As part of our continuing series drawing attention to Mental Health Awareness Month, the English model Reece King offers to share his experiences in the industry as a queer model of color and describes the way discrimination has taken a toll on his mental well-being. In a job where criticism and rejection have long been endemic, they carry extra consequence for someone whose skin color and sexuality can at times be judged as just two more strikes against him. With nearly half a million followers on Instagram, the self-proclaimed introvert says it remains a struggle to balance his privacy and mental health with the demands of a career that requires him to put himself on display and asks for acceptance and understanding for anyone who may find themself in a similarly precarious situation.
How were you first discovered and what about modeling excited you at first?
My mother agent found me by an Instagram post. It was exciting because I never imagined it would be something I could even do, it was a direction I never comprehended I’d go in.
Have you had any mental health challenges that you’ve had to overcome and if so, how have you coped with these challenges?
Yes, I’ve had a lot of moments where my mental health challenges have been in the way. I’m not quite sure how I have coped. Sometimes it’s easy and most times it’s hard. Lots of times I didn’t cope at all but was still moving and working, going through the motions as lots of us tend to do.
You’ve spoken before about being a fundamentally introverted person, how have you changed mentally and emotionally as your visibility has increased in the industry? What do you think are the benefits and the risks of the much more intimate look into our lives that social media allows?
I’ve changed by growing, being more honest with myself, and learning how to communicate and control my mental space and emotions. The benefits, social media lets us connect with people all around the world out of our physical reach and it is an inspiring place for art and expression. The risks on the other hand are being affected by the unreal reality of social media standards and worsening your self-esteem and mental health by being lost trying to find approval or the act of being liked.
As a queer man of color in an industry that still has a lot of work to do in terms of inclusivity, what extra steps do you feel are needed for others to understand the pressures placed on minorities? What advice do you have for models themselves to deal with it and what would you hope others can do to help?
Having people in the room that are in charge that look like you, being Black, a queer/non-straight POC, helps with the unspoken language that exists. My advice I would give models is to own who you are and be proud of your identity in all forms of it, regardless of if others make you feel uncomfortable about it.
How have you been able to balance your mental wellness in such a fast-paced industry?
Through trial and error, I have been able to preserve my mental wellness during quick industry decisions and opportunities.
What parts of the fashion industry contribute to mental health struggles for you and what do you think needs to change?
I feel the language used towards the bodies of models is a huge factor that contributes to the struggle. Being told you are too this or too that creates a dialogue that you are not as you should be already. I think a lot of things need to change and that the fashion industry should continue its absolute hardest to represent a more realistic, broadened, diverse representation of human bodies that exist beautifully.
What steps do you think are necessary to overcome the stigma of dealing with mental health issues specifically as a man? There is the idea of part of masculinity being a refusal to show weakness, what can we do and what needs to happen to begin breaking that down?
Talking openly about mental health is a great start to keep the conversation going and show men that it can only benefit you, instead of the stigma that it makes a man weak to be aware and vocal about his mental difficulties.
After everything we have gone through over the past year, from the loneliness of lockdowns to the triggers of police and racist violence and the generally intensifying conflict between people, how have your thoughts on the importance of mental health changed? Is there a new approach we need today to face all of these additional stressors?
If anything, during these times it’s made me hone in even more on my mental health and do the shadow work that’s needed for me to protect and heal myself so I can show up feeling good mentally, as that feels ultimately like the first essential step for everything else to be enjoyable. I believe the approach is the same, but just as effective is power in numbers, having support from others, and having the strength to persevere through the dark times we face.