I recently read, “Ode to My Best Friend,” by Kerry Kennedy on the untimely passing of her dear best friend Mary Richardson Kennedy and having struggled with my own mental illness issues throughout my life, this eulogy struck a serious chord within me. It made me start to question society’s perception of mental illness in general but particularly within the fashion and art worlds.
Creative and sensitive individuals make up the fashion industry; they inspire the world with their masterpieces. Unfortunately, many of these sensitive souls are often plagued with the unmentionable topic of mental illness. These creative geniuses are idolized not just for their unique talents but also their ability to feel what most can’t or won’t. The designers behind some of your favorite trends and looks have suffered from a variety of mental illnesses; Alexander McQueen, Yves Saint Laurent, Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs and Donatella Versace are just a few of the creative masterminds who have been celebrated and not ostracized for their disease.
Why then as a society do we embrace and idolize these successful and glamorous individuals yet cut down those in our own lives who struggle with the same exact problems? Why are we willing to worship a fashion designer yet ignore or berate a homeless person, although both may suffer from the same illness? How can we characterize the same disease so differently, as an attribute in the famous and as a weakness in the everyday person?
Mary Richardson Kennedy was not a fashion designer and was not a celebrity but she was a woman that had many beautiful talents and gave so much of herself. The fashion world is brutal and so is life, so maybe it’s time to take a step back and choose our words more carefully because at the end of the day we make the choice to tear somebody down or build them up, no matter who they are.