One good, one could do better

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A couple of British makeover programmes offer very different viewing experiences.

I watched a couple of makeover programmes on telly last night, with mixed results.

The first was How to Look Good Naked, presented by Gok Wan. This is new to me, though if memory serves, my sister is a fan. I think it’s been going for a couple of years on British telly.

I can see why my sister likes it. Although the programme is a tad formulaic and also a bit loud for me, like much of British culture, Gok is the kind of gay best friend every woman needs – frank, encouraging and full of endless fillips. He is also very kind, which is a marked contrast to Trinny and Susannah. He was apparently very fat in his youth, so he has an understanding of body image.

The amount of nudity shown would have been shocking on prime-time TV even a decade ago, but it must be a relief to many women to see women of normal height and weight and degree of hairiness shown on television, talking openly about their bodies, rather than the stick-thin teenagers we’re all supposed to emulate. I was once a member of The Sanctuary, so I have no illusions about what real women look like…

Essentially, HTLGN is a self-help programme aimed at improving a woman’s self-esteem and in the episode shown, Gok played a couple of simple tricks that were very telling. The subject had an obsession with her ‘huge’ post-childbirth belly, so he lined up a bunch of women of varying waist sizes and asked her to position herself where she thought she fitted (this is apparently a staple of the programme). She placed herself with a waist measurement of about 36 inches. In fact, her waist measured 30 inches and she was a UK size 10 – her image of herself was completely off kilter. Not one subject, so far, says Gok, has ever put herself in the right place, because we all suffer body dysmorphia, thinking of ourselves as bigger than we are. 

He also got her to stand in front of a mirror and then pinned back her loose baggy clothes and cut off the excess fabric to show her quite how much she was wearing – two or three dress sizes too much, every inch of which made her look larger. This is something I wish I could do with a lot of people, to be honest. He also made her chuck out her godawful hippy wardrobe and attempt a degree of personal grooming. By the end of the programme her confidence had been so boosted that she was in her first relationship for three years, pregnant and about to get married. So much for appearances not mattering.

The programme I watched afterwards was Trinny and Susannah Undress the Nation, which was a poor offering in comparison. I have always enjoyed What Not To Wear, but the new programme (on UK’s Channel Four rather than the Beeb) lacks the in-depth focus on one or two subjects that always made the old series worth watching no matter how gimmicky the presentation.

Our relationship with our appearance is always a complex one, especially as woman is traditionally the ‘observed’ sex (read John Berger’s Ways of Seeing for more on this concept), and without the psychological aspect of WHY a woman presents the appearance she does, Undress the Nation was simply a whole bunch of double-quick makeovers of people you neither knew nor cared about.

Nor did most of the women look much better afterwards than before, as they were simply dressed off the rack with whatever the presenters had to hand, rather than choosing a whole new wardrobe according to a new set of criteria, as on What Not To Wear.

On the whole, this made it much less involving, and although I might give it a couple of more tries, I have a feeling this is a programme I won’t find unmissable.   

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