The Makedown is marketed as a witty take on a makeover in reverse. However, this part of the storyline actually occurs in the last fourth of the novel. The first two parts focus on the makeover of the narrator and main character, Anna Norton, and the third focuses on the start of her dysfunctional relationship with her boyfriend, Ben.
The first section of the novel, titled “Hello Fatty,” describes Anna ages ten to twenty-three with nearly every “ugly” cliché imaginable. She is “fat,” has braces; acne; greasy, matted hair; and is a bad dresser. However, she is also extremely intelligent, landing a spot at the University of Pennsylvania and ultimately graduating with a degree in molecular biology.
After a short series of unfortunate events on her twenty-third birthday, Anna decides to move to New York City, giving up an apprenticeship at a research facility in Ohio. Disheartened by a job interview on Wall Street in which she is mocked for her appearance, the Penn graduate takes a job as a caterer’s assistant making minimum wage. But she doesn’t care because this caterer, Janice, is her “fairy godmother,” the person Anna has been waiting for to transform her “ugly” and “fat” self into something beautiful.
After calling all of the delivery places in Anna’s Brooklyn neighborhood and telling them not to serve her, Janice finally gets Anna to start eating healthy and exercising. She also introduces Anna to the Gap, her dermatologist, and mustache waxing. Anna is rewarded for all of this with her first New York boyfriend, Ben.
The only problem is Anna’s intense insecurity, left over from her days as a “fatty.” In comparison to Ben’s ex-girlfriends, she feels she just doesn’t stack up. She worries about Ben only asking her out because his mother suggested it. She worries about the girls who smile at Ben and worries even more when he smiles back. She overhears him give his email address to a coffee barista and pretends to faint for attention. She finally decides that he is just too good looking, and knows it too well, for their relationship to work.
Instead of breaking up and moving on, Anna can’t let him go. Thus, she plans The Makedown. In the words of Anna, “makedowns are applied to lessen the excessive beauty that Mother Nature accidentally dumped on certain people.” She focuses on fattening Ben up, thinning out his hair, and dressing him poorly. She convinces herself making Ben less beautiful will be the answer to her relationship problems, but, as expected, she’s wrong.
To be honest, I didn’t find this book very witty. The superficiality of the characters was painful, not humorous, for the most part, and while the concept might sound unique, the story was still quite predictable. I appreciate that the end goal of the novel is to remind the reader to be happy and confident in herself before committing to another person and that looks aren’t really everything, but I wish those points weren’t so muddy.
The book’s writing is in the vein of Helen Fielding or Marian Keyes, but the biggest difference is those authors’ characters are much more relatable, and more realistic, than Anna. I left the book feeling sorrier for her than I did when it started and, even if that was part of the author’s intention, it was disappointing.