Talking self-acceptance with the inspirational mother-daughter duo behind the "What's Underneath Project"
“Create your own definition of beauty.” “True style is self-acceptance.”
Those are just two of the important cornerstones of the philosophy behind StyleLikeU, a movement created by Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandelbaum, a powerhouse mother-daughter duo who have plans to change the world’s outlook on self acceptance and cultural expectations of beauty.
Their movement has taken the form of various Q&A video series, that ask people reflective questions about their outward presentation and their inward experiences. In episodes of their series “Second Skin,” they film two people explaining their entirely contrasting individual clothing styles and then swapping wardrobe items for the day to experience the proverbial-and literal-walking a mile in another person’s shoes.
In the series “Closets” you’ll similarly find subjects honestly telling their life stories while showcasing different pieces of clothing that represent specific parts of their personalities.
Perhaps the most revealing series in the movement, is “What’s Underneath.” The series centers around the interviewees unveiling highly-personal information while removing their clothing down to their underwear. Just yesterday, “What’s Underneath” began debuting international episodes.
In between working on their documentary about “What’s Underneath,” and writing their second book, Elisa (the mom) and Lily (the daughter) took a few minutes to talk to HelloGiggles about the inspiration for their body positive movement and how it’s going global.
HelloGiggles (HG): How did the idea for “What’s Underneath” come about?
Elisa Goodkind (EG): We would go to the Russian baths all the time, and I used to say to Lily that I can tell when someone has style even simply in their tank top or shorts or without clothes on. It was just this feeling, how someone doesn’t have to be dressed to show their own comfort in their skin. Their style is in their warmth, lack of pretension, their natural movement. We were already doing “Closets” and “Second Skin,” so we tried interviewing in the same way but asking them to take their clothes off. It was magical the first time we did it. Everything coalesced because style and beauty is something that’s inside. It just all clicked.
HG: What’s your definition of style?
EG: It’s an inner self-awareness and therefore an inner light and openness. It’s a knowing who you are, and being okay and good with who you are. That feeling of not wanting to be someone else, even with all your imperfections and irregularities. Style is not looking at any of those things as anything but something that’s great. Owning it.
Lily Mandelbaum (LM): It’s realizing it’s not about the items. You could see two people wearing the exact same thing and one person has great style and one doesn’t, but it’s about how you are in it. The passion and understanding of who you are, not what’s physically on you.
HG: How do you decide who to interview?
EG: It’s a really laborious exhaustive (not exhausting!) vetting process. We look very very carefully at many many people before we decide. It’s a combination of their style, their comfort in their skin, their honesty, their vulnerability, and their story. We also look for extreme diversity from one person to the next. We want people of all different genders, physical conditions, races, sexuality, body types. We are always looking to break the marketing machine that creates a limited view of what is beautiful and subvert that. It’s important that we show it’s way broader and nuanced, and break the binary formula.
HG: What do you hope is the main takeaway, when someone watches “What’s Underneath”? What are the words or thoughts you want to come to mind?
LM: Self-acceptance is the biggest word.
EG: The main takeaway is that we want people to recognize they have this within themselves. To find the same comfort in their own skin, the same self-love. To have acceptance of their struggles, acceptance of how beautiful they are, that the struggle is beautiful, life is a struggle and that’s the beauty. We want people to feel great, hopeful, optimistic, empowered. They too can change the story of “I’m not good enough” into “I am great,” because of all their uniqueness and imperfections. We want people to feel extremely empowered. Self acceptance is style and beauty that starts on the inside. It’s not about buying the newest thing or a celebrity’s lipstick, there has to be that feeling inside that I am worthy. Master your own beauty and style.
HG: Who are some people-in your video series or elsewhere-who have personally inspired you?
LM: We’re in a little bit of a bubble in that we’re inspired by everyone we interview. These videos resonate with people because they resonate with us, they empower us to find our own comfort in our own skin. I’m personally inspired by the curvy girls we’ve interviewed, like plus-size model Naomi Shimada.
I’ve struggled with accepting my body over the years, so interviewing people of so many shapes and sizes, I can see myself as beautiful in the same way as they do. Naomi walks around unapologetic and free in her skin in the same way as someone who has a traditionally “accepted” body. I’ve learned it’s important to retrain myself to what’s beautiful, which is anyone who is curvy and owning it. It reminds me of a saying I love: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
EG: I’m inspired by people who have gone through a tremendous hardship and overcome. Like Madonna Badger. Or Damian Echols, who was wrongly imprisoned for years. I’m interested in heroes, people who overcome and people like Sarah Jane Adams, a designer who does whatever she wants in her sixties. She’s edgy, incredible and very free. All of the people we’ve interviewed have affected us in some way.
HG: How receptive did you find potential subjects in the beginning to this concept? Is it ever difficult to convince someone to strip down?
LM: Some people are worried about the underwear part. It’s scary to some to have that level of vulnerability.
EG: We get 90% or more rejections. But we are comfortable with that because we end up with incredibly brave people. It’s a march. Each video is a daring stand alone with an enormously deep effect. Everything is usually so superficial in terms of higher profile interviews but we ask deeper questions. People want to do it but they fear being exposed on this level. I believe we are having a rebirth and we are confident it will continue to happen. The best thing for them and their careers IS to do this. There’s always been confusion over nudity and pornography. This is the opposite of that. This is symbolism of complete truth, not nudity or sensationalism.
HG: What do you envision happening next? Would you like this to be a show on television, or do you like keeping it within the confines of your site so you have full autonomy?
LM: We are open to partnerships like that, that would be in our future sights. We are currently making our documentary film about this movement that we funded on Kickstarter. Going forward we’d like to figure out how people can take this format into their own communities. To create an awakening, activate people all over the world, for people to engage in this experience. In this personal transformation that occurs when you accept yourself. We are also going to schools now, doing workshops. The doc is gonna capture all of that. We’re about expanding, making as big of an impact as possible getting in front of as many eyeballs as possible.
Check out the first episode from the international launch of “What’s Underneath.”