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How Fashion is Impacting Our Mental Health

Mental health in the fashion industry

Those who work within the fashion industry are 25% more likely to experience mental health issues than those in other occupations. This statistic alone is enough to suggest that changes within the industry must be made. I urge this progression, not just for the sake of the workers within it; for the good of us as individuals and for society at large.

The creative industry is an extremely stressful environment for those across all sectors within it. The fast-paced, unforgiving nature of fashion puts relentless strain on those working tirelessly to stay ahead of trends. Not to mention the unrealistic beauty standards that models are consistently expected to meet.

Many designers, models, and organisations have set out to challenge existing beauty norms. For example, Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty and All Walks Beyond The Catwalk; founded in 2009 by former fashion editor and ambassador for body image and self-esteem Caryn Franklin, advocate for diversity in fashion Debra Bourne, and model Erin O’Connor.

There is no doubt that these movements have begun to make small changes. Young people today appear to be adopting the body positive philosophy, but we still have a long way to go.

Unrealistic beauty standards and normative views of the ‘ideal’ have become embedded and instilled in our society. Too much emphasis is still placed on our outward appearance, to which – it appears, I’m afraid – nobody is immune.

Body image and mental health

Arguably, one of the biggest impacts fashion has on mental health is that of body image. As well as those within the industry being affected; susceptibility to such unnecessary self-scrutiny extends to us all.

The impacts of negative body image are a significant risk factor to mental health difficulties. Research has linked body dissatisfaction to numerous issues. Including psychological distress, poorer life quality, reduced emotional / social functioning, and the risk of unhealthy / disordered eating behaviours.

The Centre for Appearance Research has highlighted the detrimental impact of media consumption on women. Beauty ideals throughout all forms of media, including magazines, music videos, advertisements, and social media, create anxiety and shame around personal appearance.

“Decades of academic research [shows] that body image concerns affect key areas of girls’ lives, including their health, education, work, and relationships.” Dove Beauty and Confidence Report (2017)

What is worse, it was found that body dissatisfaction has damaging effects on academic performance and intellectual functioning. Arguably, hindering aspirations and future attainment.

When feeling bad about their bodies:

  • 15% of girls won’t go to school

  • 13% of women won’t give their opinion

  • 5% will not attend a job interview

  • And 3% avoid going to work

Exposure to media which epitomises ‘ideal’ body types can lead to a decrease in self-esteem and increase self-consciousness.

I’m not blaming fashion alone for these statistics, but it has had a role to play. That role needs to change.

Men and body image

Of course, women are not alone in the fight for body acceptance. Reportedly, 53% of men feel negatively about their bodies. Male cosmetic procedures have increased 325% since 1997. Many feel pressures to conform to masculine stereotypes such as being tall and muscular. Other concerns plaguing men’s body confidence include hair loss, height perception, and skin care.

It needs to be recognised that men face similar struggles to women when it comes to concerns about appearance. There are reports on male celebrities opening up about body image issues, including Ed Sheeran, Robert Pattinson, and Chris Pratt. Giving a voice to these challenges is a much-needed step in the right direction.

A YouGov survey found that 11% of men have experienced suicidal thoughts due to body image issues. More worryingly, there is evidence to suggest these statistics are on the rise. Additionally, men often find it more difficult than women to talk about their mental health and to seek help.

These issues are just as important, serious, and troubling as women’s body image concerns. Much research has been carried out regarding the effects of body image on women, and there are female advocates galore. This, of course, is not a bad thing, but our men need consideration too.

Concern for the future

Mental ill health costs the UK £94bn per year. Frightfully, it is expected that by 2030, depression will be the leading illness globally if things do not change.

Body image concerns are not solely to blame for these statistics. But, for the sake of our mental health, it is becoming evidently more necessary to change how media is used.

Since 2004, Dove has been advocating for body confidence; aiming to increase our self-esteem and encourage us to reach our full potential. They continue to run inspirational campaigns on a global scale today.

The body positive movement is not a new phenomenon, but has, in recent years, gained momentum. There are many influencers using social media to inspire confidence in us all. Models Candice Huffine, Shay Neary, Ashley Graham, Ryan Sheldon, and Iskra Lawrence are among the lovely lot.

Such movements ought to continue to grow. A generation of people now exist, who were – since children – persuaded to define themselves by their “beauty”. Who, through no fault of their own, risk passing on the same normative views to their children.

Younger generations are potentially at a greater risk, due – in large part – to the damaging effects of social media.

Caryn Franklin suggests that those within the fashion industry are in the “best place to agitate for reform because [they] know the complexities of it”. Not only do they have first-hand experience, they have the power and occupy the space needed to spark transformation in the system.

Our worth and potential should not be defined by our appearance – we are so much more than that – the sooner we realise this the better. Not only for the individual but for societal progress. If we were allowed to spend less time agonising over our reflection, what more could be achieved?


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