As What Not to Wear is finishing up its last season, I thought it might be useful to reflect on something pretty revolutionary about the show: Stacy and Clinton might come across as snarky and critical, but they criticize the fashion victim's style, not her body. They are dedicated to helping people become a better version of who they are, not making them into someone completely different. And in a culture where we are used to images that average out models' individual quirks to make them all look weirdly similar, that's pretty amazing.
I was struck by this while watching two of the saddest makeovers I have seen on the show, both from Season 9. There was Jil, whose fashion issues stemmed from the fact that she was living in a fantasy world because she was desperately unhappy with her real life. And there was Jodi, who was hiding behind her long, spiral-curled blond locks, baby-doll makeup and goofy too-young clothes because she hated her nose and the fact that she was getting older. After her hair was cut, she kept trying to flip her hair forward to hide her face, but it wouldn't work anymore because her long side pieces had been cut.
In both of these, it was so sad to see how much these women were trying to escape who they were. I have to say, I thought a 51-year-old dressing in teenagers' clothes to look younger seemed pretty silly. And then I went to wash my face and noticed the packaging on the skincare products I had bought earlier that day at TJ Maxx: "The Youth as We Know It." And then I think of how often I go looking for that magic product that is going to solve all my problems.
Jil and Jodi's reactions make a weird kind of sense in the context of a culture that has a narrow range of acceptable ways to look and live in the world. The term "obesigenic" was coined to describe how we have to go against the grain not to gain weight in our current environment. I think that our culture is also "neurosigenic" -- we have to go against the grain to get past the cultural neurosis of thinking that everyone has to be eternally young, eternally thin (or the new version, thin with muscles), and preferably blonde with long hair. It's an act of defiance to actually like our normal, imperfect selves.
Stacy and Clinton have served nobly as warriors in this fight to teach people that the problem wasn't their faces or their bodies, it was their clothes, their hair, and their makeup.
The fashion victims on the show seem to fall into two categories: Not-Trying and Trying-Too-Hard. The Not-Trying group felt like there was something so wrong with them that they shouldn't even bother to try to look good. People in the Trying-Too-Hard group often seem to "hide" in clothes that are too wacky, too sexy, or too costume-y. The message of the Not-Trying group is, "Don't look at me," and the message of the Trying-Too-Hard group is, "Don't look at me, look at my clothes." Neither group has much sense of who they really are because they are hiding behind a costume.
I noticed in last night's viewing session that Stacy and Clinton really want to find out how the person wants to look and be perceived and to help them find a version of that vision that projects confidence and style. They do have certain "rules" about wearing clothes that are age-appropriate, that show some awareness of trends, and that create an attractive line on the body. There is a lot of room to play within those rules, though, and that's where the fashion vision comes in.
To be honest, I hadn't ever really thought about what my fashion vision is before, but there are definitely some threads there I can pick up on. I want my clothes to flatter me. I love color and a sense of fun. I want to look stylish but not like a fashion slave. I want to be comfortable and be able to move (no pointy-toed shoes or sky-high heels for me, thanks). I want to look professional and put-together at work, and fun and confident on the weekends. Right now while I'm writing this, I'm wearing a stylish combination of a bright-blue XL t-shirt, gray track pants, and a hoodie, but these are pajamas. I do a little better for work and when going out, but some of my at-home stuff can tend to fall into the Not-Trying category.
So what's your fashion vision? Have you been Not-Trying or Trying-Too-Hard lately?