The Positive Way Beauty and Fashion on Our Health and Mental Well-Being

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We’ve all read the negative impacts of how beauty and fashion can affect our self-esteem. Media, celebrities, and the latest trends can lead to body dysmorphia and low self-esteem. But when we look closely, we understand that what’s portrayed in the media is fake, unrealistic, and downright unhealthy. What if we actually flip the script? What if we wore whatever we wanted, knowing that it’s not about being perfect or having the right body, but accepting ourselves just as we are? What would be the positive effects of beauty and fashion then?

Manicures, pedicures, salon visits, the latest bag, the newest brand-name shoes — for most of us, these are the things that make the world go round. Of course, we may not be vain at all, but simply enjoy having nice things and indulging in a few luxuries here and there. The end result is usually the same for everyone, though — beauty and fashion improve our self-esteem and allow us to see ourselves (and our lives) in a more positive light. Even better, there are some signs that they could improve our overall health as well.

The Psychology Behind Beauty as a Powerful Mood and Health Booster

Think about it: when you feel good about your appearance, you like yourself more and tend to have higher self-esteem. This boosts your overall happiness and mental well-being, which in turn can lead to an increased overall sense of health. What’s not to love? Not only are there studies that back all of this up, but there are documented differences in brain activity between those who feel good about themselves and those who don’t. Positive body image is a powerful thing!

And while it may seem strange to discuss the connection between beauty and fashion on the one hand and health on the other, the two have a long and interconnected history. From mummification to makeup, style has always played a role in human health—and not just because we’ve been using fashion as a way of keeping bugs off our skin since the Ice Age. The colors we wear, the cut of our clothes, even how exposed or covered up we are impact our overall health and well-being.

The reason: Our bodies react to what we wear in very real and powerful ways, sending hormonal messages from head to toe that affect how healthy or unhealthy we feel. And while not all of these effects are fully understood today, recent research has begun mapping out the pathways by which fashion and beauty impact our health. We have seen that what we wear affects our physical health, that the colors of our clothes can alter our moods, and even how being in someone else’s dress clothes makes us act differently.

How Fabrics, Colors, and Fit Affect Your Physical and Mental Health

We cannot forget to mention that fashion evolved from our need to cover our bodies for protection. We needed something to shield ourselves from damp cold and potential illnesses. And even today, every time we put on a coat on a winter morning, we are dressing for health. We are deliberately putting fabric (like wool, for instance) on our skin to insulate ourselves against the cold. That way, we ensure our health doesn’t suffer.

The shape of the garments and their symbolic meaning (for example, that of a uniform) can reflect how we see ourselves — and how others see us. The effect this has on our mental state can be both positive and negative.

A 2012 study conducted by Northwestern University found that wearing certain clothing has a measurable, positive effect on both thought and performance. The creators dubbed this effect “enclothed cognition”- when we wear an article of clothing with symbolic meaning, that item can influence our thoughts in a primal way.

For example, a lab coat is associated with intelligence and scientific thinking. When a person wears a lab coat, these characteristics symbolized by the coat seem to have positive effects on their performance of specific tasks, according to the researchers. The study results show that what we wear–and the symbolic meaning we associate with specific fashion items–has measurable effects on our mental state.

How Color plays a role

The colors we opt for also influence our mood, as well as allow ourselves an outlet for self-expression. For example, according to a study conducted by the University of British Columbia and published in an issue of Emotion journal in 2014, people who wear clothes that are black were believed to have negative emotions than those who donned other colors. The study said that people who wore black were believed to be more aggressive and less forgiving, while the rest of the colors appeared to have no effect on their personality traits.

You won’t feel the same when wearing a yellow dress and a blue suit. The former may inspire happiness and perk you back up. The latter, although calming, may make you feel a bit sad if you’re already down.

Here are some common color meanings and the emotions that they invoke.

1. Red – The warmest of the colors, red has opposing emotions. It is often associated with love as well as anger and danger.

Orange: Orange is an energizing and positive color. It conveys a feeling of vitality, happiness, excitement or creativity – depending on the context. Orange can be aggressive but balanced; it draws notice and contains movement.

Yellow: Yellow is an uplifting color that leaves you feeling happy and energetic. It reflects optimism, energy, humor and warmth. Yellow has its drawbacks too though; it can be overwhelming for some people with sensitivity to bright lights.

Green: Green typically inspires feelings of hope and fresh possibilities. It can be calming or energizing, and usually associated with symbols for health, new beginnings and wealth.

Blue: You feel safer and more relaxed when you see blue.

The color blue is linked to calmness, spirituality, security, and trust. Research has found that people experience a sense of calm after seeing the color blue, while dark blues gives off a more serious corporate look, ideal in professional settings. Light blues provide a relaxing or friendly feel.

Purple: The color purple generates a sense of creativity.

Purple is associated with mystery, royalty, and wealth. Purple can be used in products to create feelings of calm or luxury, hence why it is often used in beauty products such as cosmetics and dyes.

Pink: The color pink is linked with happiness, playfulness, and youth.

Pink is believed to be sweet and cheerful. It often signifies love and romance, which is why it’s usually used in things such as cosmetics, lingerie or engagement rings.

Brown: Brown brings you back to earth, offers stability and support. It is warm, friendly, practical, and dependable meaning old-fashioned or well established.

Black: Black has a powerful and sophisticated feel.

Black can signify power, prestige, and seriousness but in some cultures, it is also associated with mourning or sadness. It is often used to evoke mystery, yet on the other hand, connotes professionalism (in certain contexts) and simplicity as well.

White:  White is the most neutral color, and it can have many different meanings depending on its use: simplicity, purity, innocence.

If You Look Good, You Feel Good — and Vice Versa

Science has already gone into the depths of how beauty affects our physical and mental health. The results clearly show that the way we feel can greatly influence our looks.

When we’re in a poor mindset, we are unlikely to take good care of ourselves. In turn, our appearance will (unfairly for some) suffer. To compare, when we’re in a happy place, we want our outer self to reflect how we feel inside. Thus, we don’t mind doing little things to improve our appearance and show ourselves in the best light possible.

Of course, this all boils down to having a high level of subjective well-being, i.e., being thoroughly satisfied with our lives and genuinely happy. In that case, we’re more inclined to maintain that level of satisfaction by taking proper care of our bodies and not focusing on aging and its side effects, for instance. That entails getting enough sleep and exercise, following a healthy diet, etc. Evidently, that can have a huge impact on our physical health (we may even prolong our lives).

What’s more, positive feedback can affect our mental health by keeping us interested in continuing to take care of ourselves. People will notice how brightly we shine and comment, thus showing us we’re doing something right. That’s what will keep us going — we’ll want to feel as good as we do at that moment forever.

Want to Express Yourself? Beauty and Fashion Is the Way to Go

What would you like to say about yourself this season? Perhaps the colors that are right for you should reflect what kind of mood you’re in. Perhaps the style of your clothes is an extension of your personality. After all, clothes are a form of self-presentation (a medium with which we express ourselves), and everyone has their own way of doing it. What better way to express and communicate to others where you are than by having clothes in colors and styles that reflect your personality, mood, or attitude. In other words, what you wear should be the best representation of you. When people compliment your looks, they’re really giving you a compliment for expressing yourself.

Dressing in a way that makes yourself happy with your body can improve your self-esteem. This is likely to have repercussions for all facets of your life including interpersonal relationships and work opportunities.; after all, confidence can even rub off on others, and most of us naturally gravitate toward people who have lots of it.

Retail Therapy Is a Real Thing

Becoming a shopaholic may not be the ideal solution, but we cannot argue against the health-related advantages of retail therapy, which usually includes shopping for the latest fashion trends.

Some researchers argue that simply looking at the clothes we want to buy can lift our moods and control levels of the stress hormone cortisol. “You don’t have to buy the goods, just window shopping will improve your emotional state,” says Jacopo Stauring, a researcher from Aarhus University in Denmark.

It’s all about instant gratification- retail therapy shoppers feel better right away. The act of shopping itself has the power to boost our moods and can even help us manage depression and anxiety.

This phenomenon is not isolated either. In one study, researchers found that just 15 minutes after online window shoppers made purchases, they reported higher levels of self-esteem.

Researchers say that shoppers’ emotional states are dependent on their proximity to the item and involvement in the purchase, how much they think it will improve their quality of life, and how meaningful they expect it to be. This may reflect the “endowment effect,” or our tendency to value something more highly once we own it.

We’re not advocating for a shopping spree every week, but treating yourself once in a while can keep the stress levels down, allow self-expression, and increase your confidence.

The clue is in the name; there are at least a few therapeutic benefits we’d experience, such as relaxation, increased creativity, visualization, and connection with other humans. As for the physical benefits, it probably doesn’t hurt to walk around so much. We wouldn’t rely on it as your only weekly cardio exercise, though!

Final Thoughts

As far-fetched as it may seem to some people, both fashion and beauty can have an effect on our physical and mental health, and thus overall well-being and emotions. Slowly but surely, their importance in that aspect is becoming more evident. But even if the whole world doesn’t accept the idea, don’t feel bad about getting frequent pedicures or going shopping every other week. After all, you’re just keeping your health in check and practicing self-love and care!

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