The relationship between body image and style is a complicated one that’s not always pretty. Women today are so bombarded with a strict set of physical attributes considered to be ideal, that when we don’t match up it’s easy to feel inadequate. As a result, our style often gets put on the backburner—deemed unworthy of our attention if we’re not feeling great about what goes underneath. Although this can be an isolating experience—staring into the mirror, your clothes on the floor, feeling as if you have nothing to wear that looks “right”—it’s one that pretty much every woman can relate to. To prove it, I spoke to eight very different women about how body image has affected their style and one thing quickly became clear: though our specific insecurities may differ, we all have them.
Scroll down to find out what 8 real women had to say about how body image affects their style.
"When I'm feeling good about my body, I tend to be more adventurous with my style, just as when I'm feeling not so great about my body, I tend to dress more subtly, as if to blend in. That’s not to say that I wear clothes with the goal of receiving attention, but that I’m less dismissive of my outfit when I already feel good about my body. It’s kind of like a new haircut—when I'm feeling great about that, the rest of me gets a little more love, too." –Lauren, 23
"I don't have a large selection of what I would consider stylish clothes due to my negative body image. I tend to wear bigger clothes because I am uncomfortable with my body (even if I know that oversized clothes just make you look even larger). There are times when I feel better about my body and I dress up a bit more. But most of the time when I put on dressier clothes and look at myself, my body image just tanks. I usually wonder what made me think I could possibly pull of those clothes in the first place. So, sometimes sometimes putting stylish clothes on can just ruin what was initially a good body image day." –Jenn, 25
"When I feel good about my body, my style reflects the lighter, happier shades of my personality. When I don't, I just want to hide, so fashion and self-expression are of less interest. Distinguishing 'body image' from my actual, here-and-now body has always been a challenge. We have these bodies—these vessels—to DO things with: to create, to serve a purpose, to give form to our souls, whatever you believe. And, yet, I spend so much of my precious time focused on the vessel itself and not what it—and therefore I—could be doing; connecting with my inner self and the outer world instead of trolling myself on Instagram, amidst the unlimited snapshots of lithe, tanned girls." –Julia, 22
"When I’m not on good terms with my body, I adorn myself with handmade jewelry and wear an outfit that reminds me of a woman I admire. For instance, I'll wear a simple dress with a pair of Oxfords for a boyish but elegant Sylvia Plath-esque look, or I'll go '90s grunge with a 'Riots not Diets' shirt in honor of Kathleen Hanna. On days when I’m feeling down about my body, I try to dress in a way that will distract me from my inane insecurities. Overall, I find it empowering to exercise the little sartorial agency I have in a society that places extreme emphasis on my appearance." –Julia, 18
"I'll really experiment with my style when I’m feeling confident in myself and my body. I have red hair and pale skin so my style is often influenced by what will compliment my specific look. It’s rare to see me in reds and yellows. I can get self-conscious about being so pale, especially in the winter, so even though I love to wear dresses and skirts, I’m always going to be in tights." –Kelly, 24
"As someone who has suffered from many iterations of an eating disorder, my life seems to revolve around my body image, especially when it comes to my style. Getting dressed is endlessly difficult and I rarely feel 100% confident in what I'm wearing. Despite my efforts to maintain my confidence and stay positive, nothing seems to bring me down quite like the reflection of myself in a mirror. The hardest part about all of this is my love for clothes and fashion, and the feeling that I will never pull off an outfit in the way that I'd like because of how I view my body." –Emilie, 22
"If I feel good about myself, I have a greater sense of freedom in what I choose to wear. When I’m feeling badly about myself, I usually stick to clothes that I know won’t feel too tight (i.e. leggings) and are most likely black or gray. This confidence/insecurity habit of mine remains consistent despite the fact that my confidence level is actually highest when I wear more formal or trendy clothing." –Bianca, 23
"In my early twenties I would buy whatever I thought was cute and just sort of will it to look a certain way in my eyes. It wasn't until I saw pictures that I would realize how bad the fit was or how unflattering. And that was mixed in with a negative mental perception of my body–I just felt like nothing really looked great, so I decided to just buy whatever I thought was stylish anyway. But now, as I'm about to turn 30, I've realized that I only want to buy things that make me feel like a million bucks–regardless of whether I ate a lot of Thai food the night before. I've tried to reformat my closet so that every single thing makes me feel good when I put it on, and if it doesn't I get rid of it. That's a luxury, I know, and one I've probably sunk a little too much money into. But it's made a big difference in my mental health to not have to wade through things that pinch, or to avoid cameras for fear of what the pants I’m wearing look like to the naked eye." –Samantha, 29
Does your body image play a role in what you wear, too? Let us know in the comments!