As promised, here is Haley Freeman’s fabulous article: Hadley Freeman, Ask Hadley, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU.
Why are women so obsessed with makeovers?
Pete, by email
Are we? Every one of us? It’s true, there are some days when I can barely get out of bed because my mind is so possessed by thoughts of how I can make over myself. But really, I think we can all agree that, when it comes to narcissism, a fashion columnist is probably at the thin end of the wedge.
The truth is, Pete, I don’t think women are obsessed with makeovers. But I do think that media aimed at women, from movies to magazines to TV shows, strongly believe they should be, and this is manifested in a variety of ways. There’s the subtle way: the constant message that women can and must improve their physical appearance in some way, and not to do so will result in loneliness and self-loathing. There’s the less subtle way, which is the media veneration of female celebrities who achieve Nobel prize-winning feats in self-transformation, such as losing weight after having a baby. Then there’s the straightforward no-bother-with-subtlety approach, which is simply to celebrate makeovers in themselves.
The latter has been a staple of TV schedules for so long now, it’s actually impossible to imagine a time when evenings did not involve a woman being marched in front of a full-length mirror and forced to marvel at her soon-to-be-transformed ugliness. The frankly baffling success of Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine about a decade ago – two posh women who went around the country and bossily told other women to change their lives by wearing long T-shirts under V-neck jumpers – was perhaps the most irritating manifestation of this tendency, but by no means the most extreme, or even the worst. For that, I’d suggest The Biggest Loser, a reality TV show in which fat people are screamed at on TV for the viewing pleasure of millions. But really, I hate all makeovers, if only for the simple reason that they almost always make women look worse than they did originally.
Just think of makeovers in movies. They always infuriate me. Allison in The Breakfast Club swapping her eyeliner and cool gothiness for a boring Alice band and sloaniness; Tai in Clueless, being torn asunder from her 90s skater-grrrrl outfits and sweet stoner-ness in order to wear kilts and be a Beverly Hills bitch; Laney Boggs in She’s All That losing her sexy nerd-chic style so as to attract the attentions of Freddie Prinze Jr, for heaven’s sake. Heck, I prefer Julia Roberts’ amazing curly mane of hair at the beginning of Pretty Woman to the tedious Los Angeles blowdry she subjects herself to for Richard Gere’s pleasure. Also, her Beverly Hills outfits are gross and forgettable. Seriously, try to remember a single posh outfit Roberts wears in that movie – you can’t, of course. But the mini skirt and over the knee boots she sports at the beginning? Movie wardrobe classic.
And yes, I do prefer Gigi’s adorable schoolgirl outfits in the eponymous 1958 musical to the evening gown her grandmother and great aunt make her wear so as to look like an escort (yes, really). The only film makeover I can vaguely get behind is the one in My Fair Lady, when Audrey Hepburn is transformed from a cockney flower seller to a society queen bee, but that is more to do with bad casting than any improvement in Eliza Doolittle. Hepburn is the most unlikely cockney of all time – and I am including Dick Van Dyke – so watching her force herself at the beginning of the film to drop her aitches and smear mud on her cheeks actually makes me itchy with anxiety, and don’t even get me started on her dubbed-over songs (no disrespect, Audrey Hepburn, but, seriously, that casting director must have been smoking something when he picked you over Julie Andrews for the part).
The point is, the reason I hate makeovers is that they are predicated on the idea that personality and individuality are nothing next to conventional ideas of attractiveness, and anyone with a modicum of a soul knows that this is bullcrap. Makeover stylists insist they are merely helping a caterpillar emerge from their cocoon of badly fitted leggings and become a butterfly. I’d like to see any evidence that a person who is subjected to a makeover on reality TV leaves with anything other than decimated self-confidence. Ahh, tomayto, tomahto. I mean,just look at old (pre-2009) photos of Kim Kardashian and see how much happier she looked wearing patterns and baby-doll dresses than she does now, forced by Kanye West into horrible fashion-forward (read: “fugly”) clothes.
And yet, because so many women grow up with this ingrained belief that self-improvement is all, there will always be something fascinating about looking at Before and After comparisons and imagining that such a transformation is possible. Because it is, ladies, it is. It is honestly not that hard to look like everyone else. The question is, though, do you really want to?