A couple of months ago, out of the blue, I received a message from the platform StyleLikeU. A young intern on their team spotted an old picture of mine (a rather embarrassing one of me at my desk wearing dark glasses doing my best Jackie O), and asked if I would take part in a project about ageism and menopause while stripping off my clothes. I said yes, of course, because, why not?
I, a Puerto Rican woman, was going to get the chance to talk about that word, menopause, still whispered with shame among women, and do it raw in my unmentionables. Now, that was a change of pace.
I was familiar with the website and its videos of diverse women of all ages speaking their truth without veils. I knew of its founders — the ultra-cool mother and daughter team of Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandelbaum — and a little of their main project titled What’s Underneath.
I felt in good hands.
Goodkind has an extensive background in fashion, first entering that world as Fashion Editor at Glamour and Self magazines. Mandelbaum studied film and anthropology. Together they began StyleLikeU in 2008 to give individuals a platform to express the stories and inspiration behind their personal style.
The platform supports people globally to embrace self-acceptance by creating high-impact docu-style videos featuring diverse role models who stand in the power of their skin.
Body-positive music superstar, Lizzo, credits her interview with StyleLikeU as a pivotal experience on her self-acceptance journey, allowing her to feel comfortable in the skin she is in.
Taking part in an intimate revolution
The project I was invited on was StyleLikU’s most recent series, “What’s Underneath: Defying Ageism.” It features individuals over the age of 50 who are unapologetically smashing ageism taboos and inspiring others to do the same.
“I wanted to focus on ageism exclusively because I think it is one of the biggest problems in our society in terms of exploiting our insecurities and making us dread something that, in my own experience, has been one of the best times of my life,” Goodkind said. “I wish that I had had someone to look to when I was in my 20s to show me that.”
Among the groundbreaking women in the series are former supermodel Paulina Porizkova and fashion-icon-turned-menopause-activist Stacy London (former host of TLC’s What Not To Wear).
Since the launch of Defying Ageism, StyleLikeU has acquired 28.7M+ impressions on YouTube, reached 1.6M+ accounts on Instagram, and accumulated over 5.3M+ video views on TikTok.
Great, I thought, but what do I have to bring to the table that others have not? Who wants to see a 62-year-old veteran journalist and writer spouting wisdom about menopause and hot flashes (although I never got those; I got incandescent rages) in her underwear?
As it turns out, more people than I could have ever imagined.
On December 9th, 2021, my video was released. As of this writing, thousands have watched my interview, and the feedback is so much more than I had ever hoped for.
The night before the 9th, I just wanted to run away and hide. It had been a cathartic experience. Thank God for Elisa and her amazing way of asking questions.
I spoke about the patriarchal confines of growing up female and opinionated in Puerto Rico, breaking the generational chains of alcoholism and the clarity that came with menopause. It flowed out of me like water from a split coconut.
“I’m fucking free. Finally, I’m free of all the constraints of shit, excuse my language, that I’ve put on me, that other people have put on me. I’ve accepted myself. I like myself for the first time.” – Susanne Ramirez de Arellano in her interview with StyleLikeU
One by one, as I peeled the items of clothing off and dropped them to the floor, I unmasked myself. Sitting on a small stool, I divested myself of a coat, earrings, bracelets, trousers, and shoes and built a mound of style at my feet.
It’s like peeling an onion — one papery skin after another; beneath each layer lies another until you reach the core. As you undress, you stop manipulating the way you look, unbending the mirror you present to society to reveal a clear reflection of who you truly are.
It’s terrifying and liberating. You end up speaking of your innermost being without even realizing you are doing so.
This is the beauty of “What’s Underneath: Defying Ageism, 2021,” and I am glad that I had the guts to do it. There it will stand for all to see, and it has become a bit of my legacy. I couldn’t be prouder.
Watch the videos; listen to what so many women are saying, and dress yourself with that truth. It will set you free.