An Old Twist on a Very, Very Old Theme by Michelle

There’s been some discussion about the Channel 4 makeover programme How to Look Good Naked (HTLGN) over at the F-Word and I’m going to add some of my thoughts here.

I’ve seen the show a couple of times and that’s all I’ve needed to see to know that this is the kind of telly produced to piss me off.

First things first, I don’t care how it’s ‘differenttoallthoseothermakeoverprogrammes’ because it doesn’t lead its female subjects to the cosmetic surgeon’s operating table or because it’s not got some ‘female fashion toff’ telling women how to dress, but a ‘gay male style guru’.

As far as I’m concerned, any programme that strives to make women look and feel good, whether it be via liposuction or lipstick, isn’t going to have my backing, because they are all about making a woman look/feel good via her appearance, nothing more (I mean, it’s not as if these programmes talk about their female subjects’ education, jobs, politics, hobbies or other interests which could perhaps also boost their self-esteem, is it?).

And what, gay men can’t also perpetuate the sexist beauty myth? That just because a man isn’t sexually attracted to women it means gender relations are transformed? Yeah, right.

Gok Wan may be gay, but the man dominant/woman subordinate dynamic is still maintained in HTLGN. This is made most obvious when Gok says things such as, ‘this is how to look good, ladies’ and ‘this is what you should wear, girls’ as if all us ‘girls’ were just gagging for his advice so we can all be in his special, ‘hey, don’t we look fucking-fantastically-feminine’ club. Man instructing woman on how to look good? That’s a step backwards for makeover tv, not a step forward.

What I really loathe about the show though, is its relentless emphasis on getting the female subject- and the female viewer- to look ‘feminine’ (which always equates to being a ‘real woman’ in makeover tv land). I can’t stand that homogenous dictate- that for a woman to look good, to feel good, to make the most of herself, she should subscribe to that arbitrary standard, ‘femininity’. Feminine beauty standards are constructs of hetero-patriarchy, (gasp!, did I just invoke an over-simplistic, totalising concept there? Oh, well…) produced so that women can a) keep quiet, occupied and contained and b) be attractive to men.

Now, hearing anyone brandishing the femininity dictate pisses me off. But when it’s a male style guru on a makeover programme doing it, there’s something else to question.

What we have with HTLGN is a male fashion/image ‘expert’; this very concept is a subversion of stereotypical masculinity which rejects associations with obsessing over appearance, fashion and shopping etc. The man running the show can get away with crossing the gender line, he can disavow the dictates of stereotypical masculine appearance/manner.

Not so for the women who appear on the show. They have to stay very much within the gender line, they have to work at becoming a traditional feminine stereotype. The female subject cannot disavow femininity.

So, HTLGN turns out to be just like allthoseothermakeoverprogrammes. A woman’s ‘failure’ to be feminine isn’t taken as an opportunity to say, ‘well, fuck all that anyway’, it means she must work at fitting into femininity, because otherwise she ain’t good enough, she’s unacceptable.

Also, this show is about making women look good naked. It’s not a celebration or affirmation of genuinely naked women. If it was, what’s with getting the face-paint and hair extensions out all of a sudden for the naked reveal? Neither is it a celebration or affirmation of women in all their genuine shapes and sizes. If it was, what’s with hiding all the ugly bits, but making the most of the flattering bits with the ‘right’ clothing? What’s with all the emphasis on doing this, buying that, putting that on there, wearing this like that, standing like this, doing your hair like that?

So, just like allthoseothermakeoverprogrammes, HTLGN tells its female subjects/viewers how to fit the same ol’ standard. It tells us we have to squeeze into the high heels, breathe in and belt up to accentuate our curves and clip in some hair extensions.

It tells us we have to fit femininity; femininity cannot be re-defined to fit us.

by Michelle

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One Response

  1. […] An old twist on a very, very old theme Filed under: Beauty myths, Media/pop culture — by lonergrrrl @ 11:28 am Also posted at Spinning Spinsters […]

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