Fashioning better mental health

The fashion industry gets a lot of well-deserved criticism for a lot of things – its use of size 0 models, sexual harassment, the devastating effect on the environment fast fashion particularly can have etc. However, today – on World Mental Health Day – I would acknowledge what a positive force fashion has had on my mental health. After all, a key thing therapists like to drill home is that there is a silver lining to every situation, and fashion does have them, and not just in clothes.

I love clothes and jewellery and accessories, as my bank account, bulging wardrobe and the front desk staff in my office building can attest. I’m obsessed by fabrics and silhouettes and putting together the right outfit for any scenario.

And for a teenager, and then a young woman in her twenties, frightened by her OCD and left defeated by her low moods, this love of fashion was one of the few things that could break through repetitive thoughts patterns and the flat greyness of depression. (Along with happy pills and therapy I feel I should strongly add.) The bright colours, the magical alchemy of working out what selection of clothes and accessories can really make a person pop and stand out, something about all of that just sparks off the synapses in my brain.

There’s also an element of fashion as armour. Looking good is an announcement on a speakerphone for someone who is shy and worries their voice doesn’t get heard. Looking good is a pre-emptive strike against those fictional fears that other people might laugh at you or think you don’t look like you fit in. Looking good is a cunning way of appearing more confident than you might be feeling.

I always love fashion, but I noticeably turn more to it when I’m feeling down, and I don’t mean shopping a lot (although maybe I do shop quite a bit… *studiously ignores the wardrobe door that doesn’t quite shut properly*). It’s about curling up on the sofa reading magazines with pen poised to circle the items you like, browsing Pinterest and Instagram and saving the images you like, sharing them with friends for discussion, walking through shops with no purpose other than to look and touch fabrics and just enjoying fashion as an art show. Focusing on something that sparks your creativity and calls for some physical activity transports you away from a miserable self-focus.

So this World Mental Health Day, I’m saying thank you to the fun, creative and personalised elements of the fashion world. And I’m encouraging everyone who is struggling with their mental health to embrace, just a bit more, those things that make you smile, no matter how frivolous and unimportant it may seem. Because nothing is more important than your smile.

Other things that help when I’m down:

  • Horses. There’s no bloody time to worry about anything when you’re on half a tonne of stubborn animal with four legs and the knowledge there’s a low hanging tree ahead.
  • Driving the car to and from horse riding with the cheesiest road trip playlist blasting. I would worry about what other drivers must think when they pass me obviously singing along to a power ballad. But I just don’t care. How’s that for learning to not care for what people think, eh therapist?
  • Curling up with a good book and snacks on the sofa. Those who know me well, know better than to disturb me when I’m in the eating and reading zone…

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