New Research Says that Fashion Models Report Feeling Less Happy and Fulfilled Than Others

Researchers at The City University, London, have found that fashion models experience lower psychological need satisfaction and well-being than those not in the modeling profession.

After questioning a group of models and non-models of the same age range on their need satisfaction, life satisfaction, subjective happiness, self-actualisation and general mental health across two studies, it appears that being a model doesn’t automatically make you happy.

What’s more, with the current debate raging over whether size 00 models should be banned from the catwalk, it seems that models have more troubles than just their weight.

The researchers Рled by Dr Bj̦rn Meyer, research fellow at The City University, and including professional models and City psychology graduates Kristin Enstr̦m and Mona Harstveit Рare urging the modelling industry to take these results seriously and attend to the potentially problematic well-being among their employees.

In the first study, two groups of people (each being 63% female) aged between 18 and 35 (with 56 models recruited from two London modelling agencies and 53 non-models from two companies in London) were asked to respond to several questionnaires assessing levels of psychological need fulfilment, happiness and self-actualisation.

The team’s findings, which coincide with the start of London Fashion Week, show that models on average scored lower on several of the questionnaires, particularly when quizzed on their psychological need satisfaction. That is, many of the models felt relatively unfulfilled in their need for social relatedness (the need to feel connected with others), their need for autonomy (feeling free to make independent decisions) and their need for competence (the need to feel skilled and effective rather than incompetent in one’s daily activities).

According to the theory the study was based on-self-determination theory-the fulfilment of these three needs is a prerequisite for happiness and good mental health. Consistent with the theory’s predictions, lower need satisfaction predicted lower well-being, and models scored significantly lower than others on both need satisfaction and well-being. Dr Meyer explains: “These results do not mean that models are mentally disturbed, but they are nevertheless concerning and point to a potentially serious issue.”

In the second study, a group of 35 female models from two different agencies were contrasted with a group of 40 female non-models from two companies in London – one design office and one literary agency.

This second study focused on certain personality features as well as life satisfaction and happiness – and the models again reported significantly lower levels of well-being and happiness. On average, the models also reported feeling lower self-esteem, and they endorsed more problematic personality features, such as feeling more suspicious of others, being more disconnected and lonely, more impulsive and reckless, more intensely emotional, and more self-centred.

With debates raging about the weight and physical health of models, these findings show that the industry needs to be concerned about the mental well-being of models, too. Dr Meyer says: “Why should the industry be worried? Because you should want your employees to be reasonably happy and well adjusted – that is a valuable end in itself.”

Asked whether the results tie in with concerns over eating disorders amongst models, Dr Meyer says: “We did not study eating disorders, as such. However, our findings are consistent with the notion that psychological adjustment might be an issue among some models. This needs to be investigated further. Perhaps the main lesson from this research concerns the importance of finding opportunities to get your needs met. To the extent that your job supports this kind of need satisfaction, it is probably good for your general psychological adjustment and well-being-and that holds true for fashion models as well as others.”

The research was conducted by Björn Meyer (The City University), Kristin Enström (The City University), Mona Harstveit (The City University), David Bowles (Sheffield Hallam University) and Christopher Beevers (University of Texas at Austin, USA). The study was published in the January 2007 issue of The Journal of Positive Psychology.

City University, London, was founded in 1894 as the Northampton Institute and was awarded full university status in 1966. Today the University is renowned for its international focus, the employability of its graduates (5th in The Sunday Times 2006 graduate employability table) and its links with business and professions.

The University is made up of eight schools based in and around the City of London: School of Arts, School of Informatics, School of Social Sciences, School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, Cass Business School, The City Law School, School of Allied Health Science and St Bartholomew School of Nursing and Midwifery.

During the 2006/07 academic year, City University, London, attracted over 23,000 students from 157 countries, while teaching staff are drawn from 41 international locations, ensuring that the University has a truly international outlook.

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