The choice to leave the fashion industry was to say “No” to what my body was clearly not happy about—the constant moodiness and depression, the weakened immune system and the lack of confidence from looking and feeling awful, but a big “Yes” to honouring my body once again.
The fashion industry encourages us to leave the body behind, to adorn the body physically but to disregard it physically and emotionally. We have all heard the saying before “how far we would go for fashion”, for example, how many of us have squeezed our toes into shoes that are too small because they are to die for? (pun intended)
It’s not all bad
Whatever the pain points, there is so much I appreciate about joining this industry. My time in fashion opened my eyes to how easy it is to stop caring about yourself. It’s really counter-intuitive, actually; because fashion is all about beauty and being at your best, when inside, you may actually feel at your worst.
When you’re caught up in the fashion world, there can be a momentum of disregard for the body; it was all too easy to put myself last (as long as I was fashionable). For me, it didn’t take long after joining the industry to see it was all very wrong. Of course, I thought I didn’t have a say in all of this, such as the insane working hours while I worked in publications, or the abuse on my feet when I was in 3 inch heels for over 9 hours when working as a fashion sales—but my lack of expression of how wrong this all was, was eventually voiced by a very loud cry from my body to stop.
And this time, I heard it.
I not only heard it; I was forced back into a humbleness to start again.
I learned how to be gentle to myself again. I gave myself time. I nurtured my body and its needs in tenderness. I went to nature when I needed to. I stayed away from caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, drugs, late nights, wearing clothes/shoes that looked beautiful but was uncomfortable in any way, and breaking my bank account to look the part—everything that was normal to fit into this industry. The one thing that I eventually quit was aloofness—it was a huge recognition in the fashion industry, to be unseen and cold—what is defined as “cool”. In fact, I committed back into the industry with connection and started to re-define what cool really is.
This is an industry I love, and if I choose to be here, I would work on any and everything that I felt would dampen my joy to be here. Being protective is the most important of them all, so I started to reconnect to people. I would start to break my own protection (by building the connection with myself), and in that there was a huge freedom. Joy is released and it was ground-breaking (or to some blasphemous) to see someone working in fashion, smile! I loved it so much, and because of this, the process became self-sustainable and infectious.
Not just fashion
From being a fashion stylist, I also challenged myself in other areas where I had no experience in, such as being in front of the camera as a model and that I had to further let go of my shyness, or how people would look at me. I was much older than most beautiful women in the industry and did not have many role models of mature models to follow, so I freely experimented and simply allowed my joy and life experiences to shine through my eyes and movements. There was a lot of hard work behind it, but never did it feel hard because I was really enjoying myself. The idea of modelling for me was not to be famous, but it was to inspire women of all ages to express their radiance and be real. Who would have imagined that this would have led to having my face in huge billboards across the city?
In a few short years, the meaning of fashion has changed deeply for me. I left the industry to come back not only to keep producing quality aesthetic work. The purpose of being in this industry is no longer to just look beautiful, but to inspire all others to not only look but to also feel beautiful, as well as to open ways of coming together as community to support each other and to discover that there is another way to be stylish, even in one of the most competitive and tough industries.
And this, is how far I would go for fashion.
Written exclusively for WELL, Magazine Asia by Adele Leung
Credit to featured photo photographer: Roger Lee