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The whole situation with coronavirus has undoubtedly taken us by surprise, and in many ways, it has changed our daily lives – myself included. One of the habits that I have unfortunately, developed is being unconsciously glued to my phone 24/7. While watching everyone on Instagram becoming a yoga expert, among other popular lockdown activities, I started wondering what the effect of this was having on my mental health. Don’t get me wrong, it is fantastic that Instagrammers can offer us a form of escapism during these turbulent times. However, for many, seeing such visuals can plunge you into a rabbit hole of social comparison. Therefore, it’s a great moment to ask the question – could social media be the cause of our undoing?

The dark side of Instagram

We are social creatures. The human mind often defaults to social comparison – what other people are doing, eating etc. As the Social Comparison Theory by Festinger (1954) states, we self-evaluate through judging ourselves against others. More worryingly,  we also tend to use other people as reference points to compare our bodies. What happens when you add social media to the mix is that it often results in dissatisfaction with one’s body image. Psychologists say that because Instagram is based on visual communication, it is the easiest for its users to compare themselves with ideal standards of beauty. We are bombarded with pictures of thin and fit people, which serve to harm our body image. 

Why is Instagram potentially worse than the fashion magazines and ads we see off-line? Such social networking sites are peer-generated. What does that mean? Well, the power of comparison is more potent when we’re talking about someone who has many similar characteristics to us. Therefore, a perfect, photoshopped model will not have such an effect as an authentic and spontaneous selfie from a social media friend. Potentially, because we are staying at home now, we can spend more time on social media. Platforms such as Instagram could have a more significantly detrimental effect on body image, especially the “fit inspirations”. What we can observe for the last couple of months is that all weights and yoga mats are sold out, everywhere. Exercise has been associated with a more positive body image (Hausenblas & Fallon, 2006). Still, there should not be any pressure to exercise because everyone does. Which, in fact, might be the case. 

The long overdue change

Somehow, throughout the last years, we have accepted likes as a numerical measurement of physical beauty. This unbelievably reductionistic fact is the part of current reality. In the eyes of young girls, the number of likes equals not only their beauty but also how worthy they see themselves. Fortunately, this is where some people say enough is enough, urging for a pause in self-objectification and homogenous ideals of beauty. Billie Eilish spoke up about being more than her body in her short film “Not My Responsibility“. This is one of the profoundly empowering moments that we’ve recently experienced and desperately needed. She’s saying a definite no to being defined by her body. 

In spite of the negativity, Instagram might not be all that bad. Body positivity content, such as Billie Eilish’s movie, is what we can actually see emerging on Instagram. As highlighted by fashion Psychologist  Dr Aurore Bardey, “social media is changing – Instagram is where we can find diversity and representation. Whatever body type you have, you can find yourself in social media”. She underlines that Instagram is actually the most inclusive platform. The diversity we can see grow on social media decreases the negative aspects of social comparison. In some sense, Instagram has brought democracy to representations of beauty. With such a revolution of accepted beauty ideals, Instagram is where we can find a sense of belonging. In the end, it can actually have a positive effect on body image.

The antidote

When talking about presenting an inclusive and diverse image of the female and male body, most of the fashion brands have a long way to go in how they promote themselves on social media. 

When I asked Dr Bardey what advice she would give on the topic of lockdown and body image, she proposed trying out sustainability as an approach to daily life. Sustainability not only in the sense of material consumption but also the consumption of information and how we spend our time. It is the perfect time for reflection because we, in a sense, have to take a break from fashion. It is an incredibly fast-paced industry, now making an obligatory pause. Usually, trends on and off Instagram are incredibly short-lived. Therefore we are used to everything changing, always wanting something or simply wanting more. Thus, by valuing the time we have now, we can spend it more positively.

If the choice is to use social media, we can decide how to consume it. As Profesor Laurie Santos from Yale explains, the clue lies in what are the reference points that we’re letting inside our head. Are those the ones to which we will be making upward social comparisons that will make us feel dissatisfied? Perhaps, we could curate the information around us by allowing the information that is getting in to be more accurate and more representative of real people’s bodies, real people’s experiences. As she underlines, it is hard to stop information after it gets into your head, but you can choose what you allow to get in.

Any way you choose to spend your time in the lockdown is okay. It is not anyone’s right to dictate what you should do or how you should feel but if you’re feeling jealous or ‘not good enough’ it’s time to evaluate the content you’re consuming. Curate a feed that actually makes you feel good about yourselves. I mean, you have the time.

Mental illness has long been a dark cloud hanging over the creative industries. Several decades of psychological research has found creative individuals to be overrepresented in mental illness diagnoses and fashion is no exception. The fast-paced nature of the fashion industry can often mythicize the idea of having a work-life balance and the onset of COVID-19 has only heightened these pressures. Amidst store closures, closed factories and cancelled shows, the fashion industry has turned into the survival of the fittest. 

Despite certain areas of the industry slowing down or even coming to a complete stand-still, others have switched to lightening speed with brands going into webinar and curated-content overdrive. When all of your energy is going into adapting and surviving there is often little room to attend to the all important task of maintaining your mental well-being. The figures have yet to come in but it’s clear that the collective mental health of the fashion industry is headed for swan dive so, how can we tackle this issue head-on and secure a safer landing?

To give you some ideas, this mental health awareness week, I spoke to 6 fashion industry professionals and creatives and asked them to provide the tips they’re using to manage their mental health in the current period.

fashion mental health covid-19

Tip #1 Get into a routine

“I experience acute anxiety on occasions, so for me keeping my mind occupied to avoid it from wondering, has been the biggest challenge. I’ve found that it’s important for me to have quite a ridged routine; I set my alarm for 6.30am, do a yoga workout, have a shower, eat breakfast, set my agenda and start work at 9. After work my boyfriend and I will make dinner and play cards or a board game to avoid too much screen time, then I’ll usually watch something on Netflix and get ready for bed. I try not to look at my phone or have the TV on for at least an hour before bed, so I really wind down. My routine initially felt quite mundane but I’ve found it’s a great way to break up the week.”

Tip #2 Practice Self Care

“A classic, but a sure way to help me re-centre is to have a self care session. I’ve recently transitioned into natural hair care, so I tend to incorporate other beauty treatments on my weekly wash day. I like to do a manicure and pedicure (I caved in a bought an LED set off Amazon – shellac is life!) and a face mask. I also like to read for a few hours – I recently joined a book club which is great motivation to get my head into a good book. “

Tip #3 Set Boundaries

“I think initially when we started lockdown it was fun to have constant zoom quizzes with friends and colleagues, daily FaceTime with family but I noticed after a few weeks that I was exhausted and a bit overwhelmed with the constant virtual contact.  Before lockdown I wouldn’t FaceTime my friends everyday – sending a text would usually suffice (and I didn’t feel guilty for doing so). When I realised that with working and constant communication from home, my living space didn’t really feel private anymore. 

I wanted to ensure that whilst my flat is temporarily my office, barista and gym, it’s my home first and foremost. I spoke to my friends and family who were really understanding (some of them even expressed the same feelings!), we now have a weekly catch up on Zoom and keep in touch daily with WhatsApp. If we feel like having a call we will but it’s just nice to not feel the pressure to always be available.  This Pandemic is tough enough, I think the most important thing is to be kind to ourselves and take this time to truly put ourselves first for once.”

Tip #1 Take a closer look at your Mental Health 

I am about to release a fashion film which is solely focused on my experience battling my mental health issues. It forced me to learn a lot about  my personal mental health and it’s been a journey I am glad I took. Once your state of mind is too depressed, you are dependent on it and become a victim of your thoughts. Therefore, its important to first discover how your mind works and be open to new ways to improve by considering it a growth process.

Tip #2 Meditation

It may seem cliche, but meditation is the key. I attended a course by Emily Fletcher and it was a game changer for me. I truly understood the importance of meditation and I consider this technique to be like a shower for your mind. I have also become very interested in spirituality and Neuro-linguistic programming. 

Tip #3 Get a life coach

I wouldn’t have been able to battle my depression without the help of life coaches. Talking to a friend or family member can help, but only for a short time and also you can drag them down. You need to get out of your surroundings to get a clear perspective. It’s an investment, but truly the best you can do as it helps you be more productive, more aligned and understand yourself better from a non objective wa

Tip #1 Praying

My faith is everything to me so it’s Important that I pray in the morning and at night but also during the day. I also listen to podcasts and watch sermons. 

Tip #2 Take breaks 

It is so important for me to take breaks and this isn’t just about using the time to read a fashion magazine. I try to intentionally remove myself from fashion focused things. During this time I have pamper sessions, watch TV series, one of my favourite things to do during a break is to watch hair and skin care tutorials on Youtube. 

Tip #3 Talk to your family and friends 

Talking to friends and family daily no matter how busy things are It’s a must. To vent, laugh, discuss, seek advice and much more.  This is a very crucial step as having a strong support network is everything. If you allow yourself to isolate yourself this will cause you to overthink which can lead you into a negative space.

fashion mental health covid-19

Tip #1 Make sure you have a health-focused routine

I’m doing my best to combat future-related anxiety with consistent routines – it’s my way of making sure I feel accomplished at the end of the day. Now, after two months at home, It’s incredibly satisfying to see the results. For me, getting enough sleep, eating regularly (I’m transitioning to a plant-based diet right now) and exercise makes all the difference. I was never the person that maintained any kind of routine, so I find these habits very restorative.

Tip #2 Have social media breaks

To maintain balance and prevent falling into the rabbit hole of FOMO, I take social media free weekends and I “dose” my screen time daily. It helps me to mange how reactive I am to my surroundings. In addition, that’s one of the ways to take a break from the implicit expectations on platforms such as Instagram.

Tip #3 Get ready even if you have no place to go

Getting ready helps me to stay motivated. Putting on make up is what I do before I leave for work or school, so this is the exact thing I do to boost my mood and prepare for the day. I’ve created home office “uniforms” and I make sure the clothes I’m wearing create a comforting, tactile sensation so that I feel good in my second skin.

fashion mental health covid-19

Tip #1 Have strict working hours

Even though I run a company with employees I make sure that I have a strict cut off time that I stop working every day. 

Tip #2 Exercise daily 

Exercise doesn’t have to be a solo activity. My wife, daughter and I do exercise with Jo Wicks on YouTube every morning. 

Tip #3 Indulge your hobbies

Make sure you don’t forget your hobbies while on lockdown. I make music in my 

spare time and I play PlayStation to help take my mind off the current situation as it helps me to escape while still being creative outside of fashion. 

Tip #1 Don’t give up on makeup

I find putting mascara on to be a simple yet helpful process when dealing with life stressors! It helped me get through my 10 months of maternity leave with smile and a sense of femininity! When I feel down, my mascara really helps!

Tip #2 Family is everything

I make sure to not get too caught up in my work and put time aside to be with my family and play wth my now 5 year old twins!

 

Tip #3 Make other people smile

It’s important to not be too self-focused during this difficult period. Step out of yourself once in a while and try to bring light to people around you. I find bringing other people happiness to be the key to my wellbeing.

Do you have any mental wellbeing tips you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!

We often see style as a projection of ourselves; a way to emphasise personal uniqueness or seek group similarity. But whatever the purpose of our fashion ‘identity’, the acute awareness societies have accumulated across places and time could actually be a method of self-affirmation and consequently, protection from potential mental disorders.

Cultural dressing and mental health

What we wear is a reflection of who we are and knowing who we are as individuals can help improve mental wellbeing by giving us a sense of direction, purpose and security. For example, clothing preferences can influence mental wellbeing and reduce the general risk of mental health issues – so long as it is synonymous with an individual’s social groups (Bhui, et al, 2008). For some, making culturally traditional clothing choices can lead to a lower risk of mental health problems, but for others making ‘integrated’ clothing choices (ones which are trend-led) can reduce this risk.

Wearing traditional clothing can feel protective; it reflects a sheltered upbringing and adherence to religion, whilst wearing trend-led pieces can give others a sense of social status and confidence. Therefore, perhaps it’s not literally what one wears that enhances wellbeing, but rather what it stands for in our social circles. Adopting another culture’s traditional clothing style can not only be interpreted as cultural appropriation, it can also create intrafamilial conflict as it differs to the identity of your peers. Therefore, style potentially has the power to mediate relationships with others, affecting our mental health.

Dress yourself happy

Having a sense of personal style may also be influential at a cognitive level. Having positive self-evaluations, and an exaggerated perception of control and optimism can promote a positive mental state (Taylor et al, 1988). This may seem self-explanatory but what you may not know is that fashion can be a mechanism by which we can enhance our self-perceptions. By giving ourselves the power and freedom to dress as we please, we can enhance our preferred features and mask our insecurities, contributing to an increasingly positive, optimistic view of oneself.

Having a positive illusion of our bodies and capabilities has been reported to aid us in dealing with negative feedback more constructively. Therefore, the next time you have an important event, make sure to wear those special heels, your favourite tie or even your lucky underwear – it could be your secret weapon to happiness.

Take Pride in your Appearance 

With all of this in mind, much of our mental well-being arguably pins on our levels of self-esteem. Having high self-esteem can help to reduce the livelihood of suffering a mental disorder to displaying antisocial behaviours (Mann et al, 2004). Therefore, encouraging young children and adolescents to take pride and care in their appearance could stretch further than vanity, rather it could be used as a preventative measure from troubled behaviours and poor health later in life. Focussing on boosting self-esteem via fashion may in fact be beneficial in healthcare and education programmes – it will give individuals more confidence and security in who they are. This can also have the additional benefit of boosting job prospects; by knowing how to dress well improves first impressions and chances of succeeding in an interview. The additional income and ability to maintain busy can also keep people out of trouble – also giving wider societal benefits.

Fashion clearly has a role to play in promoting a positive self-image and reducing mental health issues in individuals. Although it may not be the sole cure to mental disorders, feeling confident and comfortable in your own skin can boost your sense of identity and self-esteem, which consequently improves mental wellbeing. Treating yourself to a new t-shirt or tie may not necessarily be something to feel guilty about – it could be contributing to a positive self-image and protecting you from a predisposed mental health issue.