A new doc challenges women to shed their body fears, along with their clothes

Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandelbaum’s documentary project “I Am What’s Underneath” is like nothing else we’ve seen on Kickstarter. First of all, they’re mother/daughter filmmakers. They’re also well-known style bloggers. Elisa and Lily run the website, Style Like U, dedicated not only to individual style, but body positivity.

One way they’ve addressed that is through the “What’s Underneath” project, a video series where subjects talk about their bodies while undressing in a really open and honest fashion. Participants share stories of overcoming body dysmorphia, eating disorders and areas of self-consciousness. As they share, they shed their clothes and gradually become more empowered by taking ownership over their bodies. (“I tried to be thin and not have cellulite ankles,” says one subject as she sheds her outfit. “Finally I just told myself that I was going to be OK.”)

According to Elisa and Lily: “With each layer of clothing removed, new truths came to the surface. What began to come out of our interviews was powerful vulnerability and honest personal storytelling that revealed the depths of marketing’s effects on our human experience. . .What we began to realize was that each person, like us, had felt that they were lacking something that kept them from feeling beautiful and whole.”

The online project was a resounding success. The videos went viral, the project received world-wide press, and the filmmakers were flooded with fan-mail. Now Goodkind and Mandelbaum are taking their web series to the big screen with “I Am What’s Underneath,” a feature-length documentary version of their online videos.

On the doc’s Kickstarter page—where, they’ve raised almost a third of their $100,000 goal—the duo confront their own past issues of self-acceptance.

“In 2009 [when the website started], I Lily 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,” Lily bravely writes. “This empty ideal of beauty tortured my adolescence.”

Meanwhile, Lily’s mother, Elisa, a stylist in 2009, was watching the culture of fashion change and seeing its effects on her own daughter’s self-image. “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,” she adds.

Both their website, StyleLikeU, and their videos were born out of the need to challenge those narrow, harmful beauty standards, and to redefine how women see themselves.  The documentary will continue that mission, but with a wider reach. The mother-daughter team plan to travel around the world in search of a diverse range of subjects.

“The documentary itself will take you with us on our journey across the world, sharing with you the powerful stories we uncover along the way, and showing you the beginnings of What’s Underneath expanding into a permanent and widespread force for self-acceptance,” the pair write on Kickstarter. “The film will also include interviews with experts who can provide context to self-image and identity issues of today, such as body image, age, race and sexuality.”

The hope is that they’ll begin filming early next year so that the film may be completed by 2016. In the meantime, check out this pretty amazing trailer that got us all psyched for their project.

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