StyleLikeU’s What’s Underneath Project is a series of videos in which a person is asked questions while they take their clothes off to reveal “what’s underneath.” Many of the subjects of these videos are models or have jobs in the fashion world, and the idea behind this project is to show that style is not found in clothes, it lies within the person. That element of removing clothing, I think, becomes insignificant as the project illuminates something much more profound.
As I watched more videos, I began to see that the central theme was not about style, but instead, acceptance of self.
In theory, I know the importance of being comfortable in my body. It’s the only one I have. In theory, I have been comfortable in my body for a couple of years. I have strict rules about “no negative thoughts” when I go into a fitting room. I do not let myself actively wish for more attractive features. I go to school and work without makeup sometimes and I don’t worry about it all day like I would have in the past. I listen to Beyoncé’s ***Flawless daily. In one particularly bold move, I posted on Facebook about the stigma associated with cellulite. I hear and say all the time that I should (insert ironic flowery embellishment) accept myself.
I also hear, less explicitly yet more frequently, that I should not accept myself. I hear this message in the less idealistic world of the concrete. Selfies are a laughable display of vanity. Vanity is met with apparently justified hatred. The comparison of women to each other indirectly tells me how I should be. The insecurities of my friends tell me what I should be ashamed of in myself. My self acceptance that I work so hard to cultivate unfortunately still shares space in my head with the “rules” of the world.
These videos, through the storytelling of the individual’s journey to self acceptance, built a bridge in my mind between the theory and the concrete. The video featuring Melanie Gaydos was my favorite. She is a model who was born with a genetic disorder, ectodermal dysplasia; she has a cleft palate and cannot grow hair. In the video, she talks about how people are often uncomfortable and don’t know what to make of her; how people assume she is being exploited for her differences in the fashion industry. The stark contrast between who she is and who people assume she is has allowed her to see whose opinion is really relevant. She says she wouldn’t be who she is without her experiences, so why wish for something different?
Here is StyleLikeU’s Manifesto:
-Be aware of how marketing affects you. -Don’t wish to be someone else. -You are your best editor. -Beauty is confidence. -Your imperfections make you you. -Vulnerability is strength. -Trendiness is not style. -Dress for yourself. -Question your assumptions -Don’t limit yourself to boxes and labels. -Life is not a dress rehearsal -Style cannot be bought -Indifference is not cool -Style is political.
At first I was wary of this project. Similar campaigns like Dove’s campaign for Real Beauty tend to seem revolutionary while they continue to reinforce problematic ideologies. Often, the purpose of diversity in communications is only for the sake of looking diverse, while the dominant ideology–that attractive, thin, able-bodied white people are the norm–remains unchallenged. The wide diversity represented in the What’s Underneath Project is different for two reasons:
1. These videos are not advertisements, nor are they distributed through paid media channels. This means that there are not financial motivations at play attempting to make a brand seem more benevolent. The website’s About Us page explains that StyleLikeU was founded in 2009 with the purpose of combatting some of the harmful ideologies that exist in the fashion industry.
2. These videos are a storytelling platform; the questions that the interviewer asks are pretty open-ended and serve to guide the subject through their story. No one is being taken advantage of or spoken for, and their voices are authentic.
Watching these videos was a very emotional experience for me. I finally felt like all of these ideas I embrace about self acceptance had fallen into place. They were modeled for me. I have said many times (to myself and out loud) that I love my double chin. I was lying. That shifted while I was watching these videos; suddenly I let go of the compulsion to compare my body to others. I wanted to celebrate myself instead of nitpick. I felt completely present in my body and calm and grateful. I know that moments like these are temporary, but it was a big breakthrough. I would absolutely say that for me, the What’s Underneath Project was life changing.