Fashion + Mental Health 2020

Eating Disorders and the Fashion Industry

We live in a world full of constant pressures. Whether that be from work or school, from ourselves or even from things that are meant to make us feel good – like fashion. We sometimes don’t realise that the things meant to enrich our lives are harming us.

Remember Tumblr?

As a teenager I was very into Tumblr. I would spend most of my time after school in the depths of the search bar, looking for fashion and life inspiration. I was always going into my city to look at and buy clothes to fit the style I wanted to have. While I thought I was having a good time and it wasn’t affecting my self-esteem, I don’t think I realised how much seeing clothes on only incredibly thin women online and thin mannequins affected me. I was constantly being advertised a body type only attainable through Photoshop, but I thought people, especially women, had model body types naturally.

Comparison and mental health

Comparing my body to fashion models became the norm and I started to get wrapped up in not only achieving the style I was obsessed with but also achieving that seemingly ‘perfect’ body type. I became obsessed with models without realising that the overload of pictures of thin women online were damaging my mental health. I am not blaming any models for my own problems, just observing the way the ideal of the unattainable body type affected me. It crept up on me gradually, but I started engaging in harmful behaviours to control my weight and before I knew it, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and hospitalised.

How can we change our attitudes?

Now, I’m not saying that the fashion and marketing industries caused my eating disorder. There were a lot of circumstances that factored into my declining mental health, but I don’t think constantly being bombarded by pictures of very thin women on social media and in clothing shops helped, either. I thought to be attractive and desired I had to be a carbon copy of thin runway models and a lot of young people feel the same.

The link between social pressures and eating disorders are apparent as it is reported by the Priory Group (https://www.priorygroup.com/eating-disorders/eating-disorder-statistics) that “between 1.25 and 3.4 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder,” with around 10% of them suffering from anorexia nervosa. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder in adolescents, which I think is a terrifying statistic. These figures are not due to failings in the fashion industry alone, but I think the industry needs to begin altering the way clothes are marketed in order for young people to feel represented and like their body type is accepted and celebrated.

We have seen some improvements over the past few years, with models with average body types being included on sites such as ASOS and models of different sizes being seen on the runway, whereas when I was a teenager this was unheard of. This isn’t enough, though. We need widespread change that celebrates and validates all body types, no matter what.

Models and eating disorders

I also think that the industry needs to start prioritising the mental health of the models themselves. In 2007, a study carried out by the Model Health Inquiry found that as many as 40% of models may be suffering from an eating disorder (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/76241#1). This figure is frightening at best and shows a need for drastic change in protecting the mental health of vulnerable people. Even though this statistic is on the older side, it is still an indication of the detrimental effects the fashion modelling industry can have on everyone involved, not just the consumers.

In 2017, the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that 62% of models have been told to lose weight by agencies (https://www.vogue.com/article/model-alliance-eating-disorder-study). This, again, is a scary statistic with wide implications that are affecting the models themselves. Some of them may feel like they also have to achieve the ‘perfect’ body type when their body may be different to what they’re being told to work towards.

Bodies are all different; no one looks the same and this needs to be celebrated both in the industry and in terms of marketing where everyone’s body type should be represented. It is another step towards equality and another step towards a world where everyone is accepted, no matter what they look like.

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