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Using Fashion to Cultivate Self-Love

A designer shares tips on how style can support mental health.

The concept of self-love is not novel; however, it has gained popularity in recent years. We are in an era in which people are finally realizing that cultivating love within us is key in being able to love and be loved by others. While it can certainly be challenging, it is an empowering and worthwhile practice, especially as it relates to improvements in mental health. I have utilized the Self-Love Workbook in my private practice for years and have seen how this investment often serves as a cornerstone for transitioning from struggling with mental illness to thriving with mental wellness. Individuals who can hone self-love often experience benefits such as improved confidence, motivation, and happiness as well as decreased anxiety, depression, and suicidality.

One of the many tricky aspects of self-love is inherent to the term: It pertains to the self. What self-love looks like for me may not be what it looks like for you. The increasing popularity of self-love has been helpful in highlighting the concept, but the trend is that we often explore self-love as it relates to mental health, and therefore, suggested strategies parallel common methods within the scope of counseling and psychology (e.g., meditation, gratitude, reframing). In this series of posts, I am exploring creative methods of fostering self-love through interviews with experts in their respective fields including a deeper reflection on how to draw on their creative strategies to cultivate self-love.

Image used with permission from Karla Quinones
Source: Image used with permission from Karla Quinones

Karla Quiñones is a bridal designer and fashion blogger who has been working in the industry for 11 years. Since childhood, she dreamed of becoming a fashion designer and started drawing dresses at the age of 10. Inspired by romance and elegance, after achieving her degree in fashion design, she began her career in the bridal industry. Passionate about creating beautiful pieces and expressing her style through creative outlets, she also launched a blog, KQNStyle. She hopes to inspire others to utilize creativity as a form of self-love, and to pursue their dreams.

Can you share a little about your mental wellness journey?

I've known that I wanted to be a fashion designer since I was a young age. Looking back, I didn't really know what that entailed. Society tends to glamorize the industry, but in reality there are many challenges. I pour my heart into my work. Not only can that be draining, but on top of that, you are constantly critiqued for your creations. I noticed that I was starting to show signs of anxiety: My blood pressure was rising and I would have racing thoughts. I realized that if I wanted to continue to do this work something had to change. Now I spend more time trying to prioritize myself. If I can take care of myself, then I can create better work, withstand difficult feedback, and buffer the pressure of competition in the industry.

What does self-love look like for you?

Now that I know that I have to prioritize my mental health, self-love shows up in many forms for me. I make sure to prioritize breaks. On a regular day, that can look like giving myself permission to pause, or taking a walk around the block, but I also live for vacations when I get to explore the world and unplug. I have also noticed that I am influenced by the company that I keep. Because of that, not only do I need strong boundaries with myself, but with others too. I have started to prioritize keeping supportive family and friends in my life, and setting boundaries to maintain my balance. One thing that is consistent is that I am still doing what I love. That is possible because I am doing what I can to take care of myself.

What can people use from your field of work to improve their self-love and well-being?

1. Dive into a creative outlet. One of the most creative parts of my career is the sketching process. When you allow yourself the freedom to explore, you bring something to light that did not exist before. You are creating something from nothing. In that moment, the immersion keeps you from the ability to focus on much else. In that way, it is a very mindful practice. You can quiet the noise in your mind by delving into something creative. For me, that is sketching, but that can look different for someone else.

2. Make a mood board. A key part of my creative process is the research period. It is important for me to pull inspiration from a variety of sources and be able to compile my overall vision. Especially when you are struggling to describe something, a visual representation can help you bring it to light when words may fail you. I have noticed that I've started to do this in other areas of my life as well. While many of my mood boards pertain to wedding-dress designs, my most recent boards have helped me bring the vision for my own upcoming wedding to life, too.

Image used with permission from Karla Quinones
Source: Image used with permission from Karla Quinones

3. Pull clothes like a professional. As a designer and fashion blogger, I didn't realize that some of my habits are difficult to break. Many of my outfits, especially if for a special occasion, are pulled the same way. Create the intention of selecting a full outfit that feels like you. One way to honor your self-love is to consider a word that you are trying to convey with that look: Is it bold? Is it chic? Set aside time and shift through what you have to peruse potential options to dress you from head to toe. Lay all options out where you can mix and match to explore. Don’t skip the most important step: Try your options on. Notice how that look, and each piece, makes you feel. Don’t like what you have? Use your mood board to explore what a fresh look would be for you.

More from Shainna Ali Ph.D., LMHC, NCC
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