Fitting into clothes that fit societal standards: How our clothes can affect our mental health
By NCVC Staff | Published on Sep 27, 2023
Can you think of at least one instance where you wore something and decided to change it because it didn’t ‘suit your body type’? Truth be told, we’ve all been there. Sometimes you throw your favourite t-shirt at the back of the cupboard because the love handles bulging out illicit emotions of embarrassment. Other times, you trade your jeans for loose palazzos because your legs look skinny.
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At some point, we normalised compromising on what we really want to wear and building a wardrobe that will take us one step closer to society’s beauty standards. What we may not have realized is that it came at the price of our mental health.
To put it simply, body image is how an individual views their own body. This view comprises their thoughts, feelings and perception about themselves. So, each time you stand in front of the mirror and tell yourself the bulges are too noticeable or the arms look too flabby or the body looks disproportionate, you’re actually chipping away at your own sense of body image. This sort of attack on a regular basis is enough for your self-esteem to take a hit.
This effect of conforming ourselves with the social standards of beauty may not only affect our mental health but also our physical health as we fit ourselves into tight body shapers that leave red marks and tape ourselves up to look more ‘firm’. These products may be uncomfortable or unhealthy but are used widely to combat the constant insecurity that follows us because it is a part of your physical being.
To really understand this need for conformity even though it may make you feel ‘less than’, you need to first understand where it all begins. Who put these thoughts in your head about what an ideal body looks like?
We spoke to Kamna Chhibber, Head of Department, Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram who shed a light on the sources that may peddle ideas of the ‘perfect’ body type.
According to Chhibber, “Everyone likes to be perceived a certain way. Impressions matter to us. One of the main things we take care of in this regard is how we look and what we wear. We all want to be viewed positively. We rely on both the media and culture when it comes to forming an idea of what we must wear to be considered beautiful.”
The role of culture
Chhibber said, “We are brought up with certain stereotypes about what is aesthetic. These serve as the foundation of what is acceptable and what is not. Elders around you may have joked about your weight or told you to eat less to keep the kilos off. These kinds of comments and pieces of advice may have made you believe that a certain body type is wrong altogether. So, you start wearing clothes that may hide what you think is ‘imperfect’.”
The role of media
“We see models, social media influencers and celebrities in the media. These people dress a certain way and look a certain way. We, as fans, aspire to be like them. So, when we look different from what is shown to us in the media, we may feel frustrated. Hence, we start picking out outfits that will help us hide body areas we feel don’t conform to the beauty aesthetic we see,” she said.
Mental health effects
Dr Chhibber touched upon 3 primary ways in which choosing clothes to stick to societal norms may affect us in the long-term:
If you’re constantly picking up your outfits keeping in mind what society considers ideal, then eventually your self-esteem may take a hit. A poor body image may lead to negative thoughts about yourself. According to the expert, “We end up feeling like the judgement of people has far greater value than what we want.”
“If you think you shouldn’t wear what you really want to wear because your body type is ‘not appropriate’, or how people may judge you negatively, it shows that your confidence level is low. This may lead to avoiding activities that you may want to pursue such as public speaking. What’s more, it may also stop you from putting yourself out there and forming strong relationships,” said Chhibber.
3. Mental illness
According to the expert, “Not in all cases but in some people, this may lead to depression, anxiety and eating disorders. This can also cause extremely negative thoughts, overthinking and a fall in productivity.”
So, ladies, don’t let what society deems right to dictate what you should wear. Build a more body positive mindset to take care of your mental health.