Existing Work Exploring Mental Health

   Many artists and designers have chosen to explore the theme of mental health, whether as an observer or as a route to aid their own mental wellbeing. It is interesting that there seems to be a strong correlation between creative individuals and mental illness and a significant portion of the artist community have experience with a mental health problem. For example artist Yayoi Kusama who suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder has said "If it were not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago" and uses her artwork as a ‘self-therapy’. Her work has a definite obsessive tendency throughout, with a lot of repetition and pattern in works such as her ‘Infinity Net’ paintings and stuffed fabric installations and textile/fashion pieces. It would be interesting to see if the same kind of therapeutic feeling could be created through fashion garments intended to free the user from their oppressive mental thoughts.

Infinity Net - Yayoi Kusama
Yayoi Kusama
   Another artist I have looked at is Natalia Pereira who created a series of photographs entitled ‘Dismorfobina’. (see http://emilytanfashion.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/mind-vs-body.html) The portraits depict faces which have been distorted using elastic in order to show the feeling of being uncomfortable in your own skin. They also expose how sufferers of body dysmorphic disorder might view themselves. These kinds of feelings could be brought into fashion using itchy and uncomfortable fabrics and awkward distorted silhouettes which are not visually pleasurable to look at. Alternatively garments could be presented in layers, outwardly trying to convey confidence whilst layers close to the body exhibit the true internal struggle and discomfort felt by the individual.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder from flight404 (Robert Hodgin) on Vimeo.

The Bigger Picture

   At its core, fashion is intrinsically linked to aesthetics and the external appearance of the body. Fashion can affect the way you present yourself to the world and the way you feel about yourself. It has the ability to improve self esteem and to destroy it through the use of colour, construction, sizing and silhouette. Depending on the way something is constructed, a garment can conceal certain areas of the body and enhance others giving the illusion of a more ‘desirable’ silhouette. The clothes you wear are also a direct projection to the world of how you feel internally and can be a clear indicator of how an individual regards themselves. We often assume that those who wear baggy clothes have something to hide and those dressed in tight form fitting clothes possess a high level of self confidence.

   It is not a secret that the current fashion industry idolises a certain body shape and facial structure, with most models having a UK dress size of around 4-6 which contrasts hugely with the national average of a size 16. These unrealistic body dimensions are plastered across campaigns on all media platforms and can create huge insecurities within the population. When we are constantly given an ‘ideal’ example of the perfect man or woman, it is not a surprise that people try to fit the mould. Our society is governed by aesthetics; recent studies suggest that men who are deemed good-looking earn approximately twenty-two percent more than someone with ‘average or below average looks’ carrying out an identical job. Those who are considered conventionally beautiful are placed on a pedestal and rewarded for nothing more than good genes.

    In some respects fashion could be seen as a less drastic form of body alteration, with the results only being temporary. In some respects fashion promotes individuality and freedom and yet we continue to conform to slender silhouettes, flawless skin and sharp cheekbones. With such an impressionable population, the image the industry puts out is possibly sending many people on a route of self destruction.

Shoulder Dysmorphia

These photos were taken for DIS magazine as a humorous response to the unrealistic silhouettes found within fashion and the worry that the exaggerated shoulder shapes would lead to new cosmetic procedures in order to stay 'fashionable'.

'No need to feel bleak in the face of Balmain-ia; simply broaden your bones with a built-in bonus procedure.'

'Get the Lanvin look for life, with an auxiliary bone ruffle implant.'

'Cadaverous McQueen configurations come custom with cartilage collarbone extensions.'
'Grind down shoulder blades for a gaunt Givenchy guise.'
"Bone up on shoulder silhouettes for Spring 2010.
It is no small secret that an elite handful of homosexual men are responsible for the self-esteem of millions of women worldwide. The ever-expanding exacerbation of shoulder silhouettes in women's ready-to-wear will not only continue on its grotesque path into the grim future, but consumer anxieties over natural shoulder inadequacy will skyrocket, forcing women to undergo startling new surgical procedures, season to season, in order to keep up with the newest designer shapes. Bone up (literally) on shoulder dysmorphia for Spring/Summer 2010."
- DIS magazine

Photography by Marco Rosco

Mind vs. Body

A Mind That Hates Its Body - Al Shep

Dismorfobina - Natalia Pereira
Spanish artist Natalia Pereira created a visual representation of the discomfort of one within their own skin through these photographic portraits. I find the images haunting and uncomfortable, yet they force you to evaluate the idea of self worth and appearance.

An Introduction

    I am interested in the idea of mental oppression with regards to inner conflict in the forms of shame, conscience and mental illness, particularly body dysmorphia. I believe that the conflict between mind and body is fascinating and the idea of a singular being having two conflicting components is one that would be hugely exciting to explore. Many people worry about oppression within society as a whole; however I think that the idea of self inflicted oppression is just as important in the present day. Mental health is a global issue and an obstacle that many people will be faced with throughout their lives, whether directly or via friends and family. At least one in five people suffer from a mental illness, therefore making it a prevalent issue within today’s society and one that should be explored within the creative field.

   In regards to health, survival and evolution, should the mind govern the body, or should the body in fact govern the mind? Whilst the mind is capable of intelligent thought and critical analysis, it also has the ability to lose sight of rationality and betray our health. The body itself is much simpler and without conscious thought we know that certain feelings indicate whether we are hungry, thirsty, comfortable etc. For example when we decide to cut back on portion size in order to shed unnecessary weight, is the mind betraying basic bodily needs? Without this intelligent thought, surely we would feed ourselves the correct amount of food and stop when we were full? Other animal species that control their lives governed by natural bodily instinct remain far healthier and yet humans allow themselves to suffer from an intrinsic mental oppression.

   In previous projects I have explored the idea of obsession with regards to physical imperfection and the nature of today’s society to strive for perfection in beauty. This struggle can lead to dangerous methods such as plastic surgery, starvation and cosmetics containing chemicals which are hugely detrimental to our health. We originated as a species that fought to survive, but as we have evolved both physically and mentally, we have gained an unhealthy obsession with aesthetics. Many people are oppressed by a mental state that does not compliment their bodily needs and I am curious to discover what role this could play with regards to evolution. We are no longer fighting for survival and instead many suffer from a psychological state that is detrimental to our existence. I would love to find out whether this increase in mental illness is simply due to population increase or whether throughout history we have developed this unhealthy value of aesthetics. Additionally it would be interesting to see if less economically developed countries had similar statistics with regards to illnesses such as body dysmorphia and anorexia or if this was a result of celebrity culture and materialism. Many people blame the fashion and beauty industry for the increasing number of people suffering from anxiety relating to their outward appearance. As an individual wanting to enter this industry, I feel it is important to explore its side effects and the way that it influences the rest of the world.

   In this day and age we have achieved huge advancements in the medical and cosmetic fields which can produce irreversible effects. Whilst in the past, people were forced to work through their feelings towards their outward appearances and accept the way they looked, in the present day it is possible to make hasty decisions which result in permanent results. Profiting plastic surgeons are able to facilitate sufferers of body dysmorphia disorder by carrying out multiple surgeries in an attempt to rid them of their external worries. However this often deepens the current obsession with appearance and the sufferer achieves little success to find mental peace. It raises the question of whether our modern advances are detrimental to our psychological health and in a way we are reversing our progress.