Can fashion heal? — Fashion Conscious: A Column
by Dominique Michelle Davis (photo credit: wellandgood)
Given all of the research and benefits of art therapy in the healing process, there stands to be a lot of advancement in promoting the therapeutic benefits in the world of fashion. In a culture shaped upon promoting unrealistic standards of beauty, there lies an opportunity to use creative expression in the healing process, but we are starting to hear more about the conversation of how fashion can be healing. In the September issue of Elle Magazine, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, spoke about her use of fashion as therapy. The Arthur Centre at the University Hospital of Marseilles in the United Kingdom offers fashion therapy to teenage patients to improve self-esteem and treat symptoms of depression and anorexia through dress up in garments of local designers. Richards Garnier, a psychiatrist and designer, has his own label, Dr. Jekyll.
According to the American Art Therapy association, “art therapy is a mental health profession in which clients, facilitated by the art therapist, use art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork to explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self- awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem.” A goal in art therapy is to improve or restore a client’s functioning and his or her sense of personal wellbeing. Today, art therapy is widely practiced in a wide variety of settings including hospitals, psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities, wellness centers, forensic institutions, schools, crisis centers, senior communities, private practice, and other clinical and community settings. Research supports the use of art therapy within a professional relationship for the therapeutic benefits gained through artistic self-expression and reflection for individuals who experience illness, trauma, mental health problems, and those seeking personal growth. Art therapy helps people resolve conflicts, improve interpersonal skills, manage problematic behaviors, reduce negative stress, and achieve personal insight. Art therapy also provides an opportunity to enjoy the life-affirming pleasures of art making (American Art Therapy Association, 2015).
The use of the creative expression to start dialogue about self esteem and self image, diagnosis of depression and anorexia, trauma and other disorders provides an opportunity to transform a culture stigmatized in superficial ideology into a space that embraces differences and acknowledges the human experience of suffering. If we can remain conscious about our behaviors, understand and acknowledge our emotional states, this may also decrease process addictions and other mental health disorders by allowing individuals to not stifle their creative concepts. The use of art to reduce anxiety and improve social skills can continue to serve as a tool for those who struggle with challenges and other disorders. We have witnessed many artist who struggle with addiction and depression among other mental health disorders, designers Alexander McQueen, and actor Robin Williams to name just two of the legendary artists who suffered from depression. Creative arts is not a panacea for all mental health disorders, but it can serve to be a platform to create dialogue and promote social consciousness if used as a tool to start the conversation and ask deeper existential questions about life, happiness and self acceptance. I’m personally pleased to see the medical profession incorporate arts, fashion design, as a healing tool in the therapeutic process.