"Self-acceptance isn’t about having it all figured out, but it’s about having the guts to admit that you (like everybody else) are a continual work in progress." So says Lily Mandelbaum of StyleLikeU's "What's Underneath Project" on the platform's website. And I've never heard a truer or more powerful statement.
Dealing with my rare genetic skin condition, Netherton Syndrome (which sounds like a town in Australia or something, but is actually a disorder often resulting in red, scaly skin, and which can affect one's hair, skin, and immune system) has definitely been a process. To put it simply, it's just not the easiest thing in the world — waking up with skin that's totally unlike your mother's or your brother's. But I've come a long way in accepting the cards I've been dealt. And recently, I discovered multimedia platform StyleLikeU's magical series, run by mother/daughter team Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandelbaum, which has shortened my journey on the road to self-love.
The docu-series is rooted in highlighting all different kinds of people and their personal experiences on this journey. Each individual has a unique story to tell as they undress themselves — essentially stripping bare physically as they do so emotionally. I’ve watched in amazement and awe as each inspiring person has shared their trials and tribulations, from cancer to transgenderism to body dysmorphia. So if you want to find out how the "What's Underneath Project" has helped me overcome my insecurities about my skin condition (and what it has taught me overall), read on:
1. It's made me realize that everyone has things they're insecure about.
Artist Monica Canilao talks candidly about a past riddled with psychological and verbal abuse that led to her self harming. She talks about how she used to cover up her scars, but not anymore. “I used to be very conscious about my cutting scars, but now I own them,” she says. "They’re a piece of me and I’m stronger by them.” I love this, because while I don't have self-inflicted scars, I can relate to her trying to cover up what makes her feel ashamed or insecure. I hate when my "bad" skin is showing for fear of making others and myself feel uncomfortable. But Monica showed me that I can handle facing my skin, because it's a part of me, and that means it's always okay.
2. It's made me forget about myself.
Listening to fashion designer Gail Chovan talk openly about surviving breast cancer, and discussing how her nine-year-old twins were born with congenital toxoplasmosis, really makes you take a step back from your problems. As a result of the illness, her daughter Zelda was blinded and has had to go through numerous neurological surgeries. Gail declares, “I’ve gone through breast cancer treatment, but none of it compares to what I think my kids live through everyday.” Hearing this makes me feel beyond thankful for my own health and for my body's capacity to do the things I want it to do.
3. It's made me realize that what society perceives as flaws can be beautiful.
Something that Bustle's own Marie Southard Ospina said really struck me. She noted that people will often say to her, "You're not fat, you're beautiful — and that in itself is problematic because it implies that you can't be fat and beautiful." She makes a great point here that people often think you can't fall into a category that is outside or the "norm" and be beautiful as well. It made me take a look at my skin think, "Sure, there's something 'different' about me, but that doesn't make me any less beautiful than if I had perfect skin." And this has made me own my skin all the more.
4. It made me realize it's more than okay to be different.
“I felt like I couldn’t handle life as a gay man,” DJ Louis Mandelbaum says. Listening to his story about finally accepting who he is as a gay man was more than inspiring. It made me think that we all go through periods in which we attempt to cover something up, whether that be our sexuality or our skin, and that once we let go of those cages, we can truly be happy.
5. It's made me be thankful for my skin.
Hearing trial lawyer Zoe Dolan's story about growing up transgender made me thankful to be in my skin. While my skin can sometimes make me feel like I'm not myself, it does not compare to the struggle that is being born into a body that you don't feel matches the person you are. Even after her mother told Zoe that she wouldn't be seen in public with her if she transitioned, she still went through the process, alone. Hearing her words, which are so fraught with emotion, makes me feel overwhelmed with gratitude. Because even though sometimes my skin makes me uncomfortable, I am in the body I want to be in.
6. It made me realize that the things we may not like about ourselves need the most love.
Rapper Lizzo talks about how she sometimes feels self-conscious about being a fuller-figured woman, larger than some men, specifically. She also wears a fire engine red wig because she isn't in love with her natural hair. Watching her talk about her story as a black woman who has spent "two houses" worth of money on going to salons and getting weaves made me think that maybe we should just let what we don't like about ourselves go. It's not easy to love what makes you feel unattractive, of course, but we have to keep working at it. I'm not sure if you'll see me in a bikini showing off my "bad" skin this summer, but it's a process. And I don't despise my skin anymore.
7. It's made me actually take a look at what's inside.
What this series as a whole has made me really take a look at is what lies underneath my skin. I think my skin has made me put up walls around myself for fear of judgement, especially from myself. I've found it hard to look in the mirror when my skin is going through a rough period because I have felt disgusted. But watching these people break down their barriers and be so raw made me realize (as cheesy as it sounds) that in all seriousness, it's what's on the inside that matters most. But that everything on the outside, no matter how "mainstream" or "according to beauty standards" it may be, will always be beautiful, too.