At the end of September, in the afterglow of London Fashion Week, another catwalk was being set up in a hotel in Guilford. Women and men with different cancer diagnoses, and at varying stages of their cancer journey, gathered to model the latest trends from high street brands, as part of a fashion shown run by the Fountain Centre; a charity that offers much-needed support to patients, helping them through all aspects of the cancer journey.
While cancer diagnosis rates are rising, so too are the rates at which people are surviving and living with cancer; hence why the support, development of interventions and methods to help them deal with a cancer diagnosis is even more pressing.
Cancer no longer has to be a death-sentence, and once a person is no longer worried about their mortality, strong appearance concerns arise. They are often the same person, with the same appearance concerns that they had pre-cancer, but with a different body. Events, such as the one run by the Fountain Centre can help support those with a cancer diagnosis to appreciate new perspectives of their body.
Despite the mental, physical and emotional journeys for many of the models, which extended far beyond the nerves of appearing on the catwalk, they took to the stage - a force of nature, as they sashayed, danced, and strutted their stuff on the runway, defiant in the face of their diagnosis - sending a clear message to cancer that they will have style during their cancer journey.
While not proven in a cancer cohort, the idea that style of dress can influence one's cognitive processes and the way one thinks and feels about one's body, and the healing impact of clothing, is significant.
Fashion is currently under-represented within contemporary psychology. Amongst the few empirical works that do exist, individual clothing behaviours are frequently dealt with in a context of psychological 'ill-being'. Fashion has long been reduced to frivolity, particularly in the scholarly community, but there is a growing body of research that highlights the impact of clothing and fashion on well-being.
We think not just with our brains, but with our bodies, and understanding the intimacy of clothing to the body, and its impact, has far-reaching implications for those offering a holistic support package in their cancer diagnosis.
Enclothed cognition, a term coined by psychologists Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky (2012) highlighted the effects of clothing on cognitive processes. Their research showed that if you wear a white coat, that you believe belongs to a doctor, your ability to pay attention increases sharply. But, if you wear the same white coat believing it belongs to a painter, you will show no such improvement. Most of us are aware of how clothing impacts the way people perceive us, and through their research they went one step further, to suggest the power that clothing can have. The psychologists highlighted that "clothes can have profound and systematic psychological and behavioural consequences for their wearers."
Clothing is a way to communicate without saying a word. The models at the charity show were styled in clothing from a high-street brand, and lit up the stage, as the functional aspects of the clothing made way for the emotional and transformative impact. Studies show that appearance management and self-esteem interact, and is an important factor in mental well-being: clothing is a significant part of this.
Through their work, the Fountain Centre, and similar organisations that deal with the psycho-oncological aspects of the cancer journey, offer vital resources in helping to lighten the cancer journey. This also includes, amongst other support services, consideration of the impact of clothing and body image as they learn about their new body, post-diagnosis.
The fashion show highlighted that despite a cancer diagnosis there are still men and women with a desire and need to embrace life, to live, to explore, to play and to enjoy fashion. The sense of spirit and community was just as great, if not more so, than at any show at London Fashion Week.
Beauty is spirit, and these models had spirit in abundance, with every step they took - not defined by their cancer diagnosis, proudly expressing and shaping their identity through fashion. Theirs was a celebration of empowerment and diversity, and the audience lapped-up this addition to the ever-changing, diverse tapestry of the catwalk, highlighting the positive power of clothing for cancer survivors.