No one is responsible for your own happiness but yourself. Granted some people need a little guiding influence from family and friends, like those with an underdeveloped cerebral cortex (i.e., the young). We also like to rely on our cultural context to provide inspiration and colour our lives like movies, music and magazines. But eventually and in the end, it is up to the individual to make themselves happy, and so when an entire industry and its observers engage in a war of words over who is responsible for poor body image amongst young women and men, placing blame with everyone else but themselves, I say it is you who is responsible. You are responsible and no one else. Not the agents, not the editors, not the designers nor the models on the runway. You are responsible for yourself and for creating your own happiness, no one else.
I had to learn this lesson myself. As a 17 year old in New York City I thought my smiling agents had my best interests at heart and since we spoke face to face and they saw me almost everyday, I thought they would get to know me as a person, treat me like one and work with me as a team to get the best possible outcome for both of us. But alas, no. I spent many years miserable, barely eating because I wasn’t the ‘right shape’ for high fashion (dammit, boobs!). I’d freeze through location shoots for magazines that didn’t pay and that didn’t care I was borderline hypothermic. I went from one city where I was too thin to one where I was too fat, to another where I was getting on a bit (at 22) to another where I was too young for their market. I was miserable, and unwell and I was trying so hard! Why wasn’t it working? Because booking great campaigns but being hungry and ultimately very lonely is simply not worth it. Having my hair pulled, face painted and body criticised wasn’t fun (surprise). It didn’t make me happy. And it wasn’t the industry’s fault, there wasn’t a gun to my head forcing me to say ‘yes, I want to do high fashion even though I must manipulate my frame beyond what is healthy; Yes, I want to go to London in December and shoot outside; Yes I will shoot another free editorial even though my landlord doesn’t accept rent in good intentions.”
It became impossible to please anyone, even myself, so I made a change. I made a deliberate and conscious effort to do what would make me happier and healthier and exercised my basic right of free will. I decided to work in markets that suited me as my natural self, instead of contorting myself to fit them, where I ate what I wanted and took ballet classes as much as I wanted. I left town when the seasons were too brutal to be outside walking to castings all day and lived in places where I had friends close by, and hopefully family not too far away. I stopped manipulating myself to fit markets simply not suited to me, I took time out to dance two seasons with Ballet Chicago, and later to finish my degree and start a business. I found agents that wanted to work together as a team and I have collected a stable of clients that make hard work and long hours feel like play time. I took responsibility for my health and my happiness and everything seemed to fall into place.
It’d be wise for the naysayers of the industry to also remember that fashion is actually fiction and nine times out of ten is trying to sell you something. So be responsible and decide if it will actually enhance your happiness or simply drain your bank account and your will to live. If it’s the latter, put it down and move on. The best way to view and consume fashion is to remember it is escapism, like literature or cinema. No one sets out to brain wash young women and men into believing that thin is in, because dammit food is delicious and most good times go down around food (healthy is in, always has been and always will be). The fashion industry is an industry of Creatives sharing ideas and dreams. Maybe it would help putting magazines in the fiction section. When someone said “I wish I looked like you in that magazine!” I just said, “Yeah, me too.” It isn’t real, and if you think that trying to create that feeling in your real life is going to make you happy then you are going to wind up miserable, broke and very disappointed with only yourself to blame (unless you’re highly materialistic, then good for you, I guess).
Only you can make yourself happy; not the women in magazines, not the numbers on the scale and definitely not the product magazines are trying to sell. But then again, that isn’t their responsibility either. It is yours.