This is Stacey and Clinton.
This duo has a show on TLC called What Not to Wear. If you’ve never seen an episode, get that shit on demand ASAP. This show is a makeover show. The participants are nominated by their friends/family, and they receive $5,000 for a new wardrobe. The catch is that the hosts throw out their whole crappy wardrobe, and they have to shop by specific rules. There is also Carmindy, who is gorgeous and does makeup, and the fabulous Ted Gibson on hair duty. The transformations are usually draw dropping, but not just because everyone looks so good.
The show really emphasizes dressing your own body, taking the power away from clothes, and self-esteem. The hosts are constantly teaching their students about what kind of clothes look good on them, and they emphasize that if clothes don’t fit its not because your body is wrong. It’s because its the wrong size, or the wrong shape. They never ever talk about diets, or plastic surgery, or encourage women to change themselves. They encourage them to change their clothes, and use hairstyle and makeup to emphasize their assets, whatever they may be. No one is ever without assets. They also tend to push women to see themselves as complex and dynamic, ie as people who can be powerful, sexy, maternal, and smart, if not in the same moment then all in the same person. On the surface, you might think “Lexi, how can you support a show that is all about image and fashion and trying to make women beautiful? Isn’t that superficial?”
The answer is complicated. We live in a culture that focuses on beauty, and for women there is enormous pressure to look astounding no matter what we are doing. Childcare? Dishes? Workplace? School? Any and all of that may be a part of our day, but if we can’t do that all looking put together and fresh, it’s a failure. This show is about celebrating your strengths. It’s about using clothes to transform your body, which well cut/good fitting clothes can do. The idea is, once you’ve transformed the outside, you can have a paradigm shift on the inside and feel more confident.
I cannot bring myself to condemn a show that attempts to make women feel better about themselves. I know that the ‘long and lean’ body lines they encourage are part of a cultural shape that contains women, and I know that hair and makeup are likewise time consuming and frustrating. But, maybe taking time to make yourself feel good is better than taking no time and feeling invisible all day. Maybe, in this culture that often tries to convince women of all they can’t do or achieve, learning some simple tips about how to dress yourself stylishly isn’t the worst use of your time. Maybe anyone who tells you that you can be sexy, you can look good, you can do it all, is in fact a true ally. Until we can undo the cultural rules and regulations, which is ultimately what I hope for (I also hope for a whole new language that is un-gendered, so I guess dreaming big is a hallmark of my feminism), this sort of show feels necessary to me. If we can’t undo the rules completely (yet), we can at least show women how to use the rules to make themselves feel pretty, instead of that consistent feeling of being unworthy. Teaching women how to play up their strengths reminds them that they have strengths, and it also espouses how everyone can feel special. When I watch this show, it feels like Stacey and Clinton, Ted and Carmindy, are opening the doors to the castle of beauty and telling women that ‘Yes, you belong here.’