“People are very beautiful when you pay attention to them.” Elisa Goodkind delivers this as a straight-up fact (you can tell by her handshake that she doesn’t do fluffy or flaky). It’s a simple statement that sticks with truth, and perhaps by accident, distills the crux of StyleLikeU: people, attention and beauty. Launched in 2009, StyleLikeU is a multimedia platform run by mother and daughter duo, Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandelbaum. Celebrating people with authentic personal style, StyleLikeU redirects attention from conformist fashion ideals to the identity of genuine individuals. Instead of glossy faces and manicured lives, StyleLikeU captures beauty in sincerity, struggle and strength of character. The What’s Underneath video campaign embodies this mission, where individuals undress as they recall their journeys to comfortability in their own skin. Lily and Elisa have created a strikingly honest space through their own vulnerability and transparency: there’s no separation between what they do and who they are. While they claim they still have a lot to achieve, they’re leading by example.
Lily: “From the minute we started StyleLikeU we took it seriously. There were moments when it became more more real—like when I dropped out of college and my mom dropped her career—but we were never dabbling in it. We’ve had to figure out how to function as a business, but we’ve always been deliberate with what we’re trying to achieve. StyleLikeU has always been about empowering people to accept and express their trues selves—without fear, judgement or pressure to conform. To recognize that they’re beautiful.”
Elisa: “In the beginning we both had this visceral, gut feeling that we were onto something important. We were incredibly in love with the people that we were shooting and were so inspired just by being around them. That was like food and nourishment to us, so it was never hard to stick with it. StyleLikeU is really an attempt to awaken people to the brainwashing of the marketing machine, in how it has taken over their thinking, their decisions and how they feel about themselves.
It’s an attempt to raise awareness around the fact that individuality is not something you can buy: that it can only come from being truly being comfortable in your own skin.”
Lily: “StyleLikeU has become so encompassing that it also becomes our personal life, so boundaries can be hard. As family, we can be totally transparent with each other. We don’t hold anything back. This can make things hard, but it’s also enabled us to withstand some really difficult times—having complete confidence that the bond between you and your partner is unbreakable. We don’t know how other business partners do it. At the beginning we were worried about how different we both are—I used to be really shy, and we feared that I’d be overshadowed by Elisa’s big personality. But through meeting all of these people, I really came out of my shell.”
Elisa: “Whenever you find yourself with limitations, that’s when you’re pushed to develop as a person. So with Lily, I think StyleLikeU has allowed her to grow into herself. Being mother and daughter as well as business partners can be complicated, and has come with learning and growing pains. But overall, it’s really enhanced and strengthened our relationship. We have a shared vision but our brains function in totally different ways, which is why I think it works. Lily has a big picture view of things, whereas I have a very detail oriented, perfectionist approach. So we naturally divide and conquer based on what we are good at. But we are obsessed with the same people, we love them and see them in the same way.”
Lily: “We are in total awe of the people we feature for What’s Underneath. We have so much respect for their bravery and willingness to put themselves out there. Once we did it ourselves, I was like damn–I can’t believe people let us do that.
But there’s a hunger for an honest, deep connection between people.
We’re in this social media era of fast, fake images where everyone has their perfect lives on display, and people want to know that they’re not alone in their struggle, their imperfection. It’s rare to have meaningful conversations anymore, so that space that we create with the interviews is really sacred. When filming for What’s Underneath, time fully stops and we are all completely present.”
Elisa: “It’s like a meditation. But all of the interviews and shoots are like that. And it’s always the last shot that becomes the cover of the video—people become more beautiful as the clothes come off. When you give people the opportunity to express themselves and become vulnerable, they become their most beautiful selves.
And that’s what we feel we do the best—we see the beauty in people.
People are so used to thinking, beauty is over there. It’s not me. There is this sense of unworthiness, because we see the same 5 celebrities on the same 5 magazines over and over again. People feel like they can worship that ideal or buy it, but they don’t feel that they can be it themselves. Which creates a very powerless feeling. We’ve been so smothered with marketing since the mid 80s, that we don’t know how to make a decision unless it has a label or someone else is doing it. There are no trends anymore, and in some ways, trends were a good thing. A trend was political. A trend made you take a stand, it made you learn when you were growing up that you didn’t have the same view as your parents or your peers. But now it’s just all one thing. And the problem is where it’s coming from: a corporate, capitalistic place—not from rebellion, or from a sense of integrity. I think the consequence on culture and body image is going to be generations and generations of undoing.”
Lily: “I’ve always been 100% driven in StyleLikeU by my own body image struggles. It’s forever linked. While it’s become easier for me, I know that I’m probably going struggle with it my whole life, so it’s going to keep pushing me in this.
We’re both driven by the things were most sensitive about. It’s a double edged sword—it’s a beautiful thing and a hard thing.”
Elisa: “I feel the exact same way about being the black sheep in my family and the fashion industry. But being acutely aware of our own pain also allows us to be empathetic to the pain of others. It’s that sensitivity that allows us to connect.”
Lily: “A world where StyleLikeU has succeeded would be one where there is no judgement based on appearance. That people love themselves in their most natural state. That people make life choices based on what they really want to do—not what they think they should do. Because freedom with choice is fundamental to being comfortable within yourself.”
Elisa: “It would be a place where people could think freely without the need to follow or belong. Where our influence had actually made change. I’d like to see a total overthrow in media. Right down to the news anchors sitting there on TV, not like little clones of each other regardless of their ethnicity. A democratic media where people are given platforms and voices. That you don’t already have to be a monolith in order to launch a career or to be successful. That really infuriates—and inspires—me. That the culture goes back to bottom up. That’s the real dream.”
Photography courtesy of StyleLikeU.com
As told to Amy Woodside, January 2015