The power of authenticity in social justice movements
If you have not heard about the “What’s Underneath” project, you must go and search your internet immediately. Creators of StyleLikeU (a mother and daughter team) have created a video series, which you can find on Youtube or directly on their site stylelikeu.com. The video consists of one human being of any gender expression, with a multitude of other identities, sitting on a wooden stool and answering extremely personal questions while simultaneously taking off the majority of their clothing. The goal is to powerfully share where they have struggled hardest and where they hope to go, bringing the viewer to a place of human to human connection, and removing the lens of superficiality and judgement.
By the end of the video, you have heard something transformative, beautiful, challenging, heartbreaking, and so much more. It is truly an experience. It starts off authentic and personal right from the beginning. It lets you see “what’s underneath” - aside from the many layers we arm ourselves with to survive, and to fit beauty standards.
Some of the participants are celebrities or known artists, and some are simply original looking individuals off the street. What’s so striking about these people is that they all have something outrageously powerful to say, and it reminds us that so do we. Every human being on this earth holds unconditional beauty and vulnerability is what connects us to each other. Though these individuals share their own unique experience, they are all touching on social justice issues like racism, transphobia, reproductive justice, sexual violence, and so much more. By putting a face to the pain, it forces us to see the impact of violence, oppression, and scrutiny.
My favorite video is titled “Compare Yourself to Yourself”, featuring a jewelry designer named Reign Apriim. She shares her struggle and experiences, but her optimism is astounding and her authenticity is confrontational. This is her story.
Ultimately, after watching these videos basically non-stop, I re-realized the massive importance of storytelling within social justice movements. We spend hours reading articles and watching videos that tell us what needs to be done on this earth in order to dismantle systems that hurt us. We go out into the world and fight with our bodies and our voices. As activists, we fight and put ourselves at risk for all kinds of violence and disempowerment every single day. But we must remember to always build an access to share our experiences, on a real and personal level. It is what can move mountains when it feels like nothing can be done. We must not forget to cause connection and highlight how we have been impacted on an individual basis. That is where power lives, too. Vulnerability is the ultimate place to inhabit.
The author is a Generation Action intern at Planned Parenthood of Southern New England in Providence, Rhode Island.