Friday, February 15, 2008

Legs and All

Okay, so tonight I am finally checking out How To Look Good Naked with everyone's favorite flaming Fab 5-er, Carson Kressley (does anyone really know his last name?). The episodes I caught were back-to-back, "Alea" and "Layla".

At a glance, it's the same formula of all of the makeover shows, from the gruesome The Swan to the redundant Ten Years Younger to the infinitely better What Not to Wear. The hapless girls who hate their bodies are asked to explain what they hate about themselves, and then are summarily told they are wrong, and then given whirlwind makeovers of wardrobe and beauty so that they can see a "totally different person" and somehow embrace... themselves. My main problem, of course, other than the repetitive formula, is the "it's okay honey, you look different now; you look better now" backhanded insult that's buried in the show's insistent optimism.

In the example of Alea, we're introduced to a young woman who's spent eighteen years covering her arms and legs and feet in total every day, even at the beach. She claims to feel 'embarassed' and 'vulnerable' about her exposed body. Vulnerable, you say? Perfect! Let's get right to exploiting that. Erm, I mean, tell me more about your unfounded insecurity. Alea's assessment of her toned, uncurvy, self-proclaimed 'masculine' body (you poor, poor girl) is met with a few tossed out compliments about a flat stomach, long legs, and a nice clavicle (you poor, poor girl). The cynic in me can't help but read this segment as: 'My [insert part here] is ugly.' / 'Yes. BUT---' I mean, compliments are always welcome Carson, but she never said she HAD a problem with her clavicle.

In Layla's case, she thinks she is fat and should lose 40 pounds. She doesn't even own a full-length mirror. So, Carson throws her, undressed, in a room of them. When Layla says she hates the fat under her arms, Carson sympathetically replies that most women do. When she says she has a problem with her thighs, he says, 'We'll show your knees down!' And I say, great, she'll completely learn that her thighs are fine and that no size determines beauty by concealing her thighs for the rest of her life. Just divert the eye from them and no one will know that they're fat! Wait... what?

By the way, they call this part of the show 'taking a good honest look at yourself.' I kind of almost wish for a bitchier host who'll stop dicking everyone's self-esteem around and say, 'Yup, those are fat arms. And?' Carson's family-friendly bitchiness really straddles the line in an unhelpful way. "You're not perfect" is too much of a pat on the head (in my opinion).

(By the way, I really enjoy the completely obvious and irrelevant pop-up facts at the bottom left of the screen in these two episodes. Helpful information such as '72% of women remember being teased about their appearance when they were young' and 'models are skinnier than 98% of the female population.' Ummm, thanks? For that? Information?)

They go shopping, yadda yadda, clothes and undergarments can change your shape and appearance. Trick the eye. Hide what you don't like. Yawn. The girls get some new outfits and bras. "Your breasts are fine because look, we can CHANGE them. No one has to KNOW your boobs are that small." I mean, isn't the point to accept your body NAKED? Carson calls this 'accentuating what the girls see in the mirror.' It's a complete-this-sentence trick. "Let's accentuate what you look like with clothes so . . . you can look good naked." Erm... no. I am the number one advocate of how clothes can change everything about you and upgrade your looks, of how to conceal flaws and showcase the goods, but that's... not this show's agenda. So, essentially, I am flummoxed.

Layla finally seems to be liking herself in her new brassiere and panties, and in his congratulatory excitement, Carson... picks her up and spins her? Guys, I am familiar with finding a begrudging truce with the realities of my body, and how freeing that can be, but I do not want someone I've known for five days to, on television, feel free to grab me up in my underwear and spin me around. Yipes. I think I would have smacked him, or dropped dead. I don't care if you're gay, dude, that's my ass you're holding on TV.

Once the girls get some new dresses and stuff, they're taken to get made over. I'd love to be professionally glammed up to see my 'best' self, just for kicks, but for this show, I'd really rather see the girls do 'beauty' shots, more natural, with their hair down and natural, basic makeup. I think if they grin their faces off and gasp when they see that photo, then Carson's work is done. Fake eyelashes? Fake boobs? Fake hair? I mean, why don't we just photoshop their pictures, am I right? They'll need to go home and look at the mirror off-camera, eventually.

Anyway, apparently none of them have ever SEEN the show, because they get to be shocked! that Carson asks them to do their photoshoot... NAKEDOMG. The girls are like no! and Carson's like come on! and then through the magic of cue cards and editing the girls reply okay! And they go. Tasteful nekked photos happen, and are showcased in downtown Santa Monica, which must be getting really tired of these goings-on every week. Do fans gather there for a chance to peek at Carson?

Yeah, yeah, I have to take issue with the 'compliment the naked photo' part of the show. Mainly just when the women are complimented by men on their sexiness, or hell, thanked for their sexiness, and dissected into parts. 'Nice leeeegs' 'great rack' --- well... sorry, but why does she need their acceptance? Why does she need to be 'sexy' to accept her naked body? Unfortunately, I think women really do benefit from this kind of feedback and like to hear it. I'd be personally sorely tempted to say, 'Yes, I look great, but I did it for me, not your visual consumption.' (Does that contradict having a giant picture of you blasted onto the side of a building?) I also don't like the compliment of 'she looks like a model' in Alea's case. Well... aren't we saying how 98% of women don't look like models and no one should aspire to? Accept yourself because you're normal and NOT A MODEL and that's OKAY? I don't think the show would be enjoyable if it constantly qualified itself, and it can't take the entirety of the feminist agenda unto itself, but these things irk me, so I shall protest.

In the end, Layla's main summary is that she's "started to feel different." Well, I'd rather hear 'better' than 'different' but I get the point that this is good for her. I just hope the show doesn't suggest that women without the money or access to new, expensive clothes, a blowout, and spa treatment can't accept their bodies without somehow changing. If we're telling women they could look better if they could just change a bunch, that seems to be enforcing, well, the problem at hand at the start.

Check it out for yourselves here and let me know what you think.

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