The fashion industry is notoriously not great for positive body image – it’s rife with beauty standards that demand thinness… so perhaps it’s surprising to hear that, for me, fashion was a key part of my eating disorder recovery.
My interest in fashion was hugely influenced by my sister. She was the one I turned to when I needed outfit advice, hell, she was the one I got to pierce my ears with a needle and block of ice because I desperately wanted to be cool like her.
Fashion always came easy to her, picking clothing combinations wasn’t something she did because she had to, she did it because she loved the creativity and artistry of it all. When things started to go downhill for me, mental health-wise, I was at secondary school.
Confound by my uniform, I rolled my skirt up and wore the same heeled kickers as the cool kids in a vain attempt to fit in.
I still remember the day the teachers sent some of us home because our heels were too high – we met up and went bowling, reviling in our very first taste of rebellion.
Despite my attempts at fitting in though, I still got singled out. Mocked for my hair and even the fact that my skirt was *too* short. I began to drift. I didn’t feel like I had a place in my friendship group and was convinced this was how things would be for the rest of my life, floating around on the outskirts of life. So, when I found out a crush I had didn’t like me back, I took it as a sign – I needed to change.
This was when I noticed the way my body had changed. I saw cellulite and tummy rolls that weren’t there before. Putting two and two together (and getting five) I decided this was my problem. If I lost weight, boys would like me and I would fit in better.
Unsurprisingly, this isn’t what happened (spoiler). Instead I simply got caught up in the tangled web that was anorexia, depression and self-harm. Suddenly being liked by others wasn’t the issue, I just wanted to like myself again.
I remember feeling like everything was dark and heavy around me. And I remember vividly when I first felt the weight briefly lift and saw a glimmer of light. It was when I was in London shopping for clothes for college.
That was the day it sunk in that I was never going back to school. I was going somewhere new. I was getting away from the people and environment that made me feel so caged. Plus, I would get to choose what to wear, every day.
My friends and I went to cool surf-style shops, I picked up logo tees, black cords and an electric blue top with black flames creeping up the torso from Punky Fish.
I felt like I was getting a chance to create a new version of myself. Kat version 2. The Kat that studies subjects she cared about. The Kat that was fearless, happy with who she was and proud to express herself.
Of course, this all coincided with the therapy I was having and the sheer exhaustion I was feeling. Hating myself was taking up so much energy and while fighting against my eating disorder was hard, it felt like a relief. I saw how my future could be if things didn’t change and that terrified me. So I changed.
I zipped up my cords, donned my Punky Fish top and strolled into a new beginning. I felt lighter, mentally, and met the guy that would become my first boyfriend in my Media Studies class. I made new friends and grew closer to old friends.
Slowly, I found myself in recovery and while I can’t say it was all smooth sailing (I relapsed briefly at university) I can say that picking clothes continued to be an important part of my self expression.
So much so that I thought I wanted a career as a fashion writer, but after several unpaid internships and a short stint at a fashion website in London, I realised that for me, it was an industry better appreciated from the outside.
Today I still feel a special sort of joy when it comes to deciding what to wear. Picking outfit combinations I’ve never worn before, deciding what version of me I want to portray that day, all makes me smile.
Comfort now definitely takes president and the days of electric blue tops with black flames are firmly behind me. These days I’d rather settle into a cosy collection of monochrome, greys and nudes with the odd muted yellow thrown in for good measure.
My sister remains my style guru and is still the coolest person I know. Our styles are wildly different, but she continues to teach me so much, from showing me the joys of charity shopping to encouraging me to be brave and get an undercut.
She was also the one who wrote me a note when I was at school telling me that things would get better once I left school and that I would flourish in the ‘real world’. Turns out, she was right.
This story is of course very specific to my experiences and I totally appreciate that for other people who have/do struggle with eating disorders, fashion is a tricky area. I just thought it would be interesting to share a different view.
What’s your relationship with clothes like – do you love choosing what to wear or do you throw on the nearest clean top? Do you think choosing how you look affects your mental health? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. And if you want to see what I *wish* my wardrobe looked like, take a look at my style Pinterest board.
I’ll be back next week with a pep talk and general musings on the fact that the small things matter when you’re trying to make a difference in this world. See you then.
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