Monday, April 27, 2009

To Wear or Not to Wear? That is the Question.


28-year-old Jennifer is a New York actor and comedian. She may by funny, but her friends think that her choice in clothing is even funnier. Jennifer's oversized men's cargo pants and army fatigues are crushing this talented actor … can this actor shed her layers and find her one true self? … at Trapeze School New York, Jennifer is unaware that some surprise spectators have moved in to witness her back flip.

[Once off the trapeze, Jennifer is met by a tall, dark-haired lady with clad in a crew-neck red-and-white printed tee, a navy structured jacket, and khaki pants and a tall, blonde man clad in a striped navy-and-cyan polo and grey pants. Jennifer looks very surprised.]

“I’m Stacey.”
“And I’m Clinton.”
“And we’re from TLC’s What Not to Wear.”

[A crowd of Jennifer’s friends and family cheers. Jennifer now looks really surprised.]

“Your lovely friend Anne called us and she's a little bit concerned about your Julliard-trained fashion sense.”

[The crowd of Jennifer’s friends cheers uncontrollably as Stacey and Clinton continue to verbally assail her choice in clothing. They then give her a better option.]

“I have some good news. I have a Bank of America Card with your name on it [crowd cheers] and $5000 for you to spend on a whole new wardrobe.”

[Jennifer inquires if she can use the money to pay her rent. Stacey and Clinton decline.]

“Actually there's a catch, you have to agree to shop by our rules, okay? And we get your entire current wardrobe. All the men's cargo pants, which I may just take for myself. Now you can get women's clothes.”

[For a split second, Jennifer contemplates the difficult decision of either staying home and mal-dressed or going on a $5000 shopping spree with two great stylists for a head-to-toe makeover. She chooses the sacrificing of her current wardrobe.]

“So here’s the deal. We would like you to go home, pack up all of your clothes to bring to our studio, and we are going to invite you and all of your friends to watch that lovely secret footage tomorrow.”

I. LOVE. THIS. SHOW. I actually considered nominating my mother for it—she knew this by the way. She wasn't amused. Although I label most all reality TV as utter and complete crap, I refuse to put What Not to Wear in that category! Why? Because I’m resigned to believe that it empowers women! The show encourages its contestants to feel comfortable in their own skin by showing that all women can look and feel great about themselves no matter what body type they may have. This thread runs through the fabric of the show and is emphasized when participants who really hate their bodies and the way they look on Monday are exclaiming “Wow, I never knew how good and confident I could look and feel until now” by Friday. However, anyone could argue that after a $5000 shopping spree with two stylists in NYC, Stacey London and Clinton Kelly, a new hairstyle by an A-list hairdresser, Nick Arrojo, and a new makeup wardrobe, compliments of Carmindy, they would teeming with self-esteem as well.

Consequently, on the surface the show also appears to suggest that change comes from the outside in, when in reality (no pun intended) change comes from the inside out. But, can we really say that clothing cannot incite internal change? For the lady who’s spent the last 10 years wearing black, putting on a vibrant color and wearing it in public may incite more change than weeks of personal introspection could do. Conquering that anxiety of wearing color in public may help her to pinpoint what is mentally crippling her from wearing something other than black, whether it be obsession with the notion that “black is slimming”, suggesting an issue with body image, or a paralyzing necessity to blend in or not stand out in a crowd, suggesting an issue with self-esteem.

I do admit that I also tune in for the cute outfits they pick out, upon which I feverishly take mental notes, but I ultimately resonate with
What Not to Wear because of positive influence it appears to have in the lives of its contestants. In general, everyone must step out of their respective comfort zones in order to grow, mature, and evolve as individuals. And for many contestants, this transition into a new wardrobe and confrontation of latent anxieties translate into the start of internal evolution, the traces of which we can begin to see on screen. Though I pine to whole-heartedly believe in the show’s genuine nature, sadly it is reality TV, and, therefore, there is a chance that the end-of-episode gratitude/massive-internal-change chatter I watch is completely staged. Of course to an extent, the act of filming the experience compromises its authenticity since it can be difficult to “pretend the camera’s not there”. Reality TV markets itself as if the storylines depicted in its shows are genuine and thus attempt to convince us as such. Though TLC’s What Not to Wear is no different, I cannot say that I don’t believe those women are walking away as externally upgraded and internally improved individuals.

Perhaps I’m right. Perhaps I’m gullible. Only the producers know.

Brianna Griffin :)


“I’ve reclaimed myself. I had to work much harder in my old look to get people to see me because they had to look past all of that outside shell. And now there’s a more positive, confident, polished, confident energy about me, and people are going to immediately feel that. I am excited for my future.”
- Jennifer

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