StyleLikeU: True Style is Self Acceptance

With almost half a million subscribers on YouTube and over millions of views on their videos, mother-daughter duo, Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandelbaum, are taking over to open the eyes of the world, specifically the youth. Based in New York, they are successfully leading a movement that empowers people to take back their confidence, unique sense of style and express their true selves without limitations. The What’s Underneath project is one of many projects Elisa and Lily are currently working on. It’s been so successful that stars from the hit TV shows Girls and Orange Is the New Black have appeared. The way it works is, as you answer a question, an article of clothing comes off until you are sitting solely in your bra and underwear. The idea being, that style is what's underneath, not necessarily what clothes you wear. I had the pleasure of meeting Elisa, mother of the mother-daughter team. From the minute we met, I felt as if I had known her forever and it was very comfortable. I felt relaxed and at ease. Now it all makes sense. The reason their subjects are able to be so vulnerable and quick to open up is because of the energy Elisa and Lily give off. The vibe is unexplainably welcoming and serene. StyleLikeU is truly a magical experience. Their motto: Celebrate individuality and unique style choices.

I spoke to Elisa about how it all got started, their struggles and successes, what's coming up next for StyleLikeU and her own personal views about style, self-worth and beauty. Take a look.

1. Narcisse Izadi: How was StyleLikeU born? It’s a marvelous idea. How did you come up with it?

Elisa Goodkind: It came about in a very unplanned, organic way. I was fashion styling for a very long time. Almost 25 years and feeling extremely alienated over time with the industry. It was all about selling things and I couldn't express myself artistically and freely in terms of how I saw fashion and style, which is a tremendous vehicle for self-expression and for something that is very soulful. I would literally just tear my hair out of my head trying to find someone who had a personality and wasn't kind of just this empty Kate Moss type, caffeine filled, prepubescent girl who didn't even look like a women or reflect any women in this society. I had found initially it was about collaboration and about authenticity. Being unique and not being cookie cutter in the 80’s when I first started. I was really depressed and really unhappy. Corporations and brands and money was now controlling the industry and squashing the creativity of the designers, models and stylists. It was just one big giant marketing plan to brainwash people and to sell things. At the same time, Lily (Elisa’s daughter and co-founder of StyleLikeU) was about 17 or 18 years old and about to go to college and very curvy. She was very alienated by the fashion industry. She felt like she had to change herself to that skinny Kate Moss girl and she wasn't that. It took over her life trying to be that and she really resented it and it really emptied her of her personality and her ability to pursue many other things in her life. We just said let's go film the people we really find inspiring and we just picked up literally the home video camera and started shooting. After we did our first “closet” we knew we were onto something really special. Something that people were willing to share themselves and express how they feel beautiful way outside of the norm. How liberating that was for us and then how liberating that would be for everybody. 800 “closets” later and 120 “what’s underneath” later, one after the other, it was proving over and over again that style and beauty was something that’s internal and of the heart and the spirit. About being comfortable in your own skin and not about this external thing that was making us feel so frustrated.

2. NI: You have had some impressive people on the “What’s Underneath” project like supermodel Iskra Lawrence, Girls star Jemima Kirke, Orange is the New Black star Lea DeLaria, Bruce Willis and Demi Moore’s daughter Tallulah Willis and many more. How are you able to get these intriguing people on your channel?

EG: It’s just a lot of persistence. Little by little as it’s gotten bigger and as word gets out, people start to know about it. We dig for the person that we want and we are very persistent. We work really hard at it and we never take no for an answer. To get people to take their clothes off and deliver this message is so out of the box. It takes a lot of work.

3. NI: Normally you are both behind the camera but you both have stepped in front of the camera at one point and featured in a video. What made you guys decide to do that? Did you find it difficult to allow yourselves to be vulnerable in front of the camera?

EG: Well because we just felt that we needed to walk the walk. Otherwise we didn't feel that we were being true to ourselves. No it wasn't difficult. In all of our videos the same thing comes out at the end of the day, which is that we just have a lot of insecurities, self worth issues and fear issues. To be able to express myself emotionally and be that vulnerable it was really cathartic and really freeing. Everyone that does it feels it. It's really saying F it and it feels great!

4. NI: How do you get your subjects to become so vulnerable and completely open up in your videos? Some of the videos, including the one you are in Elisa, are so emotional and raw. Often times I find myself tearing up watching them. They’re so genuine, which is such a beautiful thing.

EG: For the most part, they're really quick to be open and vulnerable. I think it has to do with the fact that Lily and I’s biggest strength is that we so deeply and sincerely see the beauty in people and love people so deeply from their heart out. That's what we do. People feel very comfortable very quickly. There's just a real trust associated with StyleLikeU that people just trust us. So they open up pretty easily. We know how to get them to. Some are easier and some are harder. We don't stop until we get them to.

5. NI: How do you come up with the questions you ask?

EG: It's so random. When we first started, we just asked the people we were shooting to come in and try this and we just quickly in like 10 minutes came up with these questions. “When do you feel the most vulnerable”, “When do you feel the most beautiful”, “What does your style say about you”, “What's your biggest struggle”, “What assumptions do people make about you based on your style?” Somehow these basic questions get the whole story out. We’ll listen and follow what they’re saying and ask other questions just because we want to follow them and give them the stage. We’re not asking them who their boyfriends or girlfriends are or what they're wearing for spring. We’re very much about giving people the platform to express themselves very deeply and say whatever they want to say. Which is the opposite of the rest of media and we’re very intentionally doing that. These simple questions just kind of work and cover a person without forcing them to say things.

6. NI: So you’re a mother daughter duo. What’s it like working with each other? Do you get into a lot of arguments or is it easy to work with each other?  

EG: Yes. We have this super completely unspoken understanding that we're doing something that's our calling and it's bigger than us. So there is no out. There's no stopping us. So no matter what the challenge is, and they're very huge all of the time, nothing could stop us and nothing would break us apart. Reason being, we somehow have the very good fortune of having been handed something that is much bigger than us and we are both extremely passionate about doing. It's tricky. There's a lot of trickiness but it’s honest and it's clean. There's no game playing. We move forward through things easily and we have our normal ups and downs.

7. NI: Do you find yourselves talking about work when you’re not working? In other words, is it difficult to draw the line between work time and family time?

EG: Yes that’s a problem. It's hard to remember. One of the biggest problems is remembering when to just be mother and daughter. That's really a struggle. It’s really really really hard. We do it, but it’s hard. I’m not going to lie. The pressure is very constant. It has gotten easier as things have gotten bigger but the work we’re doing is deep for us. We’re trying to undo the brainwashing.

 

8. NI: What is your proudest moment that’s happened for StyleLikeU?

EG: We’re so much about the change. It’s not about “Oh woah. It’s our book.” You know? It’s like people read this so you can be happy. I would say the best moments and the proudest moments are when people tell us what this has done for them. Those are definitely the highlights. Like if were stopped on the street or when we're told this saved them from suicide or from eating disorders and got them out of institutions. It’s all stuff like that. 

9. NI: Is that a contributing factor as to why you started StyleLikeU?

EG: We did it a little bit for different reasons. For me it was my anger at the world and what the world has done to people especially the youth. The wild voice of the youth. Youth should be beautifully wild, fresh and innovative, spewing things people have never heard before. Creating things that people have never seen before, and that's where all this incredible creativity comes from. I am so f-ing pissed at marketing, corporations and brands and what they’ve done to a whole giant generation of youth. So for me it was I can create a world that can make these kids and people see that their beauty and their sense of style comes from deep inside of them and from something really beautiful and widely beautiful and it doesn't come from an “it bag” or skinny jeans or whatever stupid thing they’re selling. So that’s what I want to see. That’s my desire.

 

10. NI: What is something you want to see happen for StyleLikeU? What are your goals and where do you want SLU to be in the next few years?

EG: I would really love the book to be huge and a bestseller. We want to see our YouTube channel climb in numbers so that people can be aware of this and see it. We’re finishing our documentary this year so I hope people really love that. We’re starting the open calls all over the place. Our first one is in New York on April 22nd and 23rd, which is our second one. Really just to wake people up and grow and grow. To be a truly global movement and really give the power back to the people. Change the world in a very deep way. Also to see a response in the industry in response to that. The things that are out there for people to buy, should be a reflection of people loving themselves, not hating themselves. Less formal, less status quo, less boring.

11. NI: Have you had anybody that you’ve worked with in the past in the fashion industry reach out to you now that you’ve started StyleLikeU because it’s become so successful?

EG: Oh yeah. In the beginning they were very critical of me and very negative but now people want to be featured. Now we are doing these videos with Allure Magazine and many of them have over 30,000,000 views by themselves. So yeah there has been some sort of sweet full circle.

12. NI: What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who has an idea for a project but doesn't have the confidence or resources to begin?

EG: You have to follow your heart and your passion in life. You'll find a way. There’s no denying that. If you're not following your heart, you’re not going to be happy so you have to find a way. It’s not easy but the hardest things are the best things. I think part of the problem with the society is there's this idea that you can buy fame and buy happiness and you can't. You can't. You can't buy identity. You have to experience life and be willing to fall down and get back up again and let adversity teach you and show you how incredibly strong you are.

13. NI: Your second book is coming out on April 11th. What made you guys want to write a book? Let alone two?

EG: We just felt we had so much content. With the first one there was no What’s Underneath and we have learned so much since the first one with doing What’s Underneath. The stories are so much deeper and the whole experience has been on another level in terms of that depth and what it has revealed about the world and how the world needs to change based on those revelations. So we really felt that we needed to transmit that into a book. This book is much more full circle. Really put it all together into words and into a place where people can enjoy it over and over again and really get the message. Because when you're just seeing the videos separately, you get it in each video, but you're not seeing the whole totality in one place.

14. NI: Lastly, you ask a lot of your participants the following question so now I am going to ask you. What does style mean to you?

EG: Style is something that to me is so essential because it's a reflection of who you are and the part of you that is completely unrepeatable. Each person is completely unrepeatable. Your style is a chance to express that and how beautifully unique you are and to communicate that. To me that's just the most exciting thing. To see someone walk into a room or walk down the street and you just know who they are no matter how minimal. Even if you're in a paper bag. Style is not the thing, it’s the way you move, it’s the comfort in your skin, it’s what you do in your life, it’s how much you love others, it’s how unselfish you are, it’s sharing, it’s so many things and to me that’s style. So I think it’s completely essential to someone's well being and feeling good about themselves and therefore the well being of the world.  

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Their book is out now so pick up a copy! You can find it here