What is the connection between clothes, makeup and wellbeing? Researchers from the Science Programme at LCF have been exploring themes around body positivity and the influence of what we wear and the way we look on how we feel. Aurore Bardey, course leader for BSc Psychology of Fashion, and Soljana Çili, lecturer on the MSc Applied Psychology in Fashion, recently hosted 'The powerful impact of Fashion & Beauty', a conference where they presented the latest research on this topic. The charity Look Good Feel Better (LGFB) also attended as a special guest, sharing insight into how their work helps boost the physical and emotional wellbeing of people undergoing cancer treatment.
We caught up with Aurore and Soljana after the event to find out more about the links between fashion, beauty and mental health.
Image credits - Look Good Feel Better UK
The theme for this year's Mental Health Awareness Week was body image. Why has it become such a prominent theme around mental health?
Aurore: "We are getting more and more aware of the importance of being mentally healthy, and body image is a huge part of mental health. People try to talk about it, but research show that at least 92% of women have an issue with their body – that means they wake up every day, they look at themselves in the mirror and they don’t like what they see. Some other studies show that, sadly, this is a growing trend amongst males and teenagers. Body image is a big issue today, and people are starting to talk about it, so we really need to engage in this conversation."
Soljana: "It’s very important because it has reached crisis levels. We have increasing numbers, especially of young people, both males and females, who are being diagnosed with eating disorders or not leading functional lives because of body image issues. There are a lot of misconceptions around this topic – even though there’s a greater awareness of what it is – so it's essential to inform the public about what body image is, what it is influenced by and how we can enhance it."
What is the link between beauty or fashion and wellbeing?
Soljana: "If we’re talking about beauty, fashion, makeup, we’re talking about the body. We’re embodied beings, we’re physical beings, and if you’re not happy with your body that’s going to leave a mark, because you can’t detach your mind from your body."
We have limited research on the effects of makeup and clothing on wellbeing and emotions, however the research that we've done so far does show they can have a positive impact – they might not make you feel you’re entirely happy with your life, but it can enhance your mood and your overall psychological wellbeing.
For some people, clothing and makeup may seem a vane element in someone's life. How would you explain to them that fashion and beauty go beyond the way we look?
Aurore: "Obviously, fashion can be translated as non-conformity or ideas of beauty that no one will ever achieve, but clothing and beauty have enormous power to enhance our mood, our wellbeing and our daily performance. The research undertaken by some of our colleagues at LCF proves that fashion and beauty can have a very positive impact on people."
Soljana: "If someone feels that wearing fashionable clothes and makeup makes them feel better, why would you try to make them stop? We need to keep in mind that we are all different. Some people are happy wearing a uniform and others have a high need for uniqueness and they like to stand out – if they’re not harming anyone and they’re feeling very good about themselves, then let them be!"
How are the Psychology courses at LCF addressing these topics in the classroom?
Soljana: "These are topics that we cover extensively in both courses from different perspectives, that also lead to extensive debates in the classroom. For example, in the unit about personality and individual differences, I will go through body image, and then link it to diversity and to how body image is affected by fashion industry practices, and also how we can use the fashion and beauty industries to actually enhance wellbeing."
We also encourage students to research these topics, so a lot of our dissertations focus on body image and the impact of clothing, for example. When students finish the course they know what harms can result from the beauty and fashion industry practices, but also how we can harness their power to do good and help people.
How can the fashion and beauty industries can positively contribute to these issues?
Soljana: "Brands are now using various initiatives, like supporting charities like LGFB and organising events, where they show how their products can be used to do good. But the best way to do it and reach millions of people at once is through advertising strategies that actually emphasise body image and promote fashion in a positive way."
Aurore: "We can improve the marketing, the advertising and every single step of the relationship with the consumer, but we also need to see a change in the process of making and selling clothes, and that starts from the designers' mindset. As a psychologist, I do believe that a step by step approach is much more efficient than changing everything over night. Every tiny step will make a difference, as long as it’s made thinking about the ethics and wellbeing of the consumer."