Fast fashion is becoming ultra fast. The S/S and A/W seasons have become weekly churn-outs and social media is creating pressure to be seen on screen wearing something only once. It is creating a careless throwaway culture, an insatiable appetite for newness.
What is this doing to consumers’ mental health?
Written by Karen Bryony Rose
Buy, snap, post, discard. Our consumer culture encourages incessant buying, and approval from peers via social media further incentivises our hunger for newness.
For some of us it’s become the norm to be seen on screen only once wearing a new outfit. Fast fashion brands like ASOS and Pretty Little Thing have capitalised on this and their massive Instagram following is testament to their power.
Buying in line with ultra-fast fashion trends has become the norm for some of us – after all, all our heroes are doing it, right? How many of us have watched our favourite influencers unveil their fashion ‘hauls’ – many of which cost hundreds of pounds – on YouTube? And I’m willing to bet that we’ve bought something on the back of watching one of these videos.
The pressure to follow fast fashion trends is prevalent in the younger age groups, particularly those in their late teens to late twenties. And it’s no surprise to learn that there’s a correlation between following fast fashion and this age group’s social media use. In July 2019 34% of Instagram users were aged 25 – 34 and 31 % were aged between 18 – 24.
These pliable young minds are discovering their own image and building their sense of self, making them more susceptible to external pressures to look a certain way. When you add low self-esteem in to the mix, this is where fashion can go from being fun to toxic.
Consumerism is all about acquiring things. Each new outfit takes us one step closer to a happier life; a life that fits in with social norms. With every ‘like’ we feel a rush, we feel accepted and our self-image is validated.
Although we might look good on the outside, do we feel good on the inside? Does another new outfit make us feel better about ourselves, or does it make us feel better about the image we portray on social media? They are two very different things.
If our self-image is tied to our purchases, can the cycle of buy, snap, post, discard be sustained? How long before we buy merely for the approval of online followers?
At a basic level, each time we buy, snap, post and discard we are chasing something, we are living in the future. And when the goal posts keep moving and we’re only as good as our last photo, we may feel anxiety.
What if that outfit received 80 likes when last weekend’s outfit reached 600? How do we feel then? Does it lead us to question the outfit? Or do we question ourselves, our validity as a person? When our self-image is tied to the external validation of social media, our mental health is bound to suffer.
Existing in a constant state of future means we’re not present in the now. When our outer world is at odds with our inner world we’re left with an imbalance. Over a prolonged period of time, this can leave us feeling empty and susceptible to mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.
In 2015 teenage Instagram sensation Essena O’Neill quit social media, stating its ‘unhealthy’ ideals and ‘system based on social approval’ meant that even at the height of her success, she still wasn’t happy, content or at peace’ with herself.
On a basic human level, feeling accepted is something natural to strive for. But when we attach our sense of self to this acceptance, that’s when we can run into problems with our mental health. Anxiety will flourish when we feel pressure to live up to an unattainable image.
A new reality
Social media is a great vehicle for getting our image out there instantly and for connecting with likeminded people. It’s responsive and has accelerated the fast fashion culture, but building our self-image on external validation will always be risky.
Here’s a few things we can do to protect our mental health while still having fun with fashion:
- Start by questioning your buying habits and modifying them. Yes, we can still have fun with fashion and social media, but in a different way.
- The rise in the new hashtag OOOTD (Old Outfit Of the Day) shows that there can be creativity in rejecting fast fashion. Give it a try.
- Ask yourself if you love the item of clothing you’re about to buy. Do you care if your followers don’t love it?
- Give your social media feed an audit – do your followers make you feel good about yourself? Seek out positive role models.
- Be aware of what you post – recognise that your feed may be a version of your life, but it doesn’t represent your whole life. You’re more than your last photo.
There’s freedom in turning against the tide and doing something different. We don’t have to give up our love for fashion or for sharing our interest on social media. But we do need to question the influence of fast fashion, and our use of social media in order to protect our mental health.