Why fashion is a form of self care, with Kat Farmer
A fashion stylist with inclusivity and honesty at her core, Kat Farmer shares her thoughts on the link between identity and fashion sense with our host, Dr Gemma Newman. Known as ‘Does My Bum Look 40’ on Instagram, Kat has journeyed into her forties on a mission to find stylish clothing that isn’t defined by your age or size. The presenter of the styling show ‘You Are What You Wear’ on BBC1 and author of ‘Get Changed’, Kat inspires a wealth of people to dress to impress themselves above all else.
In this episode, Kat shares her tips on finding your fashion tribe and regaining your sense of self, as well as her personal experiences of menopause and why age shouldn’t impact the type of clothes you can wear.
From a young age Kat loved fashion because of its ability to transform how you feel. ‘For me, it was the joy of being able to look in the mirror and, even if you weren’t feeling great inside, you could wear this incredible armour that gave the rest of the world an impression of you being a different, confident person.’
But Kat didn’t start out working in fashion. She was a head-hunter in the City then, in her mid-30s, had three babies in quick succession. ‘I had a three-year-old, a one-year old and a newborn, I’d just stopped working and we’d moved to the country. Frankly, I was rocking in a corner. I didn’t cope well at all.’
At rock bottom, she consulted her doctor, who referred her to a psychiatrist. ‘I snotted and cried over him for two hours and said: “Can you fix me? What tablets do I need?” And he said, “Nothing – what you’re suffering from is loss of identity.”
It’s something that’s severely undiagnosed, she says. ‘It’s seen in women who have careers then give them up and men who retire, but it could be any disruptor in life.’
Part of her recovery was realising she wasn’t ‘being put out to pasture’ and there were other things she could do. ‘I’d always loved helping friends go through their wardrobes or choose outfits for occasions. When a friend told me her mother-in-law in Canada got paid for doing that, I thought, this is what I’m going to do.’
Her own low point gave her the gift of empathy and understanding what other women needed. ‘Caring about clothes is viewed as trivial in our culture – maybe because it’s seen as ‘female’ but it’s an important act of self-care. Often the first significant step back on the road to physical and mental health wellness is looking and feeling great. It’s not shallow, it’s not vain.’
Kat’s mission is to help women restore their confidence after it’s been whittled away – perhaps by comments from family or friends – and trust their gut instinct. ‘It’s those building blocks of confidence internally that do you so much good mentally.’
One thing her book isn’t about is how to look smaller. ‘When we talk about clothing being flattering, people assume it means you look slimmer. Really, it’s about making the most of the shape and size you are. Women are different shapes at different times of life and to think ‘I can never feel great unless I’m a size 10’ is ridiculous.’
When is comes to fashion, feeling good and selfcare, Kat has some top tips:
'You deserve to look in the mirror and love the person you see looking back at you. Life is too short not to.’
'It's about making the most of the shape and size you are, not you’d like to be. The fact is, not everybody is slim. Women have different shapes at different times of life, and to think ‘I can never feel great unless I’m a size 10’ is ridiculous'
'For me, wellness definitely divides into two parts, both of equal importance: mental and physical health. They have to be balanced. But you have to put fuel in the engine for it to work.'
Beyond fashion, Kat is a poster girl for living well. Her rules for healthy eating are simple. ‘I crave fresh fruit and vegetables, so they are the biggest intrinsic part of my diet. I balance them out with carbs and protein.’
When it comes to family, she says: ‘I have two teenage boys who are dustbins. I find the easiest way to encourage them to eat healthily is not to buy junk food – don’t have it in the house. Our nod to junk food is cereal and bread. If you’re hungry, have fruit.’
One dietary challenge has been with her daughter, now 17, who has Coeliac Disease – an autoimmune condition that attacks the gut when gluten is eaten making it unable to take in nutrients. Kat says that at age six, her daughter went from being on the 91st height centile to the 7th and her weight fell off the bottom of the chart.
The change was so gradual they didn’t twig there was an issue until after the summer holiday: ‘We’d gone back to school and someone said: “Who is the tiny new girl?” Then she started throwing up after parties where everything was gluten-based: sandwiches, biscuits, cakes. Her arms got downy and she was always constipated.
‘We took her to the doctor and he said: “You need to see a paediatrician tomorrow”. The paediatrician asked: “Has anyone in your family died of bowel or stomach cancer?”’ After waiting for blood test results, a coeliac diagnosis was confirmed.
With regards to her own health, at nearly 50 Kat says being on HRT has made ‘a big difference mentally and physically’ and has helped calm her ‘horrendous spots and itchy skin’. She also takes a beauty complex and menopause supplement regularly.
So, ultimately, what’s her recipe for feeling ‘more like you’? ‘For me, wellness divides into two parts, both of equal importance: mental and physical health. They have to be balanced. And you have to put fuel in the engine for it to work.’ Fashion is just one part of it.
A doctor for over 17 years, Gemma Newman has worked in many specialities as a doctor including elderly care, endocrinology, paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology, psychiatry, general surgery, urology, vascular surgery, rehabilitation medicine and General Practice.
Dr Newman's specialist interests are in holistic health and plant-based nutrition as well as lifestyle medicine. In her practice she has come to understand that body, mind and soul are not separate, and that it is only in addressing the root causes of stress and disconnection that we can truly heal, from the inside out.