationship including our industries, for they’re made up of people, and how we are with them starts with how we treat ourselves – they take their cue from us, so when we stop abusing ourselves we give ourselves a greater opportunity to see and feel abuse and to say no to it.
The state and quality of our body and being lead the way.
I so agree, everything is always about people and thus the importance to always make it about people first and foremost.
Connecting with people, and how we are with each other is always remembered, ‘ Clients and crew do not just remember how stunning the final product is, they remember how deeply met they have been and this feeling will always remain – longer than the fashion images will.’