Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandelbaum are a mother-daughter duo you can’t forget. The powerhouse pair behind StyleLikeU is announcing the new season of their profound and provocative What’s Underneath project. The project idea is simple: people answer questions about themselves as they strip down and bare it all — emotionally and physically. But it’s become something of a phenomenon, as viewers relate and connect to these very personal experiences and fears that, despite differences in circumstances, still mirror their own.
The project started as a personal one. “We started the What’s Underneath project in 2014, after starting StyleLikeU in 2009,” Goodkind and Mandelbaum tell What We Seee. “StyleLikeU was born out of our mutual frustration with the homogeneity of the fashion and beauty industries.” Though they came from different generations and experiences, their frustrations were closely aligned.
Goodkind had decades of experience working as a personal stylist, revelling in the individuality and irreverence of the industry — but that was changing. “I came from a place of celebrating individuality, but here I was finding a lack of expression, lack of representation, with advertisers having too much control,” Goodkind explains. At the same time, she had a teenage daughter struggling with body image and the media she was being inundated with.
“I was frustrated from the place of a consumer and feeling like I had no representation in the media,” Mandelbaum explains. So they decided to do something. “We wanted to interview people who weren’t being shown in the media, people of all ages, bodies, aesthetics, races, walks of life— these people who had amazing style because they were so comfortable in their own skin and marched to the beat of their own drum, but they weren’t being represented.”
Armed with the understanding that true style and beauty come from that uniqueness — and not from airbrushing it out — they started StyleLikeU. “It was showing that style and beauty is about loving yourself, that it comes from the inside and feeling totally yourself.” And the more they explored this, the more it resonated.
Stumbling Upon Something Profound
“It’s evolved in endless ways over the years,” they explain. “We went from doing many other videos exploring identity and self image — but it was more focused on style at the beginning. And when we started to ask these groups of people, these authentic people, to come into our studio and take their clothes off to drive the message about beauty being on the inside, what came out was profound. Suddenly there was this deep exploration of society and the damage that’s been done to people’s body image in the media — and, really, how criminal it is.”
But as the What’s Underneath project began, they realized they had stumbled upon something bigger. “Immediately when we were doing the interviews we realized people opened up on another level because they were undressing, we saw them removing their armour metaphorically and physically.”
And people were responding. The interviews are candid and intimate — sometimes painfully so. They manage to make their subjects open up, but without aggressive or invasive questioning. Instead, it’s as though the subjects start to bloom — and the sharing pours out of them. And what’s revealed is so human and so universal, that their followers wanted more. “When we started What’s Underneath in 2014 we were super overwhelmed by messages and comments from all corners of the world, not only about how the series was affecting their lives and their self image, but also lots of messages of people asking us to take the project to their town,” they explain. Seeing actors and musicians, models and activists, artists and visionaries all share such deeply personal stories and struggles is a powerful experience. No subject is off limits. Sexuality, gender, parenthood, politics, fears, and, of course, body image are all discussed in excruciating detail. You feel their stories. And you can’t look away.
— Elisa & Lily (@StyleLikeU) March 19, 2018
And with this new season, they’re going global. But the further afield they travel, the more it becomes clear that our stories are universal. “This season is part of global initiative — all nine people from the new episodes are from Paris and Berlin,” they explain. “It’s only our second time taking it out of the country, but the beauty of that is that as it spreads farther and farther, the more this message comes through of what we have in common underneath it all. There are important differences to be recognized and to be valued, but we have so much in common that we don’t even realize.”
The new series premieres March 26th and, as the trailer shows, it promises to be just as visceral and affecting as the videos they’ve done in the past. But with all the stories they’ve told, the What’s Underneath project is ultimately about empowering everyone — including those watching — to make a change. “The power is within the people to make a change,” they explain. “Your own personal change within yourself— if enough people can do that, it will affect the larger problem. Love yourself instead of hate yourself, challenge things that lower your self esteem. It’s for the people watching to be empowered to be their best self, and not try to be someone else.”
And something about how deep, personal, and relatable this series is does strike a chord. As people share their fears, remember their struggles, and still embrace themselves, it’s inspiring. And that’s exactly what Goodkind and Mandelbaum hope it will do — inspire you to love yourself. “It’s a form of activism to love yourself.,” they explain. “The world will change.” And they’re changing it.