Makeover TV: Selfhood, Citizenship, and Celebrity
Makeovers are everywhere in today’s society, though I had never really given much thought to them until I read Brenda R. Weber’s Makeover TV. Weber points out that we are making over everything: bodies, houses, cars, hair, lifestyles, wardrobes, and even pets. Now that I am more sensitive to it, I realized we seem to be obsessed with change. Nearly every magazine cover focuses on how to change something (get better abs in thirty days) or someone who has already changed something (like Heidi Montag’s new body and face).
Televised makeovers are being consumed not only by those featured in the show, but also by a large viewing audience. What is emphasized throughout, no matter what the show, is that there are definitely the "right ways" and "wrong ways" to do things. The more you go with the flow and only stand out in ways that are determined to be aesthetically pleasing, the more people will love you and, therefore, the more you will love yourself.
The role of shame is emphasized in all of the makeover scenarios. Whether the people featured have nominated themselves or by friends and family, they are made to feel embarrassment for their actions. To simplify Weber’s well-crafted and researched prose, if one really cares about oneself, one wouldn’t let these things happen; one would keep a cleaner house, wear better fitting and trendy (but not flashy) clothes, weigh less, and have a nicer car, a more obedient child, and a well-trained pet. Once the shame has been heaped upon the person's head, the pieces are picked up and fashioned into a gender-normative, middle to upper middle class ideal of life.
Weber provides a critical analysis of makeover TV. The book isn’t light reading, as the text can be dense and often references academic studies, with an emphasis on the psychological; however, it is still accessible for non-specialized readers. She includes quotes from the shows and the occasional image to illustrate her points.
It was a bit scary to realize how right Weber is, and that so much “entertainment” on TV is focused on making people conform to the norm. Makeover TV is a good, eye-opening read.