One of the aspects of my work that gives me greatest satisfaction, is when I read about a project or initiative taking place miles from home, that really resonates with my beliefs and the sense of purpose that informs all my work. As a psychotherapist and a body image specialist, I feel I have been on a 20-year journey to build awareness of the critical relationship between an individual and the physical body they inhabit. On that journey, I am from time to time frustrated when people are dismissive of physical insecurities as vain or trivial, so it is really heartening to find others around the world on a parallel mission.
This really rang true when I read last week about The What’s Underneath Project – an internet video project created by StyleLikeU founders, former fashion stylist Elisa Goodkind and her daughter, Lily Mandelbaum. The What’s Underneath Project films the simple act of women undressing to their underwear. As the women undress they are asked questions about themselves and their relationship with their body. Every individual is different, and the range of interviewees encompasses a whole spectrum of age, height, weight, disability, background, ethnicity and style. And each individual’s story is different, as they talk about how their views about their body have evolved over time, and how they have struggled, learnt and taught themselves acceptance and peace. The stories are often moving, and encourage us to reflect that the celebrity-obsessed fashion industry portrays a very singular image of beauty, which can challenge the confidence of the vast majority of us who do not conform. And it made me ask the question, when was the tipping point? When did popular culture start becoming so narrow-minded in its view of the body beautiful?
Fashion and clothes are something I personally enjoy experimenting with. Fashion has the potential to be liberating, and to make us feel unique – a positive visual reflection of what is on the inside. But it seems that the parameters of this form of self-expression have narrowed. We have fought for our liberties in other areas of life, whilst becoming hemmed in by an idealised vision of physical perfection.
I think there are some really interesting discussions to be had around our society’s versions of beauty, particularly in the context of the highly visual world in which we now live. Smart phones, digital cameras integrated into all handheld devices, photo editing packages and a vast array of social media platforms, all enable us to portray an edited and idealised visual version of our own lives. Projects like The What’s Underneath Project, make us stop and question whether all that ‘personal editing’ has a worthwhile role in our lives. And whether the quest for a highly prescribed version of perfection, will in fact contribute to our wellbeing at all. I think deep down, we all know the answer.
Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandelbaum’s ambition is to expand their project globally, driven by the belief that greater individual self-acceptance and self-love leads to a happier, more connected world. That sounds like a journey we should all be a part of… http://stylelikeu.com/the-whats-underneath-project-2/