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In order to fully discover the impact that fashion and clothing has on our wellbeing, we took one quote from psychiatry professor, Raphael Bonelli and we asked two established figures within the Mental Health Community three questions to delve deeper into the link between choice of dress and mental health.

Kamaria Fleary is a Personal Growth Practitioner who provides workshops to help young women of colour develop self-love and success through her new venture called The Colour Well. She currently works in the private sector as an Assistant Psychologist and has appeared on TV ONE’s Women-Today show as a panellist 

What were your initial thoughts after reading this quote?

I found this quote insightful as it merges the worlds of the psychology of fashion with the psychology around mental health and wellbeing. I believe that the quote is powerful because it highlights those subtle changes that can be present for someone who may be experiencing difficult times and whose mental health is not at its best. It’s relatable. 

I think we all can think about times when we wanted to stay put in our pyjamas, not want to wear makeup or even drag on the nearest thing we can find when we aren’t feeling great. In contrast, we can think about when we make an extra special effort to dress well to impress, celebrate occasions or look great on 

holiday. Whether we like it or not, particular types of clothing does communicate many things about the person we are or the person we would like to be and it is all a part of our identity and how we feel about ourselves.

As a mental health advocate, would you say that the appearance of others, is always deemed as a cry for help?

Not always. It also depends on how well you know the person. For example, I have a friend that absolutely loves fashion and always dresses to impress and if suddenly one day I saw her dressed less than how she usually presents – I may ask questions because that would be so unlike her, but for another friend who isn’t too concerned about appearance, I may not ask that question.

I have also worked in mental health settings and hygiene and appearance can become one of the clear signs that someone is experiencing something. With some things like depression a sense of helplessness and loss of interest in activities can present itself in our appearance.

One may feel like there is no point in making an effort to present well as they may believe for example that they won’t be going out anyway or they don’t have any loved ones to impress or enjoy activities with anyway. The loss of motivation can impact on our appearance and how we value ourselves, but this isn’t always 100% true for everyone.

How do you think style of dress impacts people within the mental health field?

Working in the world of Psychology, I can say that from people I have come to know, some are very intentional in how they present themselves. Some choose to be simplistic and some have a set wardrobe of clothing – almost like a uniform. Myself, I choose to be 100% expressive in what I wear when working with clients and young people especially. I am aware that I represent something and I communicate something.

For me, it is important that people can relate to me and don’t feel closed off. I love to wear bright colours as I find it creates a warm atmosphere with people I work with. I find often people are suddenly relieved when they see me because they often have felt they were going to be met with someone who presents as very “authoritative” which can be a scary experience if it is your first time accessing mental health services. I think Psychology is such a person-centred profession and so professionals should just dress in a way that is suitable but also presents who they are as a person too.

 

❝Many people have no idea that their clothes can play such a significant role in their mood 

Astin Wangel-Brown is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Los Angeles. She has received specialized training as a Certified Couples and Family Therapist. She uses her expertise in relational therapy and evidence-based solution focused treatment in supporting clients to clarify, create and act on goals for desired change.

As a therapist, how much does the appearance of others impact your assessment of them?

There are so many social factors that impact appearance and how appearance is perceived that judging one’s mental health on appearance should only be one part of a much more involved assessment. With this being said, yes I might at least become curious about possible symptoms such as depression if a person is disheveled and maybe even anxiety if the person is impeccably groomed.

What is your opinion on the first sentence of Bonelli’s quote?

So it’s actually the first sentence that I struggled with most. On one hand, yes, absolutely, withdrawal and disinterest are primary symptoms of depression and this commonly manifests with us not showering or getting dressed for the day or not being

invested in our appearance at all. Some symptoms of psychosis can manifest in us layering clothes and using objects and materials that are not meant to be worn to dress ourselves. So yes, there is truth to this statement!

How do you think style of dress impacts people within the mental health field

Again, because I think appearance and dress should be looked at psychologically and socially at once, it feels difficult to answer this simply. I think therapists also practice mental health and wellness daily for themselves and their dress can be affected by how they are feeling just like anyone else. 

I believe dress and wardrobe education is necessary for empowering people to choose the clothing items that make them look and feel like their best self. Without this information, many people have no idea that their clothes can play such a significant role in their mood or that their wardrobe telling a story about their mood.

Huda Kattan Eyebrows
Huda Kattan Source: Instagram.com

During the nineties and well into the early 2000s, thin, barely-there eyebrows were all the rage. If you googled photos of celebrities or even found old Facebook photos of your friends, you will notice that everyone from your high school friend Melissa to Christina Aguilera and Gwen Stefani took pride in their thin eyebrows. Then, several years ago, people’s perspective on beauty started to shift. Celebrities, regular people and even beauticians began to notice just how much the frame and proper fullness of the eyebrows can affect not only the shape of a person’s face, but actually enhance their beauty. Prominent eyebrows took center stage, and then the frenzy was taken to an entirely new level.

Rumor has it that thanks to Cara Delevingne, sales of tweezers have dropped drastically as everyone, all of a sudden, wanted their brows, thick, voluminous, feathery, wild and powerful. People went to extreme lengths and the overworked brows became an object of ridicule that the beauty community begged for to stop. 

Since then, people have been doing their best to let their natural eyebrows grow back, and those who couldn’t, resorted to trusty brow gels, pomades, and pencils that would help them fill in the blanks and cover up both the insane and unflattering thinness and at times hairless spots and scarceness in their brows. Now, while there is nothing wrong with wanting to have nice and symmetrical-looking brows that frame your face and add to your beautiful features, there is apparently a dark secret lurking behind overly prominent brows.

The study of narcissism

There have been numerous studies conducted on narcissism and how to spot a narcissistic person. The ‘red flags’ ranged from asserting authority and emphasizing their superiority over others, excessive flattering and/or harshness towards other people, incredible manipulative skills, blame shifting, the works. They also exhibit excessive amounts of confidence, foster a strong belief that they are more special than anyone else, and constantly crave and demand external validation. However, the worst traits of narcissists are that they are incredibly exploitative and will use anything and anyone to get what they want, which is inextricably linked with their utter and complete lack of empathy. It is hard to be sympathetic and considerate when you’re your own number one, and for that matter, only priority.

However, these are all internal traits, so in order to uncover a narcissist you often get burned by them first and come to this realization once the damage has already been done. Now, however, there are new studies that suggest that there is a single prominent physical trait that can help you recognize a narcissist right off the bat.

The tell-tale sign

Eyebrow Psychology

A number of studies, those published in Psychology Today, Business Insider and Independent, just to cite a few, have come to the conclusion that aside from the fact that these people are usually highly attractive, wear luxurious clothes and are impeccably neat, there is one more thing that will help you spot them, one that is perhaps more obvious and quicker to spot than all others – full and highly prominent eyebrows. As stated in Psychology Today, “Eyebrows may be particularly important to people high on the personality trait of grandiose narcissism’ as they foster a yearning to be admired and recognized – which granted, brows have the power to do. As a result, they might “seek to maintain distinct eyebrows to facilitate others’ ability to notice, recognize, and remember them; thereby increasing their likability and reinforcing their overly positive self-views.” This comes as no surprise as not only do narcissist yearn to be liked, but they have an innate initial likability that draws people in in the first place, that is, before the mask is removed and they see what kind of person they’re actually dealing with.

Another study conducted by  Miranda Giacomin and Nicholas Rule involved recruiting a number of people who were shown photographs of people’s eyebrows alone and the verdict of the target group happen to coincide with the level of estimated narcissism in those who were subjected to the test. This research, according to the conductors will prove highly beneficial in the future as it will provide people with the “ability to identify dark personality traits at zero-acquaintance” and thus prevent any chance of attraction, infatuation and even potential exploitation.

It appears that the eyebrows can be a true life saver, a red flag if you will that can tell a person to steer clear of a narcissist. However, although we don’t disagree with the result of the study, we have to take into account that thick and well-groomed eyebrows are a global trend that millions of people have embraced simply because they realized they made their faces look more shapely and attractive. And while yes, a narcissist’s desire is to be more attractive and alluring, we shouldn’t jump to conclusions based on the brows alone.

There is a long list of narcissist-typical behavior that can be easily spotted, and if a person doesn’t exhibit any of the aforementioned traits, perhaps it would be unfair to write them off solely on the fact that they have trendy full brows. There are probably people out there who simply followed a beauty trend, just like millions of people follow fashion trends, and they couldn’t all be narcissists. The final verdict is – be wary, take the brows as sign number one, but look for other clues as well and give people the benefit of the doubt.  

The topic of whether there is a beauty premium in the job market is always discussed as, for obvious reasons, society is trying to minimise discrimination in all areas but specifically within the workplace. The term “beauty premium” refers to the finding that beautiful individuals are paid more and earn higher salaries than less beautiful people. For example, research has shown that ‘attractive’ law grads earn more 5 years into their career than their ‘less attractive’ counterparts (Biddle & Hamermesh, 1998). But is this really the case?

This conversation was first brought to light by Hamermesh and Biddle in 1993. Their study showed that ‘attractive’ people did indeed earn more money than average looking people and that ‘average-looking’ people earned more than ‘plain-looking’ people. So as a result of this they suggested that there is a penalty of between 5-10% on the wages of ‘plain-looking’ people. Importantly, they highlight that this finding is directly due to the discrimination which employers enforce. If their results are true then there is much work which needs to be done to eradicate this effect to ensure that productive people are being rewarded for their work equally, regardless of their looks.

Since their original study, a whole host of other research has been carried out to see if this penalty really exists and whether there’s more to their story. In 2007, Leigh and Borland had an inkling that maybe it wasn’t looks which were affecting pay but self-confidence instead. This could make sense as it is a popular belief that confidence can make someone appear more physically attractive. Although it would be great if this was true, unfortunately their study found that not much of the beauty premium effect in the job market is due to confidence and is mostly down to physical appearance.

But it’s not all doom and gloom! Most recently Kanazawa and Still regenerated this topic and published their findings in 2018. They tried to understand at which point this effect occurs. By doing this they would be able to highlight what needs to be changed to avoid this happening. In their study, they took the idea that the “ugliness penalty” must either result from pure discrimination, self-selection of jobs or that there are other individual differences which cause this effect to be seen. Their beliefs were that…

 

  • If discrimination was the cause then they would expect to see that as pay increased so would levels of ‘beauty’
  • If it was due to self-selection of jobs then there would be no evidence of a beauty premium when they took this into account.
  • If the effect was due to differences between individuals other than attractiveness (e.g. health, personality),then once these were analysed the beauty premium would no longer be found.

 

Their findings were surprising as they showed that “very unattractive” individuals earned more than ‘unattractive’ and ‘average-looking’ individuals and sometimes even ‘attractive’ people. So in other words they found signs of an “ugly premium”.

 

The researchers believe that factors like health and personality are what actually affect our productivity in the workplace and therefore our pay. So they suggests that the “ugly premium” occurs as these individuals happen to have better education and are more intelligent and the beauty premium occurs as these individuals have better health and more suited personalities for the job. To put it simply, to say that your level of attractiveness plays a significant role in your pay bracket  is not entirely correct, health, intelligence and personality all have a part to play – thankfully!

 

This is a much more positive finding than past studies but let’s not forget that this is based off an attractiveness measure of facial symmetry which is not all that goes into the total attractiveness of a person. Attractiveness is a multidimensional concept encompassing several factors that make up one’s social identity including age, culture, ethnicity, personality etc.

 

In general this is a very difficult issue to discuss as more research needs to be carried out in order to clarify the above findings. Also terms such as ‘ugly’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘unattractive’ are used very superficially throughout the research whilst ignoring the fact that numerous factors go into the way we perceive someone as beautiful. Until further research is carried out it is wise for employers to be mindful about the people they hire in order to make sure they are prioritising productivity and suitability over looks, because ultimately, that is what makes a successful team and business.