A feminist analysis of make-over and make-under TV

As a feminist, I strive to find something feminist-related on the TV. As barely any programmes seem up to scratch, I instead search the other end of the scale to find the most anti-feminist programmes and rant.

Now, a lot of people don’t understand this. After speaking to several friends, they’ve asked me, why would you do that when you know it will just wind you up? My simple answer is because I want to see what messages are being given to our society which justify women’s inequality. I want to see what standards of beauty we should supposedly be trying to achieve and what type of femininity we are supposed to be conforming to.

Luckily, I live in a feminist household, so I don’t manage to wind anyone up further when we do watch TV, because chances are, the programme we’re watching is already bad enough. So I thought it might be interesting to actually examine what kind of crap I watch, and what views/ideologies it creates, to see if there are any links. The three make-over and make-under programmes I’m going to look at are BBC’s, ‘Hotter than my Daughter’ and ‘Snog, Marry, Avoid’ and Channel 4’s ‘How to Look Good Naked’

To me, my problems with the programmes start with the titles. Before you’ve even started Hotter than my Daughter,  you are immediately told that beauty is age limited. Young people are in their peak so should spend every minute of their lives perfecting their bodies, while mothers should just get on with it, accept the fact that they’re ‘getting old’ and grow old gracefully.

(To take a minor detour onto another tangent for a second, doesn’t this contradict all of the anti-aging cream adverts? According to them, you must try and be as youthful as physically possible – often aided with botox etc – and you should fight to stay young, god forbid you actually age).

The format of the show usually comes in a four part structure.

1. Meet both mother and daughter. It is established that the daughter is a frump and the mother is a tart/mutton dressed as lamb.

2. The mother talks about how happy she is dressing the way she does but how much she wishes her daughter would take care of the way she looks. (NB: jogging bottoms and a hoodie seem to equate to poverty in this programme.) The daughter tries to defend the way she dresses, and after much irritation and pressure from the ex Atomic Kitten presenter, reveals that she has body problems which cause herself to ‘hide herself away’.

3. The two women are put before a ‘Jury’ of complete strangers who think that it is their duty to decide who is beautiful and who is not, like they are some kind of elected deciders on this topic. Typically, the mother is told that she is an embarrassment (despite being happy) and the daughter is reminded that she will age just like her mother soon so should basically get her tits out and turn herself into a sex object before it’s too late.

4. Then mother and daughter have makeover, the supposed highlight of the show. The mother dresses down and is now suddenly treated with respect as a sophisticated woman and the daughter is no longer treated like she is invisible, and that now because she has new found beauty and flesh, she actually has a place on planet Lo’Real. The mother now acts proud of her daughter, as if the short skirt and heels are all the daughter has ever achieved in her entire life.

Cue happy clappy ending with tears of joy and the relatives of the women now treat them like they are finally welcomed into the family, leaving an audience of women  at home who now feel like they should apply to the programme themselves because they are clearly too ugly as they are. Clearly, this programme will solve every one of the world’s problems.

So what do we learn? That women can only achieve if they are beautiful, that while you must be beautiful, you must conform to a certain type of beauty which matches your age, and that women are nothing but sex objects, to be viewed for the entertainment of others.

Next, onto Snog Marry Avoid – possibly the cheapest programme on TV to make as it involves people and orange presenter, Jenny Frost talking to a camera who they have personified and nicknamed ‘Pod’. The premise of the programme revolves around the fact that if you look slightly different (it doesn’t matter in what way you look different), then you must strip yourself bare until you find your naked and real beauty (this is usually found in Topshop and with a shade of foundation which is slightly lower).

Basically, the person(s) in question gets ridiculed for the way they dress, and the most important part comes when random people (again – why is it that random people have the most important and valuable opinion on another person’s worth?) judge whether they would snog, marry or avoid them. Apart from the obvious, which is that the judging is based purely on appearances, the thing that gets me every time, is how on earth, with one photo, are you supposed to think, ooh, I would marry them?!

Based on the results – usually 80% of people would avoid  – the person under speculation is now made under. This is when the layers and layers of make up come off, and usually any items of quirkiness is taken away to make the person conform to their gender and age role.

In the middle of this of course, there is some annoying banter where the computerised voice of the dictator camera insults the person and generally tries to extend the what should be five minute programme. Or not ever made in my opinion.

When the magical makeover has been achieved, the same questions are posed to another group of random people; would you snog, marry (?) or avoid the person. Usually the answer is snog or marry.

I only did three weeks of a psychology A Level, but even I can point out the the research and questioning methods used by this programme are flawed. For example, they could ask 5 people the questions and if four out of five people didn’t find the person attractive, then it equates to 80%. But those five people could have had a particular taste and the chances are they probably chose people who they thought would ‘avoid’ the person in question.

So the person if left to mull over this new look to see if they will conform to looking like a generically dressed sheep and basically have a personality overhaul. Then later in the programme, Jenny Frost goes back to the person to see if they have realised the error of their ways and have kept this new appearance. The outcome really doesn’t seem to matter.

What gets me, like Gok’s How to Look Good Naked which I will go into in a second, is how the emphasis on natural beauty is completely undermined in the way that it is not that. It is not natural beauty, it is beauty with less make up. The kind of make up which takes hours to apply to achieve the look that you are actually not wearing a lot of make up. So from this programme, we learn that you should look in the mirror before you go out every day, and whether you think you look OK should be based on the answer to the question, ‘Would people snog, marry or avoid me?’.

Onto the third example: Gok’s programme, ‘How to Look Good Naked’. Again, like the others, the problem is in the title. Why is it that we need a guide to looking good naked? And why is Gok the one to give the guide?

Gok deals with some quite serious issues, but in my opinion, simply masks the problems with new clothes and a different hairstyle. For example, he starts the make-over by putting the person in question, in really bad underwear and making them stand in a 360 degree mirror cage. Surely that is going to make someone with even no problems with their bodies have body images. There are parts of my body I don’t like but I’m sure I would find more if I was put in his mirror trap!

Not to mention, the line of people. For example, if he is working with a woman who hates her thighs and to make her feel better, he finds a group of women with different ranging thighs, from small to large, to see how big the person thinks their thighs are. Isn’t this just counter-productive? You can’t make one person feel better by playing them off against other people, surely?!

The people do seem genuinely happy at the end of the programme, but still,  the fact remains: the only way we are to be happy with ourselves is if people approve of our beauty, and we are happy for hundreds of people to see us naked and again, like a sex object. The programme however, is not about full frontal nudity. It is about pretty lingerie that has been specifically chosen to suit the person’s body. This is not accepting and loving your naked body. This is called loving and accepting your semi-naked body as long as the articles of clothing you wear happen to flatter you and cover ‘problem areas’.

We learn from Gok that our naked bodies are OK if we get a new hairstyle to go with it, or different make up. And that it isn’t actually about being naked or being happy with your own body. It is about having well fitting underwear and conforming to what other people think is beautiful.

I am sick of seeing programmes like these. I thought Trinnie & Susannah would be a one off, but no, they seem to have created a genre of TV which seems to be unending. What these programmes are doing, is creating a society where everyone has an issue with their body, whether they find it themselves or are told about it. Either way, it is apparently normal for us to all hate our bodies, and the only way we can try and reclaim our bodies is through the capitalist business of fashionable clothes, make-up and hair products.

I choose to watch this rubbish so I can examine what society is doing to women, how they are making the sole purpose of women’s existence to be sex objects and to be judged by random strangers. Popular culture is feeding myths about women into the minds of young people; the sooner they stop generating body image issue programmes, the better.

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