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Campbell Addy’s NiijournalCourtesy the artist and all in: the mind

We asked how you feel about mental health and beauty

From your biggest insecurities to how the beauty industry can do better, this is what you told us

Last week, on World Mental Health Day, we decided to ask you how you feel about the beauty industry, and how it impacts the way that you feel about yourself. We took a day off posting anything on social media, except for our census: a set of questions that we thought were urgent, but also open-ended, that could be interpreted however you wanted to. We put them out over our social media, and hundreds of you answered. People of all ages, in countries from the UK to America, Poland to Mongolia.

The reason we asked you to answer these questions was that we’re aware of the close relationship between social media and self-perception, and how far the images that are held up as beauty ideals in advertising and on social media can be from the reality of most of our lives. Working at a beauty publication, we spend most of our days looking at beauty imagery by necessity, and it impacts us too. In other words, we get it – and it's part of the reason we each signed up to working at Dazed Beauty; in order to help proliferate a wider version of beauty, interrogate how the beauty industry makes us feel and hold it to account when it’s not doing us justice. But we’re still learning, and in order to do better, and to get it right, it felt important to ask you for your opinions in the hope that, armed with your responses, we can give you more of what makes you feel good, and avoid that which doesn’t.

There are already statistics and research out there that tells us what is and isn’t good for us when it comes to the way we interact with beauty imagery. We know from research conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK, that rates of anxiety and depression in young people have risen 70% in the past 25 years, partly due to social media, which experts have described as more addictive than cigarettes or alcohol. Instagram is the worst for our mental health, and the anxiety this causes disproportionately affects young women who are struggling to attain the 'perfect body and perfect life'. And yet, researchers have also found that YouTube lifts our mood, that social media helps us access mental health support, and that it can make us less lonely and give us a sense of community. ‘Likes’ boost our dopamine.

Almost every one of you had an answer for how the beauty industry affects your mental health. A lot of people said that their appearance impacts their happiness every single day.

What seems most poignant, when you look at this information, is that when it comes to beauty and social media, our relationships with both are complex; they can be difficult to escape (beauty imagery is everywhere, and social media is increasingly what connects us), but they’re not all bad all of the time; we get good things from them too. That things are not black and white is another reason it felt necessary to ask you for your opinions; statistics only tell us so much, but they don’t really interrogate the grey areas, the ambivalence in our responses, or how our individual standpoints dictate how we react when we see models in campaigns who look nothing like us, or how positively we react when we do.

Reading your answers, as you sent them in, was enlightening, emotional, and empowering. Overall, they clearly reflected the idea that beauty and social media aren’t necessarily good or evil, in that many of you simultaneously felt representation was both helping you and harming you. Almost every one of you had an answer for how the beauty industry affects your mental health. A lot of people said that their appearance impacts their happiness every day. A lot of you felt cynical about the beauty industry’s attempts to diversify but thought that it was probably a good thing nonetheless. And importantly, you gave us dozens of practical suggestions about how the business can improve things, as well as those brands and individuals working within it. The biggest surprise? That the question about make-up overwhelmingly elicited the most positive response – you told us that make-up was armour that made you feel ready to face the world, that the act of applying it creatively was a form of relaxation, and that it made you feel more confident. You talked about it as not just a mode of self-expression, but something more like a lifeline.

Below, we have compiled some of the responses that you sent, anonymously. Hopefully seeing what other people wrote will show you that you’re not alone in how you feel, but also that there are lots of us who want to see the beauty industry do better, by taking responsibility, and by being more honest.

How does the beauty industry affect your mental health?

“I think Instagram is positive for the beauty industry when you compare to the beauty images and standards that were previously portrayed only through TV and print advertising - you only ever saw one beauty standard, now there is more diversity and inspiration out there”

”It’s filled me with a lot of self-hatred and self-doubt, like making me believe my worth is equated to having lighter skin and looking a certain way…”

“Seeing pictures of beautiful people sometimes makes me feel ugly and sad.”

“When I was six or seven years old I used to cry in the mirror because I didn’t have perfect adult teeth like the adults playing teens/ children in films and TV. When the beauty industry and entertainment industry incorrectly portrays aging it’s hard not to feel like you’re too young or too old.”

“Mainstream beauty often creates a false narrative of how to achieve femininity. It also presumes that trans and GNC people’s only beauty aim is to pass (it’s not)”

“My mental illness lies in that I feel like the only genuine beauty standards in the beauty industry are the one-size-fits-all standard”

“Good, it helps people with lil face problems like acne and other things feel more confident. And gives people a platform for unlimited creativity.”

“I think the beauty industry has improved so much, even in the last few years. More and more we’re seeing people being encouraged to embrace their bodies and themselves. As this social landscape has changed, I’ve felt it. I’m more comfortable with myself that I’ve ever been and that’s a huge mental weight that’s gone.”

When has your appearance positively or negatively affected your happiness?

“Every day.”

“Negatively when I was younger and insecure, it would have an effect on my confidence. Now that I’m older if I am feeling myself I’ll feel happy, which is a bonus.”

“Every day. If I feel bad about my appearance for any reason my confidence will drop. But when I feel good and myself, I can be me but ten times stronger and smarter. I wish it didn’t have such an impact on my contact with others.”

“Sometimes I feel like I can’t go out in public or function at my highest level when I ‘don’t feel pretty’ or ‘when I feel fat’.”

”When my acne flares up I am at my most sad and insecure because acne is considered ’gross’ or ’weird’ in the beauty community and in society in general.”

What was the last image you saw on social media that made you feel good about yourself and why?

“Honestly? Can’t remember.”

”A stunning photo of Travis Alabanza reminding me of nonbinary beauty.”

“I saw that Anastasia Beverly Hills posted a picture of a make-up artist that was not altered even though the make-up artist has acne. This made me feel like acne is normal and doesn’t need to be covered to make someone beautiful, especially since it was a make-up company that posted it.”

“La'Shaunae in that Universal Standard campaign. Lifechanging, honestly.”

“It has got to be an image of myself that I posted on my profile, an image that I felt I looked good enough in to post – something I haven't felt in a long time.”

How does make-up make you feel about yourself if you wear it?

“It makes me feel like I can take on the world.”

“The way I use it and like to wear it, I feel more like myself, and that makes me feel beautiful, to be whatever I want to be.“

“So! Good! It makes me feel like I’m creating a version of myself that feels more myself than my natural face sometimes. I love playing with the transformative effects of make-up and seeing how my features have the potential to change. But then again, I also love going natural when I feel like it. My identity isn’t stuck so my make-up look shouldn’t be either.”

“It makes me feel so much more beautiful and it allows me to feel unique and artistic.”

Diversity and representation have become buzzwords within the industry but do you think we have actually made progress?

“Queerness is still underrepresented. There is still an established gendered matrix where beauty and fashion operate on. More trans models and let’s blur the guidelines of gender even more. You see brands like MAISON the Faux or Gypsy Sport include all types of models in their runways. I think that wasn’t even thinkable five or ten years ago. But there is still more to do. It’s great that big brands put models of colour in their ads or on their runways but where are the plus size, trans, short and everyday people?”

“I have no idea. What is the beauty industry’s intent? Do they care about the diverse people they cater to, or do they only care about the money?”

“For marginalised groups, seeing models etc. represented from their community (even when we know it’s likely just a marketing ploy) gives us people to look up to and a sense of belonging/ acceptance. The main issue for me is when these brands who claim to champion diversity don’t follow up by fighting for the rights of marginalised people.”

“It’s still not enough. I need more non-binary models. I need non-gendered fashion everywhere. I need non-women in the makeup advertising campaigns.”

Do you have any stories or anecdotes about how beauty has affected your wellbeing

“Since Instagram became a huge part of the beauty industry I would say I have become more obsessed with perfection. I compare myself to other women constantly. I look in the mirror and used to be comfortable with my face, used to think I was attractive. Now I see everything that is wrong with my face. It’s definitely due to Instagram.”

“An eating disorder and body dysmorphia.”

“I have grown up with anxiety and other mental health imbalances and make-up has always been there for me. I used to start doing my make-up and doing creative eye looks when my anxiety was starting to get out of control and it would help calm me down so I wouldn’t have anxiety attacks.”

“When I realised that despite all the compliments I could receive about my aspects or my style, that it would be good for my mental health when I learned to compliment myself.”

In what ways should the beauty industry be held accountable for people's mental health?

“I think when it comes to the bigger brands in places like the US, the UK and Europe, if brands aren’t using models of different races, skin tones, cultures and sizes then that’s a problem because there aren’t any more excuses now… people also don’t realise those places impact countries where these standards of beauty are actually very unrealistic and in turn very detrimental to mental health.”

“Stop using perfect models and Facetune!!!”

“I want to believe that we’ve made progress. But at the same time, I think a lot of brands only use diversity to sell more, and not because it’s something they actually believe in. But either way, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

“I think the beauty industry is doing great work expanding to include every kind of human, and for that matter, humanoids and AI. Today people are fragile and easily offended… the beauty industry has to work to somehow include everybody and remove the mask of fakeness.”

“Maybe make more realistic shades for darker skin tones. Also, have people with trichotillomania, autism and disabilities in your beauty campaigns. Aaron [Philip] was a good start, but she’s not enough. We need more representation.”

”In the way that every living being should try to be aware of how every action has an impact on someone somewhere.”