OK, I admit it – Gok Wan is my guilty TV pleasure. Everyone has one, whether it’s reality TV, soaps, or dodgy dramas, most people have a programme (or genre) that they’re not proud to admit that they watch – but still watch anyway.
Gok Wan has built his TV career from styling ‘ordinary’ women and taking them on a ‘journey’ to increase their confidence in their body shape. He does this by teaching them how to choose clothes for their shape, by dressing them for a big catwalk event at the end of the show and by giving them an expensive-looking makeover. This is great for the women involved, but under all the ‘confidence exercises’ perhaps there is a more subtle message for the viewing audience.
On one hand, the core message at the heart of the show is that any woman can feel sexy, regardless of her body shape. “It’s all about the confidence” exudes Gok. This is a good message – confidence is a good thing. Feeling comfortable with your shape is a good thing.
On the other hand, to feel as confident and sexy as this, it seems that the women must be subjected to humiliating displays – posing nude (except for some draped material) in a shop window, having all their clothes hung on washing lines to demonstrate their apparently awful fashion choices, and testimonials from friends and family about how they wish “she’d make more of herself”. And of course, they must be completely made-over. Hair, make-up, clothes and accessories – all must be completely changed.
Alright, yes, How to Look Good Naked and Gok’s Fashion Fix are makeover shows, and it wouldn’t be much of a makeover if that didn’t happen – but this implies something less savory than the glossy initial message of the show…. that these women just weren’t good enough as they were. They were sub-women to be looked down upon for their lack of fashion knowledge on how to balance out a big bum or wide shoulders, regardless of whether they were nice people or not, regardless of whether they were helping society or doing important stuff with their time. Why can’t they dress in comfy clothes and get on with it? Why must women try their best and do it in heels? Isn’t just doing your best enough?
And then there’s the other sneaky less-than-positive message given by this kind of programme – that confidence comes from dressing yourself up in fancy clothing, by putting on a veneer of glamour and smiling for the camera. In life, this just isn’t always the case. Real confidence is an internal thing – if you’ve lost it, it can take more than some pretty clothes to bring it back.
If I am being totally fair – Gok’s Fashion Fix and How To Look Good Naked programs are less cruel than predecessor What Not To Wear, and definitely much less horrifying than the awful Ten Years Younger, concentrating more on working with what you’ve got than ‘fixing’ imperfections as the latter show does. But still, it’s because of the conflicting messages that I’ve decided to stop watching Gok Wan, and makeover shows in general.
Which leaves me with just dodgy-science based crime shows and trashy novels as my guilty pleasures. Oh well, I think I can live with that.
Related link (just to balance the argument a bit!): Why I love Gok’s Fashion Fix by Jacqueline Wheeler