I am a total fucking party girl, so Friday nights usually find me on the couch with the Dude. Especially since we got cable for the first time in my adult life.
Last Friday, we were ended up watching a mini-marathon of What Not to Wear. What can I say, it is the black hole of cable television: I could not resist its pull.
Fortified by a bottle of wine, we tried to identify what Stacy and Clinton would change about our wardrobes. Him: no more baggy cardigans and lose the repeatedly patched jeans; Me: quit it with the t-and-jeans uniform already, you’re in your 30s, for godssake, and would it kill you to wear heels once in a while? This then begat questions about what each of us would change about the other. I said please get rid of that hideous green hoodie, and maybe wear more ties; he said I should try to do more with accessories. (Yes, he really said that, because I wear one necklace I bought in Ireland 9 years ago and change my earrings maybe twice a year, even though people keep giving me jewelry as gifts).
So we worked our way through our low-brow Trebbiano D’Abruzzo and a few episodes, eventually coming to at least mildly regret both.I have, in the past, mentioned my push-me-pull-you relationship with some TV shows, like So You Think You Can Dance, but WNTW seems to be on a different plane. The problem with SYTYCD is mostly Nigel Lythgoe, not the concept of the show itself. WNTW, on the other hand, is built around the premise that women (have they ever had men on, other than in the opening credits?) who don’t hew to a particular image are both mockable and in desperate need of help.
Now, there are things I like about the show. Stacey and Clinton unfailingly encourage people to wear clothes that fit their bodies as they are now; they endeavor to convince every woman that she is beautiful, and that her problems lie with her clothes, not her figure; and most of the time, the…victim? guest? star? seems be pleased by the results.
There are also frequent, clever, non-nasty zingers, which go well with cheap Italian wine.
But. (Ohhhh, Simone, do I have a big but.)
They repeatedly talk about “fit,” but even more often hammer home the message that women should dress to match a single silhouette based on a pretty unobtainable body type: the hourglass. “Nip in the waist! Don’t draw attention to your thighs! Make yourself look smaller! Yes, yes, your body is fine! Now let’s just cover up the parts we all agree are horrible.”
The first half of the show is just generally awful: the ambush, the public shaming, the private shaming, the catty remarks about women’s tastes and choices. There is never any mention that what might keep people from dressing “their best” is their economic status; in fact, the entire show (although really, it’s on TLC, what can I expect?) revolves around a world of straight-white-able-upwardly-mobile-gender-conformist-urbanity, where $5000 is an appropriate amount to spend on a few days of shopping.
The latter half is slightly less offensive, although that’s damning with faint praise. (And Carmindy is the lyingest liar in the History of Ever). The show insists that how you look has a one-to-one relationship to how you feel and/or who you are. My old t-shirts mean “I don’t love myself.” My lack of make-up means that I’m emotionally hiding from others. But fortunately, they have a pre-loaded debit card and some tough love. Can true happiness be far behind?
As someone who has dealt with a bit-o-depression, I know that feeling low can mean you quit caring for your physical self, but the answer–to the extent that there is one–is more likely to be found in SSRIs than LVMH.
It’s not that I think Stacy and Clinton don’t know what they’re talking about–certainly, just about everyone looks better in a pair of trousers than ratty old sweatpants–but the foundational idea, “please judge books by their covers while we help you replace your dust jacket,” encourages the sort of ideology and behavior I have to reject on feminist grounds.
And, in the spirit of “the food was awful–and there was so little of it!”, the Dude astutely observed that this show is the equivalent of the mousy girl in a movie being miraculously transformed into a hottie when she loses the ponytail and glasses.