By Deborah D’souza:
When I was younger I used to enjoy makeover shows, especially UK’s hit shows starring Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine (T&S). As a young girl I thought they were awesome feisty women and the clothes were just gorgeous. It all looked like a bit of fun, like an adventure series set in a shopping mall. Recently I caught one of their newer episodes and I realized much more than I initially did about the show- what it signifies and what it does.
We’re told that the goal is happiness. Makeover shows recently have claimed therapeutic powers. T&S believe that making an effort with your look makes you happy, that looking beautiful according to society’s warped standards makes you happy. The answer to emotional issues relating to relationship problems/a recent divorce/body anxiety etc.? A nice skirt to suit your body type.
So does dressing up make you happy or is it only happy people who dress up? Mindboggling-ly, it’s both, according to the hosts. T&S believe they’re capable of assessing a person’s happiness by seeing how they dress. This is based on the assumption that only women who are desperately unhappy aren’t too worried about the way they look. (Do they actually believe that? I’m not sure but for the sake of this article we’ll assume they know no better.) It’s like dressing yourself in yellow everyday and telling yourself repeatedly that you’re an egg. T&S believe you will automatically turn into an egg.
This kind of opinion about what makes and defines a woman’s happiness is not only inherently flawed and incorrect on a social and psychological level; it’s also creating a neurosis and hyper awareness amongst women about how they’re being perceived by others. At the end of the day we aren’t dressing up because we enjoy fashion, we’re dressing up to convince people that we’re confident, happy and that we love ourselves cause we’ve been taught that frumpiness will attract pity.
Often one hears the words like ‘womanly, feminine and soft’ thrown around on these shows. They are attributes all of the people on the show, who are being saved from their dowdy wardrobes, have to aspire to. Amongst them the word ‘womanly’ and its uses and contexts always make me uncomfortable. Womanly is to be female. Every woman is womanly. It’s a natural result of being a woman. Womanly shouldn’t be defined at all, and most definitely not by cosmetics, fitting clothes, hair dye, hairless bodies or unending awareness and consciousness of how one appears. The lady in the baggy sweats is womanly. The woman in the couture gown is womanly.
I’m all for women owning their sexuality. I’m all for women being comfortable with their sexuality. I, however, do not support women being told what their sexuality is and how they could attain it through the right purchases. This buys into the patriarchal belief that women aren’t sexual beings but in fact sexual objects. As sexual objects, looking good is where their value is derived from and without that they simply aren’t — here’s that god-awful word again — womanly. Makeover shows teach women that looking good is of utmost importance and that what they are in their natural state is not good enough. Ever. It hammers in the thought that women are flawed beings who need to correct themselves constantly and keep striving to improve themselves superficially.
Instead of going around and helping these women deal with their very real issues, the depression and anxiety they experience as being part of the society and dealing with it’s harsh views, they tell these women to suck it up and put on a performance. The message to women everywhere is that there’s no time for you to be lazing around in jeans and comfortable sandals, it’s time for you to look beautiful or you’ll miss out in life and no one will respect you. There’s a good chance that you’ll be miserable even after you buy that sundress but at least you’ll be doing your job and looking sexy. And misinformed people will assume you’re happy and confident too. You can go home and cry when you’re by yourself, but the important thing is looking smashing all the time.
Makeover shows are seemingly innocent. They haven’t invented the sexist beliefs, they are merely suggesting ways for women to play by the rules of society and reap the rewards. They encourage women to make an effort so that they will receive acceptance and a vague promise of romantic love. But what does that signify for the feminist movement and women everywhere who are struggling to be accepted not for their bodies but for their minds? An absolute betrayal.