It’s what enthralls street-style photographers, inspires imitators, or simply turns heads—it isn’t fashion, it’s style. According to Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandelbaum, honing that sartorial sense can be a profound personal journey. That’s why the mother–daughter duo started StyleLikeU, a multi-platform project aimed at encouraging self-acceptance, celebrating individuality, and upending the status quo. What began in 2009 with docu-style videos where creatives discussed their wardrobes now includes content on Instagram and YouTube, a podcast, and a book, 2017’s True Style is What’s Underneath: The Self-Acceptance Revolution.
Most notably, they started The What’s Underneath Project in 2014. The video series features intimate interviews with inspiring individuals, including the likes of Melody Ehsani and Vanessa Pedretti, discussing body image, aging, gender, relationships, and more. With each question, the subject removes an article of clothing, until they’re stripped down not only to their underwear but to the most honest version of themselves. “What we’ve learned through our interviews is that it’s the people who make [the outfit],” says Mandelbaum. “Two people can be wearing the same thing, [but] you bring it to life.”
Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandelbaum: photographed by Carli Rabon.
What prompted Goodkind and Mandelbaum to collaborate was a feeling, a mutual sense of being alienated from the fashion world. Goodkind, a former editor and stylist, felt that her beloved industry had shifted away from creativity toward capitalism. Meanwhile, her daughter grappled with body-image issues and struggled to find bodies like hers depicted in the media. Speaking from Los Angeles, they say they’re gratified to see the cultural shifts that have happened since StyleLikeU started. “There’s been huge progress in the body-positive movement, but also in other [areas] that StyleLikeU touches on, like racial equality, gender, age, and sexuality,” says Mandelbaum. “There’s still a way to go, but we’ve come really far.”
Their partnership has evolved as well. Both agree that Goodkind’s creative thinking and Mandelbaum’s organization have contributed to their success. “The mix of baby boomer and millennial is a good seed,” says Goodkind. They’ve also changed their perspectives on what made them feel like outsiders in the first place. “Lily is a hero in the way that she was truly able to overcome her body-image issues and free herself,” says Goodkind. Mandelbaum adds: “My mom is an incredible role model in that she has never bought into the idea that when you get older you stop growing. She does the opposite of that in every way.”
Armed with an inbox full of heartfelt messages from followers (StyleLikeU has 198K on Instagram and 610K on YouTube) and a top-secret TV project in the works, Goodkind and Mandelbaum are more motivated than ever to continue telling compelling stories about style and self-acceptance. Next, they hope to transform StyleLikeU’s message into a movement. “People in all corners of the world have expressed interest in bringing their own ‘What’s Underneath’ operations to their cities, towns, or colleges,” says Mandelbaum. “A dream of ours is to make this global and have people take it further than the two of us could ever do alone.”
To start, they suggest asking yourself simple questions. “It’s a process of looking at each thing,” says Goodkind. “Am I putting on makeup? Why? Am I only good enough if I fit into this size? Why?” She explains that thinking critically about the way we present ourselves will help us embrace it as a true, joyful form of self-expression. “Everybody is powerful,” she continues. “It’s just a matter of whether you give that power away or are able to stand tall in your own skin.”