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Why the fashion industry needs to stop trivialising mental health Comment Fashion & Beauty Politics & Current Affairs 

Why the fashion industry needs to stop trivialising mental health

Recently, youth-cult fashion chain Missguided has provoked widespread criticism for a store sign that has been labelled as disappointing, inappropriate and offensive by social media users. The sign in question was spotted by a shopper on Boxing Day who was vocally unimpressed by the brand’s use of the phrase ‘I’m a psychotic mess, but at least my eyebrows look good’ on one of its products. A picture of the sign, accompanied by a caption of personal distaste, was consequently uploaded to Twitter, where public outcry followed.

This popular reaction was unsurprising in a day and age where tolerance, acceptance and understanding of mental health issues are generally on the rise. We are seeing social media users, celebrities and even our loved ones more willing than ever before to share their experiences to help others, largely resulting from general efforts, from charities such as MIND, to break the stigma and silence traditionally surrounding mental health. However, the product in question and Missguided’s seemingly lax attitude illustrates how certain fashion brands are far from following this trend, with some labels trivialising serious issues, simply with the hope of being seen as ‘quirky’….

Sadly, this is not the first time that a popular fashion brand has shown a distinct ignorance and misunderstanding of what it means to suffer from a mental health issue and the extent of its effects. In 2015, New Look was condemned for selling a T-shirt with ‘Post Party Depression’ emblazoned across the front. Later in the year, Topshop was under serious criticism for its sale of gold ‘scar’ temporary tattoos, with shoppers believing that the product glamorised self-harm and mental illness. Indeed, each time that a brand has put a product undermining or glorifying mental health on to its shelves, the public have been quick to call retailers out. However, this should not have to be the case.

A common trend of glamorising mental health conditions is apparent. In Missguided’s case, there is a clear assumption that, provided we look good it is perfectly acceptable to suffer in silence; the happiness we get from our eyebrows being in check should be enough to counterbalance any suffering brought by a mental illness. Of course, fashion is about outward appearance, but all too often brands assume that to look good is sufficient enough to usurp the importance of feeling good. Whilst looking good may well make us feel better about ourselves, mental illnesses need a lot more attention than some labels assume. Depression and anxiety cannot simply be cured by wearing the latest, high-end jacket.

A further concern, highlighted by fashion’s message of unawareness, is how somebody may have a healthy appearance, yet secretly be suffering the effects of a mental condition. When somebody is outwardly showing the signs of an illness, it is undeniably a lot easier to offer any necessary support than if they are demonstrating no visible signs of suffering. Again, fashion’s suggestion that, ‘so long as we can cover mental issues by looking healthy, there is no need to worry’ is completely out of touch. As it is, many sufferers find it incredibly difficult to accept a condition, so the undermining idea that inner problems can be easily resolved through outward improvements in appearance is harmful. This complies fittingly with the fashion industry’s widespread attitude that it is stylish to talk about mental health, just not how we maintain our own.

In the face of criticism, a spokesperson for Missguided offered an apology to shoppers, stating that the product’s intentions were not malicious: ‘I’m really sorry that the… sign in our Westfield store caused offence. That definitely wasn’t our intention. Our store design is carefully considered by a dedicated team who will assess the appropriateness of signage, bearing in mind our target audience and those visiting the store.’

Even so, this tendency to trivialise is both too common and too damaging. Perhaps it is time for popular brands, who hold such a significant influence over young people in society, to reconsider promoting such harmful messages of sugar coating illness with cosmetics and clothes. This change needs to be made sooner rather than later, even at the expense of labels ‘missing out’ on the trend of trivialising mental health.

Katie Jones

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