Makeovers: are they really the answer?

The other evening, I found myself in a surprisingly good mood: I didn’t have much work to do, nobody had recently driven up my blood pressure by asking what I plan to do when I leave university, and my house had not yet sunk into its normal state of near-arctic coldness. Things, it seemed, were right with the world. With this cheering thought in mind, I went downstairs to make a cup of tea, and found my housemates watching What Not To Wear. Within moments, all of my optimism had evaporated away. There’s nothing like Trinny and Susannah to kill positive feelings.

It could be that my aversion to What Not To Wear stems from the fact that I am pathetically shabby, and therefore just bitter that I’m not the one being shown the path to enlightenment. Indeed, my housemates (who all dress impeccably well, and can’t work out how they ended up living with such a tramp) are increasingly desperate for me to apply to the programme. Truly, though, I think I’d rather lop off my own arm. For a start, there’s no way that I want to be groped by two fortysomething women (however well-intentioned they may be, they’ve got no concept of personal space), and anyway, I don’t know a single person who worships either of them as a fashion icon: they’re just not that good at choosing clothes.

I think that the real reason that I couldn’t bear to get the Trinny and Susannah treatment, though, is the rather sick nature of the selection process. It used to be that your friends and family would nominate you, which was fair enough. (Well, not fair enough if you’re the poor sap suddenly discovering that your spouse/child/best friend has problems with the way you dress. But fairer than how it works now.) On the new, supposedly improved version, you nominate yourself, and then compete with the thousands of other applicants to be the saddest case there, in order to get chosen.

Isn’t that just a bit wrong? All of these people competing to seem as wretched as possible, just to get some free clothes and a hair cut? And they’re not encouraged to feel better about themselves: they are fed the lines. Trinny will say something along the lines of, “I’m sensing that you feel depressed, that you think you’re worthless in some way”, to which the contestant will reply – preferably, with a slight catch in their voice, and the faint glistening of tears in their eyes – “Yes”.

At which point Trinny will go off to confer with Susannah about whether this person is tragic enough to merit the gift of their sartorial wisdom. And the worst thing is, once they’ve selected their two victims and given them a makeover, they are painfully pleased with themselves: “I just feel like I’ve changed their lives, given them a new sense of purpose, improved their relationships with their loved ones, made them better people”, and whatever else they want to come out with.

I can’t cope with it, with such shameless and deluded self-congratulation. They think that by giving a person who has low self-esteem a new look, they have sorted everything out for them. It’s just not true: treating a symptom does not equate to curing the original problem. These people are depressed for a reason, and trussing them up in some ridiculous outfit may give them a temporary high, but that is as far as it goes.

I shouldn’t get so annoyed about it, I suppose: it’s just another part of the bizarre culture of self-improvement that is everywhere at the moment. You hate your nose/ears/whole body? Don’t worry, we can get you a new one on a televised plastic surgery show. Or your boyfriend can win you breast implants, if you’d prefer. Maybe you think you’re not eating properly? Never fear, the esteemed Dr. Gillian McKeith can help you out with that one (and no, it doesn’t matter that her methods have been widely discredited by experts in the medical profession). Or perhaps you’re going somewhere hot for your holiday? Well, any magazine will supply you with a number of crash diets in order that you’re looking at your emaciated best in a bikini (and some also supply helpful tips as to how to sit in such a way that you look thinner).

It feels that the world is becoming so sanitised that we’re all being encouraged to look the same way, eat the same way, dress the same way; and yet nobody’s really bothered about how happy you are, or how healthy your attitude towards yourself is. I’m not suggesting that the answer is personality makeover programmes (to the best of my knowledge, that hasn’t been done yet. Just imagine: you’re nominated for it by your loved ones, who tell you everything they dislike about your character, and then ‘experts’ try to make you nicer.) I just think that we should stop believing that changing the way someone looks, by whatever means it may be, will make them any better-adjusted. At least that way, Trinny and Susannah might stop acting as if their programme was some kind of force for good, when really it’s just an opportunity to bully a few people who loathe themselves.

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