The September issue of Marie Claire features an excerpt from Nina Garcia’s Look Book, the editor’s fourth installment of fashion non-fiction. The usual bank of style advice is present–always be prepared, try the unexpected for a refreshing look, etc.–but one thought in particular really stuck with me and, moreover, had me feeling surprisingly impressed by Ms. Garcia’s knowledge on the science of the human brain.
Welcome to neurobiology 101. Class, if you’ll all take out your Marie Claire magazines and turn to page 92, we can begin.
Here Nina says, “Style is like a muscle: you have to exercise it regularly or you’ll lose it.” Seems simple enough, right? It’s the same old “practice makes perfect” idiom that most of us came to know about in early years of elementary school. And even though Garcia is using a cutesy comparison of ‘style is like a muscle’ to make her point here, her humble simile is backed by hard scientific data.
Norman Doidge, psychoanalyst and author of the book The Brain That Changes Itself, has researched and published evidence regarding what his book title implies–that the human brain is constantly re-shaping itself and changing its circuitry based on our everyday experiences. In other words, repeating learned behaviors strengthens the brain circuits associated with them, transforming an activity into a habit.
In effect, Doidge’s findings applied to Garcia telling us that the more effort we put into pulling ourselves together every morning, the more this behavior is strengthened in our brain, eventually turning it into a habit and allowing stylish dressing to become quicker and easier over time. And as you may have guessed, the reverse is true as well. That is, when we stop exercising a behavior our brain map space for this skill is turned over to the activities we are practicing instead. Every time we choose sweatpants and running shoes over heels and a dress, our brain eliminates the circuit for the stylish look and strengthens our penchant for sweatpants instead. Ouch.
So is Nina a full-time fashion director and part-time neurobiologist? Doubtful, but she is onto something here. Perhaps before her next book she should schedule a lunch with Dr. Doidge.