Beauty, grooming and mental health have long intersected. As a psychological signifier of our mental well-being, beauty is crucial. Historically when we felt good, cleansing ourselves, grooming ourselves and doing makeup and hair serve to increase confidence and self-esteem.
Our appearances and our mental health are increasingly inextricably, intertwined. Not surprisingly, in the era of the selfie, this has a lot to do with social media.
A survey conducted by Foreo for their #boostyourglow campaign found that 61% of women suffer from ‘compare and despair’ syndrome regularly comparing their appearance to others on social media. “In a world where everything is now posted on social media it’s no surprise to me to hear that there is an increased pressure on women and men for ‘perfection’,” says Mollie King, the TV presenter who was formerly in The Saturdays.
She has joined the campaign to help girls and women feel more confident about themselves both on and off social media. “For me, the most important thing to remember is there’s no such thing as perfection, it’s all about embracing the skin you’re in and believing in yourself. That’s what I’m trying to do too.”
Conversely if on a downhill spiral, many would stop doing basic things like washing themselves, wearing makeup and brushing their hair and teeth. These changes, note mental health professionals, are symptomatic of an episode of ill health or evidence of overwhelming depression, anxiety or a range of diagnoses.
Most recently however, things have been complicated by the advent of social media. The beautification bar has been raised ever higher for women and men, who, will scroll through images of perfection and compare themselves adversely. Lucy Sheridan, the world’s first comparison coach, who has also teamed up with Foreo, reckons that a great proportion of UK women are experiencing a confidence crisis linked to social media scrolling.
So whilst a bit of beautification and grooming used to help boost self esteem, helping us ‘face the world’, they’re now a stick we beat ourselves with because we can’t possibly live up to those pictures of perfection. The beauty industry, however, can also provide the antidote to a myriad of issues through a mantra that is becoming less superficial and more intertwined with kindness, compassion and therapy.
Super facialist Deborah Mitchell has started to incorporate visualisation and talking therapy techniques into her body and face treatments. Some months ago, I found myself in the capable hands of one of her well trained therapists in her Heaven salon, having a treatment where I was talked to and encouraged to imagine myself in a very beautiful, flower-dense garden. My therapist urged me to gather together all my woes and anxieties and pass through a door in the garden wall where I could leave them behind.
It sounds very simple, but, combined with the incredibly soothing and kind power of touch I actually found myself so moved that I burst into tears under the weight of all my worries. But the feeling of letting go and the gentle compassion of feeling someone touch me with healing intentions led to a great sense of relief and release. “It’s about a holistic approach,” says Mitchell, “I quickly realised that combining my facials with visualisation and relaxation techniques got the results both I and my clients were delighted with. It was all about wanting to improve every second of their experience – my clients looked good and felt healed.”
Another beauty maven determined to heal people with therapy is the A-list makeup artist Lee Pycroft. When she noticed rising levels of stress amongst many of her clients, some of whom were vulnerable women going through cancer treatments and domestic abuse survivors, she decided to take action. “I wanted to be able to work at a deeper level and understand why the makeovers were having the impact they were – so I trained as a psychotherapist.”
Having spent a number of years in clinical training at the well-respected Human Givens Institute, where she learned via in-person workshops, residential assessments, exams and case studies, she emerged as a fully qualified practitioner who now offers combined makeovers and psychotherapy. “I’ve used therapy indirectly when working in the vulnerable sectors,” she explains. “Certain language techniques, active listening, reframes and questioning all help a person calm down while I do their makeup, enabling them to think more clearly.”
What’s really rewarding for her is seeing the effects that a makeover and structured therapeutic conversation can have on women. “I have witnessed women going through severe life challenges start to behave very differently after a makeover and a chat,” says Lee. “It might be that they go and do something kind for themselves, or are able to see their challenges from a different perspective as they have achieved some emotional flexibility around an issue.”
Like Pycroft, what the Lions Barber Collective are doing is nothing short of heroic. Founded by Tom Chapman in September 2015 it started off as a one off barbering look book project to raise awareness and funds for suicide prevention – Tom had lost a friend to suicide the year before and was personally aware that suicide had become the biggest killer of men under 50, here in the UK.
“I soon realised that as hair professionals we spend a lot of time with our clients listening and caring for them.” he relates of his lightbulb moment.“ It’s been joked about forever that hair pros are a cheap psychiatrist or counsellor, but in reality, we listen on average for 2,000 hours a year, we do this anyway, so imagine what we could achieve by training hair pros to be more successful in suicide prevention and mental health awareness.”
Together with top psychiatrists, Tom and his team have devised BarberTalk training for hair professionals which consists of identifying warning signs, asking the right questions of a client, listening with empathy and without judgement and finally guiding them towards getting the help they need. “It’s a non-clinical, non-judgemental environment,” adds Tom. What they are rightly proud of is having saved 10 lives to date and having helped countless more men by enabling them to talk about their problems to an empathetic ear.
In a time when mental health issues are affecting so many, this profound movement in the beauty industry towards being less focused on appearance and more concerned with holistic well-being is so welcome. Long may it continue.