Addy Somers (@addyharajuku). Photo: courtesy of subject
A fashion subculture that uses medical imagery — like pills, band-aids, syringes, and even razor blades — to break stigma and start conversations about mental health? It sounds unconventional, but that’s exactly what menhera is.
Menhera, or “mental health” in Japanese, combines the now-famous pastel-toned kawaii look with still-taboo topics like self-harm, PTSD and chronic disease. Her fans say the look has inspired an entire community to talk more openly about mental health while still being able to maintain a cute aesthetic.
The style originated in the Harajuku district of Japan’s capital, Tokyo, which for years spawned extravagant fashion trends – so much so that “harajuku” or “Harajuku Fashion” has become synonymous with staggering variety. of subcultures. It’s perhaps no shock that the menhera was spawned in a country that has a complicated relationship with mental health issues, as well as a notoriously high suicide rate; a country where overwork suicides even have their own name: karo-jisatsu.
The hashtag #menhera has – to date – accumulated 69.4 million posts on TikTok and 131,000 posts on Instagram worldwide; all of this content creating a global gallery of glittering razor blades, silver syringes and noose necklaces. For foreigners, the style is striking and can be seen in the extreme. But community members say it has helped them speak out about their own mental health – and the world has a lot to learn from it.
Addy Somers (@addyharajuku), 23, is internationally recognized as one of the top UK-based content creators within Harajuku subcultures and will lead. His fun, bite-sized pieces of content on the subject led me to discover menhera. In seven years, Somers built a following of 100,000 Instagram followers and over half a million on Tiktok.
“Personally, I wear menhera every day. The other day I was wearing a box cutter as a necklace and candy bead jewelry that included pills… It tells a subversive story,” Addy says. “It attracts people because it’s more digestible for ordinary mortals. Yeah, it still stands out because it’s slightly “weird” but it’s not intimidating…I think it made people feel cute, while telling a story about the wearer.
What the wearer chooses from the menhera is often very personal. Your clothes and accessories are a canvas for expression that can change depending on how you feel that day or what topic concerns you. It is actually a form of what is commonly described as “venting art”, a type of expression where a subject or emotion is creatively “vented”; in this case, using fashion.
Menhera is inherently inclusive and seeks to highlight awareness of mental well-being as well as invisible disabilities and health issues. It’s not just about outward displays like razors or bandages to raise the issue of self-harm, or syringes for HRT injections or addiction; Designers selling menhera will also offer a wide range of clothing sizes in this particular style and use loose, soft materials for ease of wearing and moving. Comfort is essential: leggings, sweatshirts and loose sweaters.
“There are no expectations,” Somers says. “You are just as valid to wear comfortable clothes as you are to wear a very elaborate outfit with a corset etc.” She clarifies that the purpose of the menhera is not the pursuit of sympathy or attention. It’s an empowerment statement.
“It’s a way of taking something that’s inherently negative in your life and creating something that you’re proud to wear. I feel like I’ve really benefited from this process, it’s not about to overcome your experiences, it is about bringing [them] in the foreground in a way that you control. It can be extremely cathartic.
Why has the trend become so popular beyond Japan? “Although mental health is treated better in Western countries…there are still a lot of misconceptions,” she explains. “Mental health is a universal experience that the fashion, art and menhera community can help discuss and provide comfort!”
Ohio-based clothing and accessories designer Puvithel Rajan (@puvithel) believes expression through fashion can help people and as a result she often uses mental health themes in her work . The 30-year-old hopes to use her designs to draw attention to health and social issues; she is currently working on a PTSD-themed menhera line. The top she wore during our interview said, “I didn’t hurt myself.”
“The vent with the piece I’m wearing is a collaboration with another artist,” Rajan tells me. “With PTSD, there’s a lot of ‘victim blaming’; the drawings are used as a message reminding people not to do this – something has happened to the sick to cause this disease and the symptoms.
“With [the use of medical imagery fashion] in particular, it is about de-stigmatizing. The pills are the ones I really like. I personally struggled with the stigma [around using] them. If we take something and make it cute, rather than scary, it can help people stop feeling so bad about it or treating it differently.
“People have different reasons for wearing menhera,” she adds. “I’ve seen people wear sets with syringe attachments because they’re on HRT and injecting testosterone, for example.”
Rajan also echoed Somers’ thoughts on empowerment. “Menhera is a militant and political group; it’s more than fashion. #menhera is a safe space where community members can talk.
The nature of menhera clothing and accessories may seem baffling to the outside world, but its followers emphasize that they do not seek to glamorize or trivialize mental health issues. As Rachel Caton (@sunreiireii), 23, puts it: “Menhera is a term that was created by the mental health community for the mental health community… It was never created to trigger.
Cato, however, acknowledged the potential risks of certain aspects of the menhera style: “I can definitely see someone being potentially triggered by this. Unfortunately, people try to imitate the trends they see online, which can be misinterpreted and they overdo it. People end up doing things offensively when they haven’t done enough research.
“People within the community,” she adds, “have done their research and have a better understanding of where this is coming from… When I discovered the menhera, a light bulb went out in my head and I was like, holy shit, that’s it.”
Caton likes to play with different style combinations which all fall under the Harajuku umbrella. “I have mental health issues and I use my body as a canvas to represent how I feel that day… It’s so euphoric when you can have a space to say to yourself, ‘I feel like shit, but at least I look cute.’”
Designer Charlotte Remington, (@eggliencreations), 29, uses all things menhera in her work. The style, she says, has helped her deal with bouts of depression and manic episodes stemming from her bipolar disorder.
“I found that when I was manic I really needed an outlet for all the energy I had, so I experimented with a lot of different crafts and fell in love with epoxy resin” , she says. “I started making and designing enamel clothes, bags and pins, most of which are menhera themed… As an artist – and maybe being bipolar is also a factor – I constantly oscillate between wanting to vent negative feelings and wanting to encourage other people with positivity My shop is filled with things to help with those kinds of feelings.
Menhera is not the first example of what could be called the “art of ventilation” in the fashion world: in 2001, Alexander McQueen caused controversy over a show inspired by a psychiatric hospital. But despite the initial shock that might be caused by seeing someone carrying razor blades or box cutters, the menhera serves the same purpose as many mental health awareness campaigns: it allows people to say “it’s good not to be good”. Just do it one pastel pill pin at a time.