I just tuned into the American version of “What Not to Wear”, confident they’d provide me something to write about. They did. The hosts helped Marissa – a strictly “black t-shirt & jeans” woman – find a new attractive style that suited her “busy mom” lifestyle but also expressed her vivacious personality. So far, so good, I thought. Then came the following dialog between Stacy (one of the hosts) and (the woman they were re-dressing).
Stacy: You shouldn’t look like you’ve given up on yourself just because your kids are the focus.
Very true, I’m thinking at this point. No one should make her life entirely about someone else; it’s not healthy. You can take care of kids while still taking care of yourself. Good message.
Stacy: … and this way, now your daughter has someone to look up to.
Mom: I agree. I want to be her role model.
Stacy: It’s about time.
Whoa! Stop the presses. WTF? They’re saying this same exact woman in a t-shirt and jeans couldn’t be a role model to her daughter, because a daughter needs a fashionable style to emulate. I’m absolutely horrified that they said this.
Now, I’ve seen the British version of the show take a timid woman with zero self-esteem and use the clothes in her closet to tease out her psychological issues that her appearance expressed. I’ve seen them take a woman like that and bring out an unbelievable level of confidence in her – not just a skin deep transformation, but a real change. Had something like that occurred here, I could imagine the role model comments making sense. Daughters certainly can benefit from women with confidence to look up to.
But the difference between the American version of the show and the British is that the American is strictly about appearance. The women become better dressed, but they learn nothing about themselves. They’re not encouraged to sort out why they were wearing frumpy stuff before. They’re just taught how to look better.
Conversely, the British version (despite its flaws) puts across an entirely different message: that women can change themselves profoundly by changing how they look at themselves. The American version teaches women how to look beautiful to others: the British version is all about women finding their inner beauty and expressing it through fashion. The British version is about helping women become true role models; the American version is about making them pretty, which is the only role we want to see girls play.