From a young age I always loved clothes and fashion. Where I got the gene is beyond me, as I was always more stylish than anyone in my family. My mom called me her “little fashionista.” She consulted me over what shoes to wear with a dress more times than I can remember. As much as I can be an indecisive person, I have always known what I like and what I do not when it comes to clothes. When I was about four years old I had these ugly, muted brown Mary Janes my mom bought me that I hated. Soon enough my mom learned not to buy me anything I didn’t like because it would sit in the back of my closet untouched.
As I grew up, my sense of style evolved, as did my taste. I learned about fashion from many different places. I always observed what others my age were wearing, knowing what was in and whether I liked the trend. While I followed some trends (like wearing Justice clothing *cringe*) I adamantly opposed others (like wearing brand names on overpriced t-shirts). Once in my teens, I loved to watch Project Runway. That was my first exposure to high-end fashion and how fashion can be an art form. I also watched hours of YouTube fashion and beauty videos during high school and subscribed to several fashion magazines.
I was very nerdy growing up, so my friends never took an interest in my love of fashion. I enjoyed fashion for myself, by myself. This is why I became obsessed with the beauty, fashion, lifestyle niche on YouTube. It was the first time in my life I was connecting with other women over these interests, even if it was through a screen. Looking back, my solitude in my love for fashion played an important role in how the fashion industry influenced my life later.
In high school, I continued to be very studious, working hard to do well in school and in my pursuits as a classical cellist. Additionally, high school is a time wrought with comparison and I became victim to this mentality. I wanted to be perfect in all realms of my life. I didn’t want to be popular exactly, but I did want to be high-achieving in everything I was passionate about, including fashion and looking good.
By high school, I had spent many years reading magazines produced for girls and young women. It started with American Girl Magazine, then Discovery Girl and Girls’ Life, and onto Seventeen and TeenVogue. As a very observant person, I internalized the body ideals the fashion industry imposed upon me through these magazines. I learned, without realizing it, that the fashion industry prioritizes thin bodies above all others. As a young teen, I never questioned the images presented to me and accepted that being fashionable meant being skinny.
I was always thin growing up, but as a 16-year-old going through puberty, I stopped seeing myself as thin enough to fit fashion’s standards. There were many complex factors that came together and the fashion industry is only one small piece in that puzzle, but during my junior year of high school I developed anorexia nervosa. I never intended to develop an eating disorder but just wanted a thinner body like the ones I saw in magazines, on YouTube and Pinterest. I was surrounded by images of thin women who I looked up to for being fashionable and I thought being like them would make me happy. By the beginning of my senior year I looked like the models I had glorified, but was starving, bone-cold, and miserable.
As I began my recovery journey during senior year, I realized I was going to have to make some lifestyle changes. I stopped following Instagram accounts that triggered my eating disorder thoughts and followed body positive accounts instead. I didn’t obsessively pin healthy eating images on my Pinterest account anymore. I entirely stopped reading fashion magazines.
I now know that excessive photo shopping goes into the images we see in advertising and fashion. I learned that models are not the average height or weight for women and their body type is entirely unattainable for most. I began to question everything I thought I knew about the fashion industry. I realized I no longer wanted to place it on a pedestal.
I stopped subscribing to fashion magazines and I don’t actively follow their content online. Instead, I choose to follow fashion content that inspires me in positive ways on Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest. I want to see what fashion looks like in many forms, not the curated image the fashion media sells. There has been progress in this as the body positivity movement has taken off, with Project Runway using models of all sizes in its last season and Aerie embracing diverse representation of their clothing. This is still largely not the case in the fashion industry though, which is why I have to be careful what I consume.
There are so many things I love about fashion: the ability to express who you are without opening your mouth, using your body as an art form, and changing what you look like daily. However, all of this can come at the cost of harming people’s mental, physical, and spiritual well being. I no longer accept the unrealistic body standards of the fashion industry. I hope the body positivity movement will continue making strides, so fashion can be embraced by all types of people.