Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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Ashley Sweatland
English 101
Essay 3: TV and Video
May 2007

Bullying or Makeover? The Dangerous Messages of the Makeover Shows

I’ve always been taught to embrace my individuality. Who cares what other people think? Be unique, its more interesting! Celebrate your difference.  You’re beautiful the way you are. Growing up with unique  physical traits of my Greek father, these things were said to me over and over again. At 13 I stood 5 feet 10 inches. Considering the fact that the boys don’t hit puberty until high school, I was taller then much of my peers and was often referred to as “the tall girl.” To add on to my “beautiful traits,” as my mother would put it, my  hair grew on my body  like fur, and my face was too long and my complexion was too yellow.  To say the least I was insecure about my image. However, I was fortunate enough to be brought up with great parents who forced me to see my appearance as beautiful. Life as a middle-schooler was good at the moment.

I looked back at my parents inspirational messages years later as a high school student. Be unique. Celebrate your differences. Though this piece of advice worked for me in the 7th grade, being a young girl now in the small world of high school, the expectations of being true to oneself was highly unrealistic. That is of course if you wanted to play with the “cool” kids.

Nearly a year later after high school, the desire to stay under the conformed ideals of beauty and cool have yet to fade. But why? I no longer live in a clique, and popularity has lost its significance. Instead of blaming my issues on my materialistic classmates, I now look at the TV, and more specifically the makeover shows.

When I first watched the makeover shows that have seemed to dominate the airwaves of cable TV, I was infuriated with the messages these shows were bringing. What Not to Wear, my mother’s favorite show, was one--I would look at my mom and say “Is this person seriously letting them talk to her like this?” On this show, two stylists pick a person who according to their friends and family are in need of a “serious makeover” ("What"). In the process of the makeover, the participants are forced to throw all of their former clothes away, and are given a $5,000 shopping spree in New York city to buy new clothes based on the stylists advice ("What"). In the end the individual is made over into what the stylists call beautiful and is expected to have more confidence then ever.

Problem is, confidence never seemed to be a problem with the people showed on What Not to Wear.  In fact, these people seemed to like their style. Not until the hosts of the show called them “tacky” and “horrid” did these people think to themselves, “wow I'm tacky and horrid.” And like peer pressure in high school, these people are manipulated to think that because their appearance doesn’t please the likes of Hollywood stylists, they are ugly. Naturally, these women don’t want to be ugly, so they conform to the fashion rules of What not to Wear and transform into the homogenous structure of American society. They didn’t stay true their own sense of style, and instead ended up looking like everybody else in LA. But they’re happy now, because the hosts are now saying “you’re beautiful” and “you look confident and sexy.” “And for the impressionable and unassured, that may be all that matters.” says Anita Creamer author of “Reality TV Meets Plastic Surgery: An Ugly Shame” (230).

What not to Wear isn’t the only makeover show nor the worst that takes amusement in humiliating its participants before forcing on a fashion intervention. The show “10 years younger“ put their victims in a soundproof display box called “the box” and placed as described by the show “along some of the busiest streets in one of the most appearance-driven” cities in the world-Los Angeles” ("TLC Fansite"). If being put on display as an example of what not to look like isn’t bad enough, the show goes further by asking passer biers to judge the person on their appearance and to guess their age ("TLC Fansite").  To me, this isn’t a makeover, its bullying, and a complete stab at a person’s self esteem.

If other people’s judgement is the only given reason for these people to transform, where does individuality step in? It doesn’t, and to networks it doesn’t matter either. The fact that these people are made fun of and humiliated on national television because of their own style, gives me reason to believe that morals do not coexist with makeover shows. And why would they? It’s funny to watch a person be belittled by her appearance, right? Or how about watching a women go as far as pursuing plastic surgery to change what the show’s judges think should be critiqued? It’s what The Swan had in mind.

This horrific show follows 17 mediocre looking women who’s image is exaggerated by the term “ugly duckling” who all undergo extensive treatments of cosmetic surgery as well as a number of other procedures, only to compete in a beauty contest at the end (Creamer 230). My first response is this is sick. How demented could these women be to even think about participating in such a show. How disgraceful they must feel, and to top it all off, what a sorry excuse for a women. My obvious distaste for the show heightens when I find myself influenced by the messages of this show. Look how easy it is for them to fix their so called flaws I think to myself. I don’t like my small lips, or my long face. The answer to my problems is plastic surgery as The Swan as suggested, a quick fix solution to end my physical insecurities. But do we really need a makeover in appearance to help us with that? What about our mind?  “The eternal American habit of reinvention has come to this-remaking our faces and bodies instead of our lives...” says Creamer (230).        

Whether it’s What Not to Wear or The Swan these makeover shows partake in the same dangerous message, a message that Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon authors of Signs of Life In the USA: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers  tells us we’re not good enough: “They all share the message that something is wrong with us that needs to be corrected by experts. Our houses aren’t decorated properly; our clothes aren’t right; our nose is all wrong; we’re not beautiful enough” (214).  Instead of teaching us to see our “imperfections”as unique qualities that make us who we are as a person, these shows tell us to change them into society’s conception of beautiful and successful.

“The entertainment industry has a powerful influence on our society. It has a responsibility to do the right think and not just focus on profits,” says Sarah Allen in a letter to the editor of the Boston Globe. I agree with Sarah. Instead of focusing on changing our insecurities through materialistic items and plastic surgery, how about we ask ourselves why we feel so insecure? (Allen).

What made me not like my height? In middle school, I honestly didn’t have a problem with my tallness until boys that were half my height would whisper into each other ears and look at me as if I was a freak. It wasn’t until I felt judged did I wish I was shorter.

Today however I embrace the fact that I’m taller than average and share the exotic looks of my dad. Now that I have identified my reasons behind my feeling of insecurity I feel more comfortable showing it off. I hope that one day people on these makeover shows learn to do the same, because only then, will they truly feel beautiful and confident with their appearance.


Works Cited

Allen, Sarah. “TV Needs to Focus on Healthy Makeovers.” 18 July 2004. The Boston Globe. 10 May 2007.

Creamer, Anita. “Reality TV Meets Plastic Surgery: An Ugly Shame.” Signs of Life in the USA: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers. Eds. Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon. 5th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006. 229-230.

Maasik, Sonia, and Jack Solomon.  Video Dreams: Television, Music, and Cultural Forms.” Signs of Life in the USA: Reading on Popular Culture for Writers. 5th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006. 209-221.

“TLC Fansite: 10 Years Younger.” TLC. 10 May 2007.

“What Not to Wear (US Version).” Wikipedia. 10 May 2007. Wikimedia Foundation. 10 May 2007.


Copyright 2007
Ashley Sweatland


Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA