Friday, May 30, 2008

What not to Wear... or how you should run your life?

“Reality TV circulates informal ‘guidelines for living’ that we are all (at times) called upon to learn from and follow” (Ouellette and Hay 2) Reality television sets norms that are supposed to be accepted and followed. Jessica, the subject of the What Not to Wear episode I chose to analyze, clearly sets gendered norms by accepting that she needs to conform to them. By allowing Stacy and Clinton to make her over and give her style tips she is agreeing with the message that a girl in the work force must embrace her age and power by dressing a certain way.

Jessica is an executive assistant to an author that writes “empowering” books for women. Although she is excellent at what she does, she is denied a promotion that she deserves because the firm is afraid that she can not represent them with her current style and wardrobe. Her current wardrobe consists of jeans and t-shirts. Her husband claims that she has not worn a dress since her wedding. This makes it seem that the ideal female wears dresses and is feminine, and Jessica is not that. She needs to change to fit society’s norms, because she is simply not good enough. Jessica makes it evident that there is a never ending need for bettering yourself. The problem with that, is that this becoming better is unattainable. Every time you make these unnecessary improvements to yourself there is something else that needs to be fix, until you develop an unhealthy obsession with things like plastic surgery.

“The real concern is the millions of viewers, scores of whom are young girls, who take in these misogynistic spectacles uncritically, learning that only the most stereotypical beautiful, least independent women with the lowest-carb diets will be rewarded with love, financial security and the ultimate prize of male validation.” (Pozner 99) After Jessica is made over, she is very happy when she thinks about how her husband will react to seeing her and says something along the lines of, “now that I look like this, maybe my husband will take me out more,” sending the message that women must look beautiful to be accepted to by men.

By using people that can relate to the general public as the focus of a reality television show, it seems all too commonplace for these makeovers to occur. It sends the message that people are not good enough just the way they are, and they never will be. Ouellette and Hay discuss this, “television’s embrace of the beauty/style makeover matters because TV is more in sync with the rhythms of everyday life than other media, and even its niche-oriented dimension is capable of normalizing the makeover as part of an everyday,

Jessica identifies well with the average woman, the viewers of these reality television shows. The gender roles that she teaches to her viewers are that women need to dress the part of a feminine, sexy lady to be taken seriously in the professional world. She looks to the male character in her life, her husband, for approval. “…makeover programs perpetuate existing gender and social hierarchies by imposing restrictive notions of beauty and taste on women and the working/lower-middle classes,” (Ouellette & Hay, 101).


Ouellette, Laurie, and James Hay. Better Living Through Reality TV. Blackwell, 2008.

Pozner, Jennifer L. "The Unreal World."

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