TLC is a television station with a barrage of "makeover" shows. Their shows cover everything from making over a house with Dress My Room and Flip That House to making over an individual with shows such as What Not to Wear, and 10 Years Younger. What Not to Wear specifically focuses on taking a person and pointing out everything that they do wrong with their fashion. They tell individuals that how successful they are in the world depends solely on the clothes they wear and the first impression that they give off. The two hosts, Stacy London and Clinton Kelly try to drill this philosophy into participants heads, thus only furthering many of the stereotypes and social stigmas that society has embedded on American culture. What Not to Wear, through its seemingly innocent format and "good-natured" attempt at helping people is molding certain ideas of what is in good taste and what isn't into the minds of the American population.
In their attempt to help the "unfortunate" people on their show, they tend to disregard any accomplishments that they person might have already accomplished and instead focus solely upon what they do wrong with their clothes, and what how their lack of "fashion sense" has deterred them from accomplishing the things that they really want. What the show is saying is that "by developing the women's capacity to groom and outfit herself to her own advantage, the episode implicitly promises to transform a passive employee into an energized entrepreneur of her vocational future."(Hay, 99) In essence, the only way to succeed is to conform to what society says is appropriate for men and women to wear.
The show constantly tells its female participants that they must dress in a way that is conservative, but that they should also still be sexy. The professional woman must not dress in a way that brings too much attention to her physical assets, but at the same time, she should be dressed in a way to show off her figure. Stacy London is always pulling womans clothes tight against their bodies when they are in the 360 degree mirror to show that this is where the clothes buy and wear should be fitting them. She tells people that what she calls their "hot little body" is what they should be showing off to the rest of the world.
The show helps to create this ideal of what a professional person, a woman in particular, should look like. In a sense the shows says, "look, if you just spend a little money on your wardrobe and make up, your life will be better both professionally and personally." What they often tend to ignore is that not everyone can afford to shop at the high end expensive stores that they take their participants to. What Not to Wear is creating this idea that the perfect image and the perfect ideal of a working woman can be bought in a store for enough money.
What Not to Wear also perpetuates certain ideas about women, such as how catty they are. As Pozner says, "in this unreal world, [of reality t.v.] women aren't just stupid--they're also catty and bitch." (Pozner 97) This persona of a catty female is portrayed through many of the things that Stacy says to the women who come on the show. Her statements cover anything from constantly reminding the participant what it is that they are doing wrong, in a rather catty and nose-in-the-air type voice, to flat out making fun of some of the clothes that the participants pick out for them selves.
TLC will tell people that their show is quit harmless and that it's all just good entertainment, but is that really the case? Ouellette and Hay claim that "What Not to Wear illustrates the paradox of makeover TV, in that it prepares the worker to take on burdens of insecuritt and disposability in the name of her/his own freedom." (Hay, 101) The producers of the show know, are often times taking people who are content with themselves and their fashion sense constantly telling them "no, you can do better, and you should want to do better." When a person hears things like that often enough, they will in fact start to believe it. So is the show helping give people ways of bettering themselves? Or is it simply taking happy people and making them miserable just so that they conform to the norms of society?
What Not to Wear sends out this false idea of what a professional woman should be. It says that professional woman always has a certain haircut, and always wears a certain type of suit, when that is not the case. This ideal that is created in the show of a woman who is perfectly coiffed, and who can only accomplish her pristine look with the help of professional experts, is one that very few, if any women, will ever be able to live up to.
Ouellette, Laurie, and James Hay. Better Living Through Reality TV. Malden: Blackwell, 2008.
Pozner, The Unreal World.
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