Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Skin deep


In a long piece in the Indie yesterday, on how badly tv serves the question of beauty and women's relaionship to it (apart from the scientific exposes of bad cosmetic surgery) the author shares my distrust of some make-over shows. I was fan of Trinny and Susannah when they did What Not To Wear, in part because of the observation, or rather, the penny that dropped with most viewers, that the biggest single change you can make to your look is a good hair cut and colour and some well-chosen make-up.

I am strongly opposed to progs like Extreme Makeover and Ten Years Younger because of their reliance on cosmetic surgery and cosmetic dentistry. I'm not against, in principle, cosmetic surgery, at least for other people, if they want it. I'm certainly not against cosmetic dentistry.

What I am against is taking women on low incomes, drilling down their teeth to give them £20,000 worth of veneers at the programme's expense and then leaving them to fend for themselves when, five or ten years later, they need replacing. The make-overs (which rarely involve the simple application of a decent diet and some exercise) are the equivalent of a fashion shoot where the dress is held together with bulldog clips and the teenage model's spots are airbrushed away. It's a con, and a nasty con, at that.

Not mention the fact that the make-overs turn them into simulacrums of real people, little replicas of the hot look. And when the hot look is over?

15 comments:

Deja Pseu said...

I suppose that the death of an otherwise-healthy sister of a close friend after a cosmetic procedure (she was 35) makes me a bit jaundiced, but I'm appalled at the proliferation of cosmetic surgery and the homogenous results. (Same with the Rachel Zoe-ing and Charla Krupp-ing of "beauty" standards here in the states.) Walk around some wealthier areas here and you run into what I call the TrophyWifeBots: bleached, botoxed and all clad in the same designer jeans.

I agree about the cosmetic dentistry, but also what about the people who have to return to life as a cashier at Walmart or whatever; they certainly can't keep up with the boot-camp exercise or diets. What happens as they age and their looks fade? When they get so much emotional payback from conforming to a narrow culturally-approved standard, how do they cope as that slips away?

greying pixie said...

Now hold on a minute linda, deja, what exactly are we saying here? Are cashiers at Woolmart not allowed to have aspirations?

I agree that these programmes are a con. Not only that, but they would only work in Britain as British women are only ever interested in outer appearance. How many times have I seen professional high income women who at first sight look well dressed, only to find on closer examination that their nails are either irregular or false, their foundation line shows and they have hard skin on their heels. Go to Italy and take any cashier in any supermarket and they look clean, healthy, attractive and perfectly groomed.

Deja Pseu said...

No, that isn't what I'm saying. My point was that the routines required to achieve these radical changes are probably impossible to maintain for someone working 40+ hours a week. When they've been handed these "fairy tale" looks, is there some degree of disappoinment when they return to a life that's less than fairy tale? "It's a new me" only goes so far when you return to your previous life, and I'd expect some of these people experience some pretty profound disappointment to realize that their entire life has not been transformed as well.

Linda Grant said...

What we are saying greying pixie, is that the transformations offered by these particular programmes are extremely expensive and time consuming for ordinary women to maintain. They are teaching them to aspire to the lifestyle of your average Hollywood movie star, with all the financial costs involved. Which is not the same as teaching good grooming and an understanding of personal style. Which is what Italian women tend to have.

greying pixie said...

Well, I don't suppose they were dragged screaming into the TV studio. I'm not disagreeing with you that these programmes are immoral, just no more immoral than any other reality TV programme.

Linda Grant said...

These programmes are not singled out for being more immoral than over reality tv programmes, but this is a fashion blog, so I tend to talk about fashion rather than overhauling old houses.

And the world is never short of innocent victims for exploitation. Usually we blame the exploiter, not the exploited.

phyllis said...

Well, I will say that I’ll always support dental work of any kind because it's as much a health issue as a cosmetic issue. The Boston Globe did a recent article on this, and it noted a study that indicates that people who really get into teeth whitening and such tend to take better care of their teeth in general, and it’s well known that many long term health problems can be traced back to poor dental care.

"Extreme Makeover" for the most part is a ridiculous show for all the reasons noted, but I’d never begrudge anyone who has an opportunity to get their teeth fixed.

Nothing makes a bigger difference to a person's health, appearance and self-esteem.

Elaine said...

What bothers me about shows like "Ten Years Younger" is the implication that you need to do these things in order to look good. Even if you can afford to keep up with the botox and to maintain the veneers, you shouldn't be made to feel that you're somehow inadequate or unattractive if you don't have the complexion of a 20 year old and teeth so white that they look unnatural. On "What Not to Wear," Stacy and Clinton always stress that you should dress the body you've got rather than pine for the figure you had 10 or 20 years ago. The criticism, no matter how stinging, is always directed at the clothing; never at the individual. The message is about learning to love yourself. And the importance of a good haircut and make-up. And clothes that fit and flatter.

Anonymous said...

I can't say I find these shows immoral in any sense. They play on the fact that many people have no access to any of "the luxuries" such as dentistry and pushing notion of perfect beauty and all the overpriced stuff that this requires, but at least they may be getting some much needed attention they may not have gotten otherwise. Maintaining the work is probably easier than springing for it, but of course the big problem is that so many basic things are luxuries for way too many.

What bothers me most about all makeover shows is the idea that there's some ideal way for people to look, the stuff they must have, and that almost all of the makeovers end up being shoved into it no matter how unflattering/unsuitable. I dislike the pushing of trends and the idea of perfection as being attainable or even desirable.

Anonymous said...

"they would only work in Britain as British women are only ever interested in outer appearance."

WTF!!!!

Greying Pixie,
Substitute the word Jews or Black Women for 'British women' and think about what you've just said!

Geri

greying pixie said...

Geri - Why should I substitute the word British for one that is not synonymous? I'm not talking about race here and never would I. I went on to explain what I meant by that statement and don't feel in any way that it is racist. If you see it in that way, then you are very much mistaken.

Anonymous said...

I just think it's a ridiculous generalisation. You would, presumably, never make sweeping statements about Jews or black people or people with red hair so what makes British women as opposed to, say, Americans or French ones, such fair game? Personally, as a British woman, I take offence by your implication that we're all unhealthy, dirty slatterns over here, can you please explain why I shouldn't?

Geri

greying pixie said...

Because I am too am British living in the UK.

Anonymous said...

I suppose that makes it less mystifying that you said it, then, since presumably you have encountered many more British 'cashiers' than Italian and therefore your comment would explain your rosy view of Italian check-out girls.

I do think, though, that there are worse sins than having skin on your heels or irregular nails. Personally, I think British women are the most stylish and attractive in the world.

Geri

greying pixie said...

My rosy view of Italian check-out girls is due to the fact that I am half Italian and have lived and worked in Italy on and off throughout my life. I used the term 'cashiers' because it was mentioned in the blog as a reference to low-income women.

I am proud to be British for many reasons, but the grooming standards of British women is not one of them. Their ability not to take themselves too seriously, to approach their appearance with a sense of humour and to subvert fashion is what I love, as well as their ability to admire well-groomed perfectly turned out European women with no malice or jealousy.

Unfortunately those unique qualities seem to be impossible to preserve in these make-over programmes because none of these qualities are about aspiration but something much more ethereal.