Saturday, 21 March 2015

Critisizing Plain Jane. Part 1: Why I hate makeover shows

Once I accidentally stumbled across this makeover show called ‘Plain Jane’ while zapping. I’m not a fan of television, I usually stick to watching movies and series on the laptop, and I think I end up zapping about twice a year, give or take. One good reason for this is that I always end up encountering gender stereotypes and sexism everywhere I go. And this show is a particularly nasty example of that. So nasty that, after finding it twice in my unfortunate zapping sessions, I got so angry I had to do something about it.

Yes, this is the rubbish I'm going to critisize. Even the title is sickening.

So now I'm finally counter-attacking by officially critisizing this sexist rubbish like it deserves *snarky activist mode on*! And that involved enduring the torture of watching through the whole first season in order to critisize the hell out of every single line (NEVER AGAIN!!), so yeah, I’m pretty serious about it.  

Why this particular show? There are many makeover reality shows like this one around, but this one I found especially obnoxious and sexist. And maybe I can’t change much by writing criticism essays, but I think that the messages in these kind of shows (and the fact that there’s more than one aggravates the problem) are so awful and so unhealthy and toxic for both women and men (and especially for young girls and teenagers) that someone should point out how utterly wrong they are from time to time, even if we can’t relieve our sense of impotency much or achieve a lot by it.

And even though I had this written roughly months ago, this kind of criticism is, I think, now more important than ever. First we got glorification of abusive relationships "thanks to" 50 Shades of Grey. And now, thanks to the new action Disney movie, Cinderella seems to be becoming ‘cool’ and a ‘great role model for women’ again as well – And I find that partiularly troubling, especially after the effort that Brave, Frozen and Maleficent tried to make regarding more empowered female role models for girls and women. Cinderella’s story of a girl who’s rewarded with a prince because she’s beautiful, puts up with everyone’s crap passively (which apparently means being 'good'), and gets a makeover is actually the basis of this sort of reality show. And most young girls, still growing up with these stories, do believe that if you are beautiful and behave like that, your life is pretty much fulfilled and happiness will surely come without any effort (and happiness in these stories usually means ending up with a man, which is definitely not everybody’s definition of ‘happy ending’, and definitely not the ideal relationship, either, if we take into account both the fact that the women are told to be pretty passive and they only barely get to know the man before they marry him).

Who cares about archery and an adventurous spirit, or about ice powers and self-acceptance? Being pretty, putting up with crap with a smile (...I mean, being good!), wearing a pretty dress with a veeeery tight corset (liberal feminists: 'Actually, historical corsets were not uncomfortable and it's her 'choice'!')and losing a veeeery high-heeled shoe, those are your best...and only...chances at being happy and impressing the man you've just met! (not that Merida or Elsa were primarily looking for that as a way to solve their existence, of course, that adds to their flaws, I guess!).
Plus I found a disturbing number of positive comments on this particular makeover show and others like it, in places such as YouTube or the MTV site. Young girls and women commenting about how jealous they are of the 'Plain Janes' in the show, and how better they look after the makeover, and how romantic the plot is. This is frankly scary.

 That’s why I’ve taken the effort to try to critisize this show as thoroughly as I can. There are so many things that are so wrong with it. Everything about it is plain sexism. It’s a 100% sexist ‘Ugly Duckling meets Cinderella' makeover show, full to the brim with awful messages for young girls and women. It's all about how to alter your appearance and personality (wait, does that even matter? *scoffs*) so that you please your male date. Because apparently, you can only get a boyfriend if you conform to society's rules about what it means to be 'feminine' and 'sexy'.  Apparently, the only important thing is that HE finds you attractive. According to this show, 'building up your confidence' is equal to 'Hey, let's change your appearance and personality so that you please your date!'. Sounds pretty legit, right?

 All the episodes of this appalling show start with a girl who’s self-conscious, passive and has no luck in love because she is shown with no make-up, wearing casual clothes, a casual hairstyle and lacks a flirty, sexy personality. So what does she need but a makeover featuring a new style of clothing that must always be “cute”, “feminine” and/or “sexy”, plus make-up and those compulsory heels, in order to 'build up her personality' and succeed with their date! But her appearance isn’t the only important thing, oh no, her personality is also taken into account! She also learns how to flirt and give a man conversation, and must have her original personality completely ignored and, if possible, altered. Voilá! Love is 100% ensured! 
'Hey there, nice to meet you! Allow me to tell you that your whole life as a woman has been a lie until you met me. I'm here to objetify you, change your personality and style, and transform you so that your male crush likes you!  During the whole time, I'll be relying heavily on a variety of  unfair gender stereotypes and personal tastes and opinions that you should, of course, adopt in order for your life to have some meaning. I'm such a nice person, I help girls and women so much!'

Not only do I find all this astoundingly narrow-minded, demeaning, sexist, offensive, invasive and the total opposite of making you confident - The main idea about these episodes, apart from the fact that your looks are pretty much everything that matters in order to get a boyfriend, is that being yourself is not OK…unless you're already the sexy/cute/feminine woman you're supposed to be, of course.  The most frightening thing about this kind of shows? While they’re probably mostly scripted beforehand, they could be absolutely real and they don’t only promote sexist stereotypes and double standards – they get inspiration from the real world.

  • Tells women that getting a man is supposed to be one of the essential aspects of their life. If you don't get a man, I’m sorry, but you fail as a woman.  And the only way to get one is to have a makeover and think about what they like all the time. Yay equality.
  •    Focuses mainly on a woman's appearance, altering and shaping  it so that she is acceptably sexy and attractive to males. There are also only limited ways to be 'sexy'. If you do not conform to any of this, you're not even worthy of being considered a woman.

Most of the 'how to succeed in your date' is about looking good. A woman can hardly be confident and successful, let alone get a man!, if she isn’t attractive and feminine and sexy. Hair, shoes, clothing, make-up and sexy attitude, that’s the ONLY way to go. What a message to girls. Oh, and you also need to know how to flirt and give a man entertaining conversation. Talk about an egalitarian relationship, and indeed *scoffs*, about "love".

NO ONE NEEDS A MAKEOVER. Not for a man, not for anyone. You DON’T HAVE TO CHANGE your style, aspect, character or personality for ANYONE. And damn anyone who thinks you have.

  •    Being yourself is wrong if you do not conform. Self-esteem is not being yourself, it's about conforming to society's fashion and stereotype rules. Then, bam! Empowerment! Success! Romance!
  •   Tells people that not conforming to society's rules is bad and unattractive. A woman who likes casual wear, for example, isn't 'graceful' or even a ‘woman’, apparently, and if she doesn't wear heels or make-up she’s basically going to be unlovable in every single sense.

 One of the main messages in this show is that, in order to win a man, you must NOT be yourself. You must be sexy and attractive, and only according to a very limited established mindset. If you are not, you have  a makeover done.  And forget your own style, there’s only one acceptable style: Make-up, high heels, non-hair-friendly hair products, a compulsory hair-cut just frigging because, and cute/sexy/feminine styles of clothing are the one and only key factors in order to win your man.  Being confident while rocking your own preferred style? Not an option. If you have longer-than-deemed-acceptable and/or less styled/”messier” hair, or a more casual/sportive look about you,  or if you don’t wear make-up everyday or ever, or  if you prefer comfy footwear rather than high heels, and especially if you wear “unfeminine” clothing (which can include anything from baggy clothing to pretty much everything that is comfortable…well, virtually everything but heels, tube skirts and frilly dresses, apparently)...Forget about it, you won't dazzle a man in a date. Which should be your main goal in life, remember?

Being yourself doesn't matter. Your man, and people in general, will ONLY love you when you are attractive, feminine, sexy and/or cute, and, very importantly, when you follow society's tastes and conventions to the letter. Be sexy, be cute, be feminine, but only in the way I tell you to, put on the clothes and shoes that I give you, don’t do that anymore, throw out those clothes and those hobbies of yours already. If you are different in any way, people won't love you. Your crush won't love you. You're handling your life wrong. How dare you have your own style and your own hobbies, for heaven's sake?

  •  Featuring an incredibly obnoxious, prejudiced, dogmatic, and generally sexist presenter-stylist who states society's rules and her tastes as universal truths. I am massively pissed off when someone thinks themselves entitled to manipulate other people in this way and tell them what to do with their frigging lives. This is the ultimate Umbridge female figure of patriarchy, selling the idea that there is only one way of being attractive (the sexy/feminine/cute style outtake, which is all fine if chosen freely, but stereotyped and sexist if applied to every women by force), and that being attractive is the only way to 'boost your confidence' and get a man. NOT COOL AT ALL.
  •  Notice that the men who are going to get the girl in their date don't get asked ANYTHING. Except for showing some chivalry and romantic rubbish to impress their princess. But no demands regarding their appearance, tastes or general personality. Because PRIVILEGE.

All in all, yeah, not my version of a date. If you're going to date someone, which should be your own choice and not a pressure from society, by the way, you want to be yourself and not masquerade and lie to fit society's standarts in order to please your date. If you change your style and your appearance and lie about your personality to please someone, you're doing the worst you can do in a relationship. You might ‘get a man’, but said man won't "love" you for who you are, which I guess is the point of a short-to-long-term relationship. Supposedly, you've chosen that date because he likes something about you, and hopefully, it will not only be your looks. Hopefully, he'll like something about your personality (if he doesn't and you’re looking for a relationship and not just casual sex [which is perfectly fine, by the way], why even bother to lie about anything? - and I actually don't think this kind of forced makeovers are necessary when it comes to casual sex, either). Even regarding your looks, supposedly you shouldn't need to change your style or hair for a date either, if the date already feels attracted to you! What the hell. Morphing into a high-heeled individual with tons of foundation and a tube skirt is turning myself into someone else, and doing me no favours. Naturally, I do want to look nicer on a special occassion, but ALWAYS while being true to myself and my style. If I don't like heels, why  should I wear them randomly to a date? (Society's answer: to be sexy and please a man, Well, wrong move). Just wear what you like and feel comfortable in. Personal style, your own personality and the confidence and self-esteem that comes from all that, that's what should be considered 100% sexy and attractive. Just my 2 pence.

This new series of feminist criticism posts will feature a pretty exhaustive criticism of each episode in the first season, plus an additional short post critisizing the title description before that. I really do not recommend watching that rubbish, better save your time for better things, and it's actually pretty fortunate that it's not that easy to find online (I tried MTV in various countries). My snarky commentary tries to follow the episodes in detail, copying most of the lines, so, unless you're curious and want to have a taste of how horrible this series is, I guess the commentary alone should be reasonably easy to understand without having seen the episodes.

So, if you're interested, I'll see you in part II :)!