‘I Am What’s Underneath’ Film Documents The Universal Struggle For Self-Acceptance


You may already be familiar with what the Style Like U team have been doing over the past year and a bit. Aside from focusing on style, beauty and telling people’s stories through them, they have also been sharing videos from their series ‘What’s Underneath’ where they interview a person (both men and women) about body image, their life and different struggles they have been through, and as the subject answers each question they take off an item of clothing until they are left with just their underwear on.

Some of the people featured are famous, such as Bruce Willis and Demi Moore’s daughter Tallulah Willis, and others are ordinary people who have an extraordinary story to tell.

The other amazing project they were a part of was the ‘Advanced Style‘ documentary which featured a group of women from New York all over the age of 60 who were redefining what style means as you get older.

Style Like U was started by mother-daughter team Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandelbaum, and little did they know when they started the ‘What’s Underneath’ series, that it would ignite a movement online that had people from all over the world wanting to get involved and help them spread the message.

Elisa and Lily, who started the company after having body image struggles of their own, decided they were sitting on a gold mine with their content and it had to be shared with the world. They are now creating a feature length documentary similar to what they were already doing, called ‘I Am What’s Underneath’.

They want to expand their scope and travel the world to document what they see as the “universal struggle for self-acceptance”.

“In 2009, I was a curvy 19 year old, struggling to love my body in a culture without any images of women who looked like me. I was convinced that in order to have style, I needed to starve myself, slip into a pair of skinny jeans, and tote around the latest ‘it’ bag. This empty ideal of beauty tortured my adolescence,” writes Lily on their Kickstarter campaign page.


“I was working as a fashion stylist. After years in the business, I felt stuck. The industry, which was once devoted to artistry, had become about selling status, conformity, and one, exclusive ideal of beauty. I eventually realized that those same photoshopped magazine covers that I was styling were also harming my daughter’s self-esteem,” writes Elisa.

“Instead of being victims of a system that was disempowering us, we chose to create an alternative. And so we started StyleLikeU.”

They plan to travel to at least 5 international cities, and also shoot another 30 webisodes to share online aside from the documentary.

“We want to celebrate self-acceptance, whether that’s about your body or your age or your gender,” Mandelbaum told The Huffington Post. “To help people love the skin they’re in, no matter what.”

“True self-acceptance is not about looking like some made-up ideal of perfection. It is about the bravery to be in this world, exactly as you are, and not in the image of others. That is what gives a person style. That is what makes a person beautiful,” they state on the campaign site. Although it seems like an easy mandate to learn, it is not. We live in a era that has been brainwashed by excessive consumerism which drives the narrow ideals we see in fashion, advertising and beauty.

There has never been enough room in any market to promote happiness through self-acceptance. Now thanks to the internet blowing wide the gates and allowing every day voices to flood the scene, women like Elisa and Lily are able to show people visually and creatively why loving yourself as you are is important, but it is also a struggle.


The positive side of the struggle (yes, you read that right!) is that you are not alone. We all feel the same, both men and women. There are too few studies on how body image affects men, but they are indeed a crucial part of the conversation.

A recent study of 600 adolescent boys in Spain who were of varying body shapes showed that their perception of themselves were very warped. The study showed similar results to what we often see in studies about adolescent girls. The boys were found to be looking at media and magazine just as much as girls, and getting their “perfect body ideals from them and turning to diets at an early age.

The media is indeed very powerful and content creators hold a huge responsibility in their hands with the influence they wield globally. Thankfully, we all have the power and the reach to be content creators and make a difference where the media fails.

The recent controversial Victoria’s Secret “perfect body” campaign sparked an intense discussion online, with both consumers and brands alike saying the lingerie company did a huge disservice to women in an age where you can’t afford to put a foot wrong. Just look at the effect Abercrombie and Fitch CEO’s “we only sell to the cool kids” statement made on its sales over the past few quarters.


Portuguese Victoria’s Secret model Sara Sampaio wrote a Facebook status about the whole body image debacle in response to some of the criticism she as personally facing in lieu of the company’s faux pas. VS had posted a 15 second instagram video of her talking about being comfortable in her own body and how she knows she will never look like Candice Swanepoel but she is ok with that.

Here’s what she said about a website which took her words out of context with a title that read “[A] Helpful Victoria’s Secret Reminder: Even Models Hate Themselves.”

“I have a lot of young girls that look up to me as a young woman and role model.Ii have been criticized for being too skinny and judged purely on my looks. I have been vocal because i believe as women we are all beautiful and no matter what we look like we deserve to respect ourselves and be respected and loved by other. The title of your article states that I hate myself. to the contrary I love myself like I am. I can also look at another woman and admire her beauty. In fact i admire the beauty of many women from all areas of life, not only Candice’s. It doesn’t mean I want to look like them because I am happy the way I am. As women we need to stand together. we are judge and objectified often enough by men. Here is to your feminism.”


It was a bold move calling out the brand of feminism the website was supposedly sharing.

The beauty behind Sara’s message was that in one short status she was able to provide a more human angle to the VS blunder which people are still talking about. And with her words, more people are able to see the struggle for self-acceptance is not only gender-blind, but it is also body type-blind. We are all affected by it, and shaming each other doesn’t benefit anyone.

Sara is right, and it’s kinda awesome that it was a Victoria’s Secret model to speak the message that women need to stand together.

What the ‘I am what’s underneath’ film aims to promote is that style isn’t about the clothes you wear, it is about who you are underneath. We can go around judging size zero models like the Victoria’s Secret angels, or we can choose to see each person in this world as a complex being who craves and deserves respect and value.

Here is the campaign video Elisa and Lily released about their incredible project, which they hope will ignite further discussions about how to source true confidence from within, and how we can support each other on the journey to self-acceptance.


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