Fashion + Mental Health 2020

The Effect of Fashion on Teenage Mental Health

Mental health is becoming an increasing issue across the world today, particularly with many of us stranded in lockdown thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. Your mental health can be affected in many ways from a wide variety of sources, some more surprising than others. Fashion has the ability to inspire confidence and allow us to flourish, but it can also have negative effects on peoples’ mental health, with teenagers being at particular risk. Factors such as body image, peer pressure, class issues and more can all cause fashion to become detrimental to teenage mental health.

Industry pressure

According to The International Conference on Addiction and Associated Disorders, people in the fashion industry are 25% more likely to experience mental illness than any other industry. This is due to a variety of reasons, one of which is that there’s an immense pressure on models and designers to be on top of the latest trends, or even to create them. This places a constant burden on the shoulders of those in the industry causing them to continuously doubt themselves and to overwork in order to stay relevant.

This pressure is felt not only at the top of the fashion industry, but in the general public too, particularly in teenagers. Teens face pressure to keep their wardrobes up to date else they may be subject to ridicule by their peers. This combination of peer-pressure and natural self-consciousness at that age can cause fashion to have a detrimental effect on teens’ mental health. Factors such as ‘bad’ taste and the inability to afford the latest trends can lead to feelings of inadequacy and shame.

Peer pressure and body image

Fashion plays an important role in teenagers’ lives because it allows them to express themselves and explore different parts of their identity. For this reason, fashion can also play a major social role, giving teens an avenue to connect with their peers and gain social status. This dynamic also results in teens using fashion as a way to avoid mockery and maintain relationships with their friends causing it to have a major effect on their mental health. An inability to mirror their friends and idols can cause teens to feel a lack of belonging and that they don’t ‘fit in’ – inevitably leading to low self-esteem and anxiety.

Body image is a major issue among teenagers too, often exacerbated by fashion-based pressures. The same forces that damage the mental health of models in the industry by forcing them to adhere to unrealistically sized clothing samples are then felt by impressionable teenagers. This is prevalent in teenage girls who are repeatedly confronted with ultra-skinny and airbrushed models in magazines causing them to feel flawed and to attempt to emulate the models’ unattainable looks which can lead to eating disorders and other mental health issues.

Social media has likely made this issue even worse through an increase in teenagers’ consumption of fashion content and even more unrealistic beauty standards thanks to filters and other editing software. Social media is so prevalent in teens’ lives that the representations they see online likely outnumber the people they know in real life, leading to a warped sense of how they should look.

Globalisation and consumerism

Globalisation has allowed us to purchase clothing in a wide variety of styles for low prices, but this increase in choice also has a cost. It’s now so easy to change your style that for many teens it may be difficult for them to gain a stable sense of self and decide how they’re going to present themselves to the outside world. At its most extreme end this could foster severe identity crises where teens never settle on a style that is true to themselves and they are left to continuously chase trends, forever unfulfilled and spiritually unsatisfied.

Consumerism can weigh on teenage psyches around the world too, particularly when it comes to branded clothing. Many young people are under the impression that consuming the ‘correct’ brands will bring happiness and the approval of their peers and are therefore willing to spend a lot of money in that area. The issue of course is that simply owning branded clothing is unlikely to bring sustained happiness on its own and is often a misguided pursuit that will undoubtedly result in frustration.

Instead of attempting to gain satisfaction from their clothing purchases teens would be better off working on personal development and buying clothing that is true to themselves regardless of how trendy the brand is. This prioritisation of consumer goods over personal growth and relationships has been linked to increased teenage anxiety, particularly among girls.

This consumerist element of fashion also has class-based implications. Teens who cannot afford the latest trends can be left to feel inadequate or worse still, can get into financial difficulties through their desperation to own expensive clothing. Among teenagers, popular brands can be a display of social status and wealth, causing individuals without branded clothing to be mocked or even bullied, which can lead to vicious bullying cycles and mental health issues. This issue is particularly prevalent today in the UK as around four million children are forced to live in poverty.

What can be done?

There are no clear fixes for issues like mental health, but there are steps we can take to push us in the right direction. One option is for schools to ban the use of branded bags, shoes, etc. and insist on generic and unbranded apparel to help alleviate the stress of teenagers having to choose the ‘correct’ brands and also take some strain off parents’ bank accounts. Education surrounding the dangers and lies of consumerism would likely help to dispel brand elitist sentiment and the pressures associated with it too.

The widespread acceptance of different body types and a re-examination of societal views surrounding body image would also ease the burden on teenagers’ mental health by letting them be themselves without shame. More mental health resources are extremely necessary too, to help those of us with mental health issues by offering round-the-clock advice and treatment. Initiatives from the fashion industry are also welcome, for example, models opening up about their issues with mental health in order to show teenagers they’re not alone and even those at the top of the industry can fall victim too.

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