Lifetime recently gave us the opportunity to watch a sneak peak of their upcoming show, “How to Look Good Naked.” Let me state up front: they didn’t ask for a review (although I suspect that was their hope, to stir up buzz for the show), they didn’t pay for a review, and I have no incentive to give a review, positive or negative. But I’ve been curious to see if this show, which purports to teach women who aren’t size zero to love the way they look, would deliver.
Short answer: it does. I’m not sure if what I saw online will be precisely what’s shown on TV, But speaking as a woman who has a lot in common with the candidate on this episode, I came away from it with a positive feeling.
The host, Carson Kressley, spends five days with a thirty-two year old woman named Lela who’s been dieting since she was twelve. She’s convinced that in order to feel beautiful, she must lose forty pounds. Without losing that weight, she sees no point in attempting to find herself beautiful. It’s an absolute requirement in her mind. (I know the feeling.)
Carson confronts this belief by projecting a headless image of Lela’s body onto a building in Santa Monica and asking people what they think of it. Men notice her “great rack”, her shapely legs, her curves. Women talk about how she looks gorgeous and “that’s how real women look.” And they sound sincere (and why not? We all know real people are a lot less picky than fashion gurus). Carson points out that she’s spent twenty years trying to be someone else – twenty years she could’ve spent being herself.
Message #1: She doesn’t look as bad as she thinks. Her weight is not unhealthy, and it’s not ugly.
He begins by teaching her some dressing tips. First, she needs the right size and style of bra to support her breasts and avoid creating rolls on her back. Then she needs to avoid fashion trends and find styles and cuts and prints that suit her. She goes from looking “fine” to looking “hot” in the time it takes to put on a different outfit.
Message #2: The clothes should be tailored to the woman, not the woman to the clothes. Lela’s lived twenty years thinking the reason clothes didn’t flatter her was her fault, not the fault of some useless lazy fashion designer (who probably employs children in third-world countries to cut fabric).
Next comes a new haircut and makeup job. Then it’s time for a photo shoot in the nude (in which she’s never really exposed). She lays on her stomach, breasts and hips hidden from the camera. The idea is to get her posing unapologetically without clothes on, without darkness to hide her.
I did not see the show as reinforcing the idea that women need to be beautiful (while men can look quite unattractive and become national leaders). I saw it as suggesting we are entitled to feel beautiful, whether or not we meet arbitrary fashion standards. I also didn’t see the show as pandering to the male gaze; I saw it as empowering a woman to have her own gaze, to see the beauty in herself and project it through her attitude.
One caveat: the only thing “wrong” (from the fashion industry’s perspective) with Lela was her size. She was white, with great skin and nice hair. Will the show do as well with a woman of color? A woman with bad acne? From the commercials, it looks like at least one woman of color will be featured; we’ll just have to wait and see how that goes. Whether or not they’ll address issues other than size, I don’t know. Still, I thought I’d die before anyone acknowledged “fat” does not equal “ugly and undeserving of success or love”, so even if it’s just one step in the right direction, it’s a start.
t’ll take more than one episode, but I think there’s potential here to put a dent in the message that women who fail to meet arbitrary size standards are not entitled to self-confidence about how they look.