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Express Yourself: The Relationship Between Fashion and Mental Health

Fashion – we love it, we hate it, and we spend a lot of money on it. So, it comes as no surprise that this three trillion-dollar industry has an interesting relationship with mental health and wellbeing.

Granted, fashion’s impact on mental health probably isn’t something you consider when you get dressed each day, but this doesn’t minimise the weight of the issue – which is more expansive than you might first think.

With this in mind, today, we want to take a look at how fashion can impact our mental health, from how it can box us in and free us all at once.

Behind the façade of fashion

Often associated with a world of glamour and excess, the fashion industry reaches all of us in some way or another. Whether consuming the endless cycle of fast fashion, following the trends of our favourite influencers, or simply choosing what to wear each day – we all engage in this industry.

Unsurprisingly, in an industry largely centred on superficiality and the body, behind the elegant façade there is a darker side to the fashion industry. Negative mental health and wellbeing are often coupled with the fashion world, as many of us are overwhelmed by the expectations that the industry can present.

During the age of social media, influencers and large corporations seemingly hold a monopoly over the fashion and beauty trends that we all consume. This can make it difficult to avoid the pull of conformity that we feel when it comes to what we wear, which can inevitably cause feelings of anxiety and depression as we struggle to ‘fit in’ with ‘what’s hot’ and avoid what’s not.

In 2019, the Mental Health Foundation reported that over a third of UK adults felt “anxious or depressed” due to concerns about their body image. The fashion industry certainly could – and should – be doing more to battle outdated and dangerous depictions of the body. Although there have been recent advancements in representation in the industry, there is still a way to go in breaking the stereotypical body types and beliefs reflected in fashion.

Breaking these stereotypes would certainly help more people to feel represented in the industry – allowing more of us to feel accepted for who we are, the bodies we have, and how we view ourselves.

It is imperative, then, that in the future, mental health is taken more seriously in the world of fashion, as it should (and in many cases already does) empower people’s mental wellbeing.

Importantly though, whilst there are issues that need addressing in this sector, for many people, fashion presents the opportunity for self-expression and has a positive effect on an individual’s wellbeing.

Fashion: a platform for empowerment

Although we have established that fashion can have a negative effect on mental health, beyond the runways and façades is a subjective space in which the individual can empower themselves through fashion.

Take Lady Gaga, for example, a trailblazing fashion icon who has so outspokenly battled with mental health issues throughout her career, and has found escape in the expressive form of eccentric fashion.

And, although you don’t need a meat dress and twelve-inch heels to find freedom in fashion, how you dress can have a positive impact on your mental wellbeing and thought processes.

This is something we call ‘enclothed cognition‘, the idea that the clothes we wear can positively impact how we think and feel about ourselves, as well as change our thought patterns and behaviour.

So, whether it’s by using what you wear to express who you are as an individual, or being more daring in your fashion choices – what you wear can be more than just fashion; it can be a form of expression that sets you free.

It’s important, then, to overcome the pressures of conformity, and empower yourself with your own, unique style. It will have a positive impact, that’ll extend far beyond the mirror.

Get out there and own your style

Although it is true that the fashion and beauty industries still have a long way to go in how they respond to mental health issues, you can be a part of change by owning your style in a way that highlights all the best parts of yourself.

Remember, don’t feel intimidated by fashion. Follow in the footsteps of Lady Gaga and other style trailblazers, as you experiment with styles that make you feel positive, comfortable and free.


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