To look at the glittering, glitzy amfAR red carpet at Cannes, packed with beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes, it would be easy to assume that the life of a supermodel seems to be filled with glitz and glamour; the fame, fortune and fashion make it one of the most enticing jobs in the world. But lately, the most in-demand models have been opening up about an occupational hazard some experience: high levels of anxiety.
Kendall Jenner explained that she feels anxious when she travels during Fashion Week, to the point where she had anxiety attacks and can’t leave the house. Gigi Hadid revealed the pressures social media plays in her life. Bella Hadid, Delilah Belle Hamlin and Nina Agdal have all recently been outspoken about their own battles with anxiety – with Bella even admitting that she “would start shaking and crying” before public events.
Admitting to anxiety seems like a liability for a member of profession that has always been aspirational, projecting an enviable lifestyle that others may want to attain (and selling products based on that skill). So why are so many opening up about this now?
We spoke with psychiatrist, Dr. Gail Saltz, Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital and author of The Power of Difference, who defines anxiety as “one’s reaction to a perceived danger,” with the emphasis on perceived – you may not even consciously be aware that you’re feeling threatened.
“Anxiety is a normal part of life and it’s actually needed to signal us when there is some type of danger,” she says. “Everybody experiences anxiety but not everybody has an anxiety disorder or anxiety that rises to the level of being impactful in terms of your functioning.”
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Models, though, tend to be right in a demographic that is more prone to anxiety than others. “Anxiety disorders frequently emerges in young adulthood, which is the age many of these women are,” she said. “For young women whose identity is wrapped in appearance and other people’s love of them — things that are not entirely under their control — they have an outside force that can add to the feeling of loss of control and can add to anxiety.”
For Bella Hadid, other people’s perception of her made her freeze up during interviews when she began her career. On her mom’s reality show, Making a Model with Yolanda Hadid, Bella opened up about her struggles. “My sister is very bubbly and very out there, and I was always very reserved. I would literally start crying and shaking if I had to do interviews at red carpet events. It was really nervewracking and it’s scary, and it’s not only you. It gets a lot better once you have to talk to people every day,” she added. “Then you’re like, ‘Okay, I guess it’s my job, I have to do it!’”
So what differentiates normal amounts of anxiety from an anxiety disorder? Saltz says if it’s affecting your ability to go about your normal day, it’s concerning: “With anxiety disorders, it has to be going on a good chunk of the day and really impact your ability to function in work and relationships.”
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On a recent episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Kris Jenner revealed that her daughter Kendall suffers from anxiety attacks, which especially worsen during fashion week to the point where she doesn’t want to leave the house.
“Kendall struggles from anxiety, and I think she has so much going on that she gets herself really worked up,” her momager explained. “Kendall gets the most anxious during fashion week, or when she’s traveling a lot. Trying to juggle it all is overwhelming.”
The model has publicly spoken about other triggers as well. “There’s a lot that happened this past year, starting with like, Kim’s robbery,” Kendall said. “Then I got robbed, and I had my stalkers. That’s why I don’t really like going out anymore. That’s why I don’t tweet, that’s why I don’t Instagram. That gives me anxiety, too. I swear, it’s the craziest thing.”
Saltz says Jenner’s reluctance to leave the house is not uncommon with anxiety triggered by trauma: “One reaction to or a facet of anxiety disorders for some people, not everybody, is agoraphobia, or the fear of being outside or in open spaces where you don’t feel in control,” she says. “It often comes along with panic attacks or the fear that you will be overwhelmed with panic attacks and you’ll be in the world and not at home.”
Lisa Rinna revealed on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills that her 19-year-old daughter, model Delilah Belle Hamlin suffered from agoraphobia since she was 11. After getting strep throat, she became “instantly agoraphobic,” according to Rinna. She had to be taken out of school early, and wouldn’t go on planes or elevators because of her need to stay close to home.
“She’ll probably have to deal with it her whole life, but she’s gotten it to a point where it’s so much better,” Rinna added. “It was triggered by the sickness, we are told by the doctor, and Delilah will always have anxiety. She just has that in her makeup now, but she’s learned the tools to deal with it.”
In addition to therapy and medication, Saltz says, there are exercises to try to help alleviate the impact of anxiety. “There are lots of things people can do to help themselves with day-to-day anxiety. Exercising multiple times a week can real difference in decreasing anxiety,” she says. “Having stress relieving coping skills like mindfulness, meditation or even just doing breathing relaxation techniques, relaxing your muscles, having respite of the day where you take your 15 minutes to picture a calm relaxing place, listen to calming music and try to relax your body.”
For Kendall, she said she soothes herself by sound bathing, acupuncture and meditation, but in the end, “anxiety is all mental, so you have to try and find your ways around it,” she said. “I try and maintain it, but sometimes it’s out of your control. But I think I’m very blessed to be in the situation I’m in, and every year that I do fashion months it gets a little bit easier. It’s really exciting. I still look forward to it every year.”
Other models including Gigi Hadid and Nina Agdal have said that their anxiety stems from the pressures of social media, which didn’t surprise Saltz to hear. “It does appear that the more time you spend on social media (which if you’re a young adult, it’s probably quite a bit) the higher the levels of both anxiety and depression ,” she says. “A little social media might be fun, a lot not so much, especially if you’re comparing yourself constantly with everything else and everybody else” – which, of course, is part of a model’s job.
Hadid has dealt with the pressure by taking long social media breaks and spreading the message that social media can seriously harm your mental health through her PSA-covered cell phone case.
In 2016 Glamour reported that Gigi opened up about the effects of social media at a Reebok event. “ feel almost suffocated by the world and the world’s opinions,” Hadid said. “Sometimes I have to literally sit myself down and be like, ‘You are a good person. You go into everything you do with a good heart and with good intentions. And sometimes you have hard days, and sometimes people judge you for things that they’re just guessing by seeing in a picture: Oh, she’s a bad girlfriend because she wasn’t smiling the second she walked out the door, or she’s this or she’s that.’ You start to think that you’re supposed to be perfect in all of these moments. I love social media, but the negative people on social media don’t realize that they’re taking away from what could be so positive.”
Agdal told PEOPLE that the pressures of posting on social media caught up to her. “I think that social media comes with good and bad. It’s such a massive platform nowadays, and as a model, clients judge you based on your social media. They see how many followers you have and how often you’re posting. They even go to your tagged photos to see what you’ve been up to, so there’s a pressure that you have to keep it up.”
“There are times when I want to hide away from everything but you have to remember that it’s a part of modeling,” Agdal added. “There’s definitely added pressure. I know there are girls who don’t have as many followers as I do and they struggle with certain clients because that’s what they look at. You have to remember that behind every Instagram post there’s a real person behind it. But I think everyone is struggling with that.”
When asked if social media causes her anxiety she replied, “It definitely adds to it. I’ve been dealing with anxiety for quite some time. I finally have a team that helps me with Instagram, and I’m so fortunate to be able to do that, because before that, there was the pressure of posting from your last job and keeping up with it. So it’s definitely anxiety-inducing. But you have to take breaks from it. I try not to spend too much time looking at everyone else’s posts. You can easily get sucked into that.”
So even before attempting treatment, Saltz says, the best thing these models can do is “tune it out just as much as is humanly possible.” But with fans eagerly tracking their every move – and brands making hiring decisions based on those engaged followings – it’s going to be easier said than done.