Fashion, Mental Health and Me

A reflection on what fashion means to me as part of Mental Health Awareness Week

#Fashion mental health Mental Health Awareness Week Opinion

CN: mental illness, body image, homophobia

Time to wear my heart on my sleeve.

The most important thing to know about me is that I absolutely love clothes. A lot.

Before coming to university, I remember being told that people stopped putting an effort into their outfits after the first two weeks. Two years in, and I'm still prancing around the Sidgwick Site in platform heels and flares in time for my 9am. If anything, the effort's increased.

I've been wondering lately just where this love for fashion came from. After all, looking back at my younger self, there doesn't seem to have been any hint of taste whatsoever.

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WHAT was I thinking?!

Recently, I started keeping a mood journal, which made me realise that the way I dress has a lot to do with my frame of mind. In fact, my wardrobe and my mental health go hand in hand: what I choose to wear both influences, and is influenced by, my mood at any given time.

A lot of this stems from the repression I – and so many other queer young people – face. Compared to where I grew up, Cambridge is a much safer environment in which to express myself through the clothes I wear. Of course, things aren't perfect here either – but not having to switch huge parts of my personality off is a huge weight off my shoulders.

Having more freedom to wear what I want means that some days I might dress in a more androgynous or 'feminine' manner (whatever these labels really mean, anyway) – and I know that I'm being true to myself. Armed with this confidence, I can go about my day knowing I truly am That Bitch.

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Nothing like a bit of a glitter to make you feel Fabulous (Photo: Shona Galt)

A few months ago, I gave a university access talk at my old school. I was pretty anxious about going back to a place where I had been driven to suppress so much of my individuality for so long.

But stomping through those halls in my own school uniform – a power suit, heels and a full face of make-up – was such an empowering feeling. To my surprise, the negative associations I'd built up over the years simply melted away – there I was, in a place where I had never quite felt right, doing things on my own terms.

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Ryan 1 – 0 Repression (Photo: Tomos Wood)

The flipside to all this positivity, of course, is that my relationship with clothes can be equally negative.

Like so many of my LGBTQ+ friends, just so much as daring to dress slightly differently from the normal standards of men's fashion often puts me on the receiving end of raised eyebrows and pointed comments. I've grown a pretty thick skin by now, but even the tiniest smirk can ruin something as simple as a trip to Sainsbury's.

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It's hardly jeans and a t-shirt, is it?

Trying on clothes in shops, too, is a pretty awful experience. Having struggled with my body image for years, I'm often reduced to a panicking mess in fitting rooms as I try to shut out the voice in my head which tells me how hideous I look in anything I put on. If I'm feeling really anxious, I might change outfits two or three times a day until I finally feel more comfortable.

Worst of all, I even commit the cardinal sin of wearing sweatpants out in public. But this isn't because I've suddenly lost all sense of style. On days when I'm feeling too low to get out of bed, or my anxiety has left me in debilitating physical pain, the last thing I have energy for is putting together a fancy outfit.

That being said, finding the time to do things that lift my mood is a hugely important part of managing my mental health. And sometimes, taking some time out for myself involves sitting in my room experimenting with makeup and clothes. Nobody ever needs to see it – but it makes me feel better.

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Finding a sense of style that's unique and totally reflective of your individuality is the most empowering sensation in the world. And when I'm strutting down King's Parade in six-inch platform boots with zero fucks given, nobody can stop me.

If you have been affected by the issues mentioned in this article, please visit the Mind website, or call Nightline on 01223 744 444. For more information on the support available in Cambridge, click here.

Cover photo: Evelina Gumileva