Since the time of Cinderella, everyone I know of loves a great makeover. In other words, for our media obsessed times, that translates into makeover shows. If the success of Home and Gardening TV (HGTV for the uninitiated) is anything to go by, which by the way is a 24×7 channel dedicated to design makeovers of every kind, it seems safe to conclude that both men and women love watching things in the format of before-after, the subjects of which can vary from cars, home spaces to clothes. And if you have ever had a chance to catch Trinny and Susanne in action on the original British version of the very popular and controversial ‘What not to wear’, the above list would include lingerie as well.
So what is it about makeovers that has us at the word ‘intervention’. Why do we all love to watch the fixer-upper elevate from the abyss of rock bottom to desirable? Since there is really a plethora of makeover themes I could write about, I want to explore this through my favorite kind of theme- a fashion makeover.
I was introduced to this fabulous world of television through some dated episodes of these new-age fairy godmothers, Trinny-Sussanah’s show on Indian Television (as most of our western programming is dated). There was very little a girl in this decade could take away in terms of fashion trends from a show that was aired in the 90s, but I was hooked to their presentation of the show – they were confrontational, direct to the point of being brutal, and would tell you things your friends would never dare say to your face. I loved the show, because it was so much more than about changing your clothes.
This is how the show worked – In each episode the duo picked two middle-class real-sized English women in desperate need of help with their wardrobes and lives. Thus, one of each stylists went on to live the life of these women for a day, to take a peek at not only their closets but understand their daily pressures, routines, hopes and dreams. Later they were shown a footage of their respective family, friends and colleagues voicing their honest opinion about the way these women dressed in life. Sometimes little children deemed their moms’ style as ‘careless’ and husbands called their clothes ‘elderly’- some of them cried trying to trace the exact year they lost themselves to the pressures of raising a family while some of them resolved to change at least a part of what they saw on the footage . The next step involved a 360 deg mirror, much like in trial rooms, where the woman confronted what she thought were her ‘problem areas’, and thus most of them dressed to hide them or continued to be indifferent to its existence. (And yes, believe me, even the woman with the best body had a body part she wanted to change.) This was the point where our stylists stripped the women not only of their garb, but the falsely projected images of their unique bodies, often times revealing to them their own ‘problem areas’ which they intelligently hid from the world through the right clothes (This is also the point of the show that drew negative reactions from the boundary-loving British audience).
The rest of 30-minutes of the show were spent on advice from the ladies in picking the right styles, colors and accessories for their body types before they sent these women out to shop through the boutiques in London. Of course they all came out looking gorgeous towards the end of the show, not believing the reflections of themselves in the studio mirror.
Later when Trinny and Sussanah moved on to other things, I switched to watching Stacy London(I love love love her personal style) and Clinton Kelly upgrade the sneakers-jeans loving Americans in their version of the same show in New York, aired in more recent times. The format somewhat remained the same with additional doze of drama thrown in as part of the cultural adjustments.
I don’t just love these shows for the obvious reasons that invlove clothes and shoes. But because I genuinely feel fashion makeovers are the toughest to do. Because unlike homes, gardens, cars, people have set ideas, notions and image projections that manifest in how they dress themselves. And people resist change when it involves themselves and changing their set ways. Thus to get through to someone in their late 30s or early 50s, to make them realize that how they present themselves on the outside to the world is as important as being a great person at heart is tougher than deciding to paint a house chartreuse. There are very few people in the world that really think and feel themselves fabulous inside out, and to make them believe that, even for a few fleeting days is no mean feat.
Time was not just spent on assembling a new wardrobe for these women, but equally on breaking apart old patterns and notions of self. It was not only about buying that gorgeous dress, but also about getting rid of that beloved sweatshirt that you couldn’t live without.
We all love makeovers because they are symbolic of the little, graspable empowerment that is possible even within our limited lives. Because even though a shiny new wardrobe can hardly change our lives and situations, it does have the power to change the way our little world views us. But most importantly- how we view ourselves.
P.S: I leave you with one of my favorite episodes from the American “What Not to Wear” featuring Mayim Bialik (better known as Sheldon Cooper’s Girlfriend from The Big Bang Theory). I was surprised to see that the actor dressed as her character in real life too before the Stacy-Clinton intervention.