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StyleLikeU: A conversation with the mother-daughter duo behind the radically honest strip-down videos

By Charlie Sawyer

Apr 21, 2022

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Since its inception in 2009, mother-daughter duo Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandelbaum have grown StyleLikeU into an online movement that champions authenticity, self-love and acceptance. Beginning with their ‘The Early Years’ video series exploring personal fashion and outer-expression, the StyleLikeU platform has since become the beacon of self-love and positivity.

Their most notable project has been the ever-viral ‘What’s Underneath’ YouTube series. ‘What’s Underneath’ lives up to its name, diving into a collection of beautifully intimate and laid-back interviews—asking its participants to strip down both emotionally and physically. Having their interviewees remove an item of clothing one piece at a time, Goodkind and Mandelbaum curate an environment where meaningful conversations take place and journeys of self-discovery are nurtured.

Having recently sat down with the team, SCREENSHOT were able to learn more about the duo’s creative process, experience creating the ‘What’s Underneath’ series as well as their perspectives on changing attitudes within the mainstream media regarding body positivity, diversity and inclusion. Lucky enough to video call them, it was immediately clear, through conversation, that these women have unequivocal aspirations of what kind of future they’re committed to help build.

Despite StyleLikeU developing and rapidly growing over the past decade, Goodkind and Mandelbaum still strongly feel that their vision is inherently the same as when they started. When chatting about the ‘What’s Underneath’ series in particular, Mandelbaum expressed that “the core mission and purpose of it is the same, we’ve just expanded the utilisation of it as a vehicle to explore a lot of different social and cultural issues.” 

“It’s always been about this core idea that true beauty and style is being comfortable in your skin.”

Another core theme you’ll find throughout the ‘What’s Underneath’ videos is validation. Its format forges a space for both self-validation from the interviewee as well as validation from Goodkind and Mandelbaum—ensuring that whoever is sitting on their stool receives complete sensitivity and encouragement. When touching on this, Goodkind explained how introducing a personal dialogue, with whoever they’re interviewing beforehand, ensures the “storyteller feels understood” and allows an organic conversation to grow.

“We just feel that we both share this really deep passion to show the beauty in people and for people to see the beauty in themselves. We have a very deep passion about that and people can feel that… there’s a trust,” Goodkind further elucidated. A safe space that participants have only gone on to celebrate.

Marie Southard Ospina took part in a ‘What’s Underneath’ video back in 2015. When reflecting on her experience she wrote for Bustle: “Elisa and Lily’s ‘What’s Underneath’ videos strip people down to the bare minimum—no makeup; very little clothing—to desensitise us. To present us with bodies as they are, in all their imperfect perfection; to normalise the visibility of varying forms of beauty.” Trust, mutual appreciation and understanding are inherently at the core of this project.

The ‘What’s Underneath: Couples’ series—a recent extension of the original—has gone on to dive even deeper and explore the different dynamics that exist in our relationships. When discussing the differences between the individual interviews and the couple interviews, Mandelbaum shared how the initial mission was to challenge societal ideas of beauty and fashion while the couple’s series focuses on a different objective. For her, the direction for ‘What’s Underneath: Couples’ has been to “expand people’s consciousness around what couples can look like outside of the binary and the heteronormative white cis relationships that we’re exposed to. To help people realise that everyone is worthy of a healthy partnership that comes from self-love and that can look a lot of different ways.”

In her perspective, Goodkind shared that the most important aspect of the couple’s series was that “the goal is not for people to feel that they need to be in a ‘love’ relationship, but more by just exploring what these relationships are, to then be able to see themselves more clearly with whatever their desires might be.” 

The couples’ series has shone light on a number of unique and different stories. Topics like polyamory, ableism, homophobia, queerness and sexual freedom have all been explored. In one episode, famous drag queen Latrice Royale (Timothy Wilcots) and his husband Christopher Hamblin chat about their experience challenging, what StyleLikeU write, “gay standards of twinning and ‘no fats, no femmes’ through Christopher’s unabashed embrace of Timothy in and out of drag,” as well as both of their journeys to self-acceptance.

 

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With so many of these stories being so distinctly unique, undoubtedly telling such extraordinary perspectives, there’s a definite intrigue over how Goodkind and Mandelbaum conduct the selection process. According to Goodkind, “there is definitely first and foremost a person, a type of a person… that was how it all started at the very beginning, around style and their outer expression.” However, Mandelbaum adds how those who get involved in this process shine due to their ability to be “radically honest and vulnerable… That takes a really special person.”

“That’s why they’re so empowering, there’s this comfort and bravery and unapologetic-ness to them that makes people feel so inspired,” she continued. They truly have an “immovable sense of self that isn’t affected by the outside status quo.” 

When considering the mainstream media’s evolving attitudes to divergent standards and representations of beauty, Goodkind and Mandelbaum had this to say: “There’s definitely been a positive change, things have changed enormously in a decade but also we have a long way to go and we’ve barely scratched the surface […] As far as mainstream we’ve got a long way to go. Even watching the Grammys, most of the female singers are still very skinny, have a certain male gaze appearance—it’s still a little token.”

Unfortunately, it seems the  body positivity movement is now ‘commercialised’ within the dominant media. Rather than genuine, authentic representation, we are all-too-often saturated with  performative acts of body positivity instead of real impactful change. It is the media’s reaction to change that is still the greatest barrier to complete inclusion. Goodkind’s final comment really solidifies this:

“The fortress has started to crumble, but the crumbling of that fortress is going to take a lot of time.”

With their annual ‘What’s Underneath: Pride’ series just around the corner, check out their YouTube channel and hear some of the stories from all those involved in this necessary and significant movement. These two women may have been creating important content for over a decade, but they’ve only just got started.