Self-expression for psychological health and wellbeing is important.
But what exactly is self-expression?
Self-expression comes in many forms – tattoos, piercings, baggy pants, skinny jeans, purple hair, political activism, celibacy. Whatever form it takes, we are all on a quest to express ourselves. It’s a basic human urge, and it’s healthy and needful.
“How we share and express ourselves to others forms the basis of our personality, as understood by everyone but us, and sets the tone for our entire lives. It’s a vital aspect of life to pay attention to, especially if you want to feel more understood and more in tune with the people you care about. The way we share ourselves is known as self-expression, and it turns out there are a lot of ways to do it” (Positive Psychology).
So let’s look a little further . . .
What Is Self-expression for Psychological Health?
In our modern Western society, we are inundated with media messages and bombarded with images about how we should act, look, and think. As a result, many people are seduced into a kind of faux self-expression. They think that self-expression simply consists in going against the grain – flouting societal norms in the most outlandish or subtle way possible. Although that can be self-expression, it usually isn’t true self-expression for psychological health.
Simply rebelling against what is expected isn’t necessarily expressing yourself. For “self-expression is, at its core, the action of expressing yourself, and it can take a wide variety of forms. You can use your words, your facial expressions, your body, your movements, clothing, actions, and possessions to express your authentic inner self” (Positive Psychology).
Around the World
Although self-expression is typically highly regarded in the Western world, it’s not always that way in other cultures. “While those of us in the West have embraced individualistic norms and practices, including self-expression, other cultures have upheld collectivist values and – in some cases – place little to no value in individualism. For instance, the Arab world is less prone to an individualistic view and more likely to value tradition, religion, and authority” (Positive Psychology).
Although religion may not be as important in East Asia as it is in the Arab world, self-expression is still frowned on. In East Asia, much importance is placed on economic and physical security. So self-expression is often seen as a sign of egoism and is viewed as an impediment to happiness and social harmony.
But, for us, the individual and self-expression remain important.
Why It’s Important
True self-expression for psychological health is important in our society. It promotes fulfillment and “allows us to be our best selves, reach our full potential, and make valuable contributions to the world we live in. Authentic self-expression is how we embrace who we are” (Positive Psychology).
Authentic self-expression for psychological health is important not only because it helps us be the best version of who we are, but also because it fosters more effective social interaction and working with others. Opening up and expressing ourselves helps us move from what is called “a state of protection (coddling the ego and manning our inner walls to protect ourselves) to a state of partnering (being open to sharing yourself with others and vice versa)” (Positive Psychology).
In fact, this state that results from authentic self-expression “is where we get our best and most innovative work done. Acting in alignment with our authentic selves activates our prefrontal cortex, giving us greater access to our higher-order abilities like creative and innovative thinking, problem-solving, and planning” (Positive Psychology).
Basically, then, self-expression for psychological health is good for you – helping you to become more creative and work better with others.
Doing It Through Style
When most people think of self-expression for psychological health, they usually do so in terms of fashion and style. This, however, creates a problem because we often confuse fashion with style. But they are in fact very different things.
According to Psychology Today, style is “the ability to distinctively sort through the maze of things, make a selection and do so in a way that is in keeping with how we see ourselves.” Fashion, on the other hand, is a pale shadow of style that merely follows trends and fads and what is currently popular. “With style, we stamp our identity on an arrangement of things. And our closets always seem full of possibilities – it just depends on what aspect of our identity we want to make palpable in clothes that day.”
Style, because it is often confused with fashion, is both misunderstood and undervalued. “Style is what we want when we say we want to be fashionable. Style delights because it is always fresh, is a little ode to creativity and novelty. It gives a hint of personality. . . . More than anything, style is more than mere clothes. . . . Style is a little excursion into self-expression through clothes. It is self-knowledge and self-confidence expressed through what you choose to wear, a life-affirming expression of your character and spirit” (Psychology Today).
In short, fashion belongs to the clothes themselves while style belongs to and is an attribute of the wearer.
And that brings us to the humble bandana.
Bandanas: Self-expression for Psychological Health
A bandana is nothing more than a square piece of cloth. But because it is so simple, it serves so well to express yourself and your style.
You can wear a bandana on your head, around your neck, around a wrist, hanging from a pocket or belt, tied to a backpack strap – the style uses are nearly endless.