Misconceptions around beauty aren’t something new, but certainly, an issue that’s not really talked about as openly as it should. Whoever falls under the umbrella of “current beauty standards” is immediately perceived as privileged, healthy, and ultimately, happy. I had the pleasure to chat with Emily to shed some light on this topic that affects most models, who are the ultimate representation of what today’s society understands as beauty – but, do we really understand?
Tell us about your childhood. Where did you grow up and what’s your most cherished memory about that time?
I had a beautiful childhood, I grew up in Hampshire in a little village where everybody knows everybody. My parents did an amazing job at raising me and my younger brother. We are the kind of family that is so close like a group of friends. We still go on weekend trips away and holidays together. Obviously, there are always ups and downs and I’m not saying that growing up was easy, but when I look back on it there is nothing I would change. My parents worked so hard to give us the best childhood. I loved school, I was the kind of person that would get my uniform ready and wait by the door the night before. Basically, my childhood was pretty fantastic as far as childhoods go. In regards to my most cherished memory, there are too many to choose from, but when we were growing up we would go on massive holidays to the states with all my cousins and grandparents and they will always hold the most beautiful memories for me.
You’ve been open about your struggle with anxiety and depression. When would you say it started?
My depression started when I went to university. My Nan passed away, my brother went through a life-threatening operation and I was in a relationship where my boyfriend was cheating on me every weekend. Something just clicked in my brain and I went down a bit of a rabbit hole. I went to see a specialist and they diagnosed me with major Depression and stuck me on medication. It didn’t come as much of a shock to the people close to me, depression runs in my family so my genetics were not on my side. Then things got much worse. After university, I moved to London, went through an abusive relationship, had shitty jobs, and completely lost who I was. I was taking 200 mg of Sertraline a day, which is the highest amount you can take for depression before overdosing. I was basically a walking zombie, I had no feelings, no emotions, I was lost. The changing point for me was trying to overdose, it almost kicked me back into reality. I pulled myself together, realised how important my life was and the people in it. I began training and slowly started to like myself again. I came off the medication and replaced it with fitness, meditation, and eating healthy, things felt a little lighter.
Is anxiety something that you still deal with in your daily life? If so, could you explain what triggers it for you and how do you manage it?
Anxiety is definitely something that came from my depression and all the experiences I went through because of it. Over the past year, like a lot of people, my anxiety has been getting worse. There was a point where every day I was waking up with anxiety and going to bed with it. I stopped eating at some points too. It’s crazy what our brain is capable of. My triggers for anxiety vary, but the most common one for me is not feeling enough. I was recently diagnosed by my therapist with low self-esteem and self-acceptance. Sometimes it gets so bad that I don’t want to leave the house in case someone looks at me strangely and I think they are judging me and my whole day would be consumed by it. I spoke with my doctor again over the lockdown when my anxiety was at its highest and they put me on anti-anxiety medication. At first, I didn’t want to go back on medication but it got to the point where I felt I had no other choice. My anxiety is a lot more controlled now and the triggers are easily dealt with compared to how I used to be.
Have you always wanted to be a model or did you have any other dream/passion while growing up that still holds a place in your heart?
I never really wanted to be a model, I always took modelling with a pinch of salt. My passion is music, I am a professionally trained singer/actress. I studied musical theatre at The Oxford School of Drama and then moved on to a Bachelor’s Degree in Music and Performance at the Academy of Contemporary Music. I learned so much about myself in those years of studying. Drama school was strict and out of the thousands of people that auditioned I was one of twelve that got the place so there was no time for slacking or messing around. Since then, I’ve dabbled in gigs, tv shows, events, I was even a singing teacher at a rock school for a few years but so many other things are taking over at the moment that I feel singing is always something I love and can fall back on. If you want to make a living out of something, especially something artistic, you have to eat, breathe and sleep it and right now I just don’t have the time!
You’re obviously a stunning woman, but would you say that working as a model has ever affected your confidence negatively?
Thank you and absolutely! The modelling industry is a tricky one. On the one end, it’s the best job in the world, you get to travel, meet amazing, creative like-minded people. A lot of times there are pinched me moments and I’m like “I can’t believe this is my job”. But, there’s the other end, the end that has messed up a lot of people’s minds, self-confidence, and mental health, including my own. I’m not here to out people but I am here, to be honest. I have been called fat more times than I can count on my hands. I have been told I am not enough and that I should quit. I have been in extremely uncomfortable and inappropriate situations with photographers or in castings. My old agencies would force me to do jobs I didn’t want to do for basically no money. The list goes on and on and unfortunately, all of the models I know have the same lists as mine.
Has there been any moment where you’ve seriously felt like you wanted to give up modelling for good?
I’ve been modelling part-time since I was 16, there was a point in my early 20s when my depression was so bad that I stopped modelling for a bit. I knew that it would make me feel worse and to be a model you have to be present with yourself, you have to know that you are enough no matter what you are told on a daily basis. At the end of the day, modelling is a lot about your appearance so if you’re not feeling strong in yourself you’re not going to be able to do the job. I’m glad I took that break, if anything, I’ve come back so much stronger and I’m now with an agency that completely understands and respects me. It’s extremely refreshing and I feel I’m finally on the right path.
On a positive note, what’s your favourite part about working as a model?
As I previously mentioned, there is an amazing side to this job. I have been to so many amazing countries for work. I have met people from all walks of life. I have made some amazing friends and I hold memories that I will cherish forever. Also, every job is different so there’s never a dull moment! I’d also like to take this opportunity to say that although models have a very specific stereotype I can tell you that the majority of the models I meet and know are immensely creative, intelligent, and have so many other things going on in their lives.
If you had the power to change one thing about the modelling industry, what would it be?
I would change the way models are treated in the industry. Growing up as a model was difficult, constantly judging myself because of how I looked. Some days I’d spend hours getting ready because I didn’t think I looked good enough to leave the house (I’d only be going to the shop). Never feeling enough, which is something I am still struggling with today in my late 20s. It’s a world full of lots of insecure people, a lot of judgmental people too. I look back and think of all the things I did when I was younger that I wouldn’t dream of doing now. When you get older you learn to say no to things you don’t want to do. For example, I remember doing so many shoots for free because I thought they were doing me a favour. Modelling is a job, it’s a skill, you wouldn’t ask an electrician to fix your lights for free. There needs to be more respect for this industry and that’s what I would change.
Have you ever felt that being a beautiful young woman has made it difficult for people to understand, or even believe you might be suffering?
Absolutely, never being taken seriously, that happens a lot. I remember my first ever therapy session my therapist actually said to me: “But you’re an attractive young woman, what have you got to be depressed about?” I remember bursting into tears and thinking if this therapist thinks that, then how will I ever get the help I need?
Turns out he was a really bad therapist (obviously) and I managed to find someone else. It’s the common phrase, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ everyone is human and everyone has their own demons. It’s wrong to judge someone on how they look and assume that just because you’re attractive you should be happy. So many models I know suffer from mental health problems; it’s not uncommon in the modelling industry.
Is there any advice you’d like to give to young models who might also be dealing with anxiety?
Ask for help, try to get to the root of the issue, the trigger of your anxiety. Coming from someone that’s spent years suffering from depression and anxiety I’ve found that talking and being honest about it helps a lot. Seeing a therapist is OK. Taking medication if you need to is OK. Asking for help is always OK. Also, and this one is the hardest of all, try to love yourself for who you are. There is so much comparison and toxicity in this world. Especially on social media, self-acceptance is one of the most important things we need to be happy.
Finally, what are 3 things you’d say have changed your life for the better?
Firstly, all my life experiences have made me who I am, although I am still suffering from some self-acceptance issues I have come so far from where I started. I am able to say I love myself and I am excited for every new day. Secondly, I finally love my body, I’ve worked so hard to nurture myself. The gym has saved me and training is something I am so passionate about. I qualified as a personal trainer 3 years ago and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made. Being able to share my knowledge with others to help them love themselves is so rewarding and such an amazing job. I am so happy with my own fitness journey, seeing my body change in ways I never thought it could, I look forward to training every day and being the best version of myself. Lastly, cutting toxicity out of my life has helped a lot with my anxiety. If it isn’t benefiting your life then you don’t need it. Sometimes we need to be selfish if our happiness is on the line. I’ve found that saying no to jobs I don’t want to do and saying goodbye to people that aren’t good for me is something that has benefited my life. We all need to learn to put our happiness first.
Emily-Rose Best: @xbestie
Photography by Lorena Sturlese