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Fashion - Both a Friend and Foe To Our Mental Health

Mental health has sadly long been a taboo subject. But the conversations are finally emerging. More and more people are becoming aware of what is and isn't good for their mental wellbeing. As for the world of fashion, there are many ways in which it both boosts our mental health or crumbles it completely. Are we ignoring the mental price that we pay to wear what we want? Or can a healthy state of mind co-exist with fashion?

"Does this make me look fat?"

This age-old quote is bounced around so often that many of us have become desensitised to it. However, it carries a vary dangerous undertone of fatphobia, "An abnormal and irrational fear of being fat". Unfortunately, forms of fat shaming such as this don't just arise in store changing rooms with your friends. They can be seen (almost) everywhere in the fashion industry, from the catwalk, to glossy magazine covers, to a lack of size inclusivity in clothing.

For many, the daily judgements they encounter relating to their bodies have devastating consequences on their mental health. For example, Healthline reported that those subjected to body shaming are more likely to experience depression, eating disorders, reduced self-esteem, and stress.

So, what can the fashion industry do to help?

Slowly but surely we're seeing a move towards more inclusivity within the fashion industry. Remember the Nike mannequin that sparked 'controversy' for being plus-size? Whilst this highlighted the long way society has to go to defeat fat shaming, it was a reminder to women everywhere to embrace their bodies and never feel like they can't wear what they want. Of course you can wear a crop top! No, it doesn't matter what size you are!

After the image went viral, multiple tweets reported how 'empowered' women felt after seeing it. This tells us just how much diverse clothing sizes can improve mental wellbeing.

Not sure where to look for more inclusive sizing? Good On You give an insight into sustainable clothing brands promoting this.

Baggy clothes are in, but how are they affecting our mental health?

Billie Eilish has not only gifted the world with her chart-topping music, but the art of baggy clothing. However, the style she endorses has a darker reality behind it. Eilish, along with countless other women, feels the need to hide her body through clothing. This is in an attempt to avoid the judgement, sexualisation, and objectification that unfortunately often comes with wearing tight-fitting garments.

"Nobody can have an opinion because they haven't seen what’s underneath." Billie Eilish, Teen Vogue

It is a sad truth that what we wear can lead to harmful objectification and sexualisation. It is an even sadder truth that this in turn causes an overwhelming range of mental health issues. The American Psychological Association cited shame, anxiety, eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression as resulting from such mistreatment of women.

In one sense, women should never feel forced to cover up and utilise baggy clothing to ultimately avoid mental health problems. This marks a fundamental issue with society. However, Eilish also demonstrates how fashion can help us to take ownership of our bodies. It can give us the autonomy we deserve, and allow us to feel safe and in control.

Fashion enabling people to be unashamedly themselves

Whilst, in certain ways, fashion can feel restrictive and have negative effects on mental health, it can also set us free. For some, fashion choices are the first step to showing the outside world their true identities.

For many trans people, a group who suffer more suicidal thoughts on average than the general population, fashion allows them to break free from their assigned genders. It can help to conform to gender stereotypes, or to purposefully deviate from stereotypes and embrace uniqueness. Either way, fashion does wonders for mental health when used as a tool to embrace who you are and be confident in your own skin.

However, it would be an oversimplification to ignore the way the trans community can suffer purely based on their style. Many trans individuals have suffered violent attacks as a direct result of the way they dress.

"Every time I step outside in clothes I desire to wear, I'm shouted at, hurt, abused, harassed, my whole world shifts." Travis Alabanza, CNN Style

So, fashion can, on one hand, propel strong feelings of identity and self-acceptance, but at the same time generate threats to safety. As Tom Rasmussen notes, clothing can make you feel both "Wonderful" and "Worried" as a transgender person.

The relationship between fashion and mental health is not a one-size-fits-all. For some, it can empower, spark confidence, and create a true sense of identity. For others, it can lead to unwarranted shame, self-loathing, sexualisation and even violence, producing a decline in mental health. Many of us however, will relate to both ends of the spectrum. Whatever way you decide to utilise fashion, make sure that it's working for you. Always put your mental health first.


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