As a teen I loved makeover movies. My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Pretty Woman, Never Been Kissed, She’s All That or the more recent Netflix TV sitcom Insatiable. There are so many to choose from. I loved how these romantic comedies would build up to the big reveal. The previously mousy, or trashy or whatever main character would emerge as a newer, sexier, more successful version of herself. Of course, she then gets the guy, her life changes and everything ends happily ever after. I loved the predictable comforting formula of these movies. I also loved the actual transformation. The big reveal was fun, even a little exciting.
As an adult I tried re-watching a few of these romantic comedies but it was hard to not be critical of these films. I found myself getting frustrated. I’d think, why are all the plots are all so similar and predictable? What’s wrong with these movies? Why are they all the same? It also made me think about the role these movies had in shaping my own adolescent body image. I definitely struggled as a teen with feeling awkward and not pretty. I certainly don’t blame movies for my poor body image as a teen (nothing is that simple) but I do think these movies can reinforce some pretty cliché ideas. After some thought, here’s my break down of what I think is wrong with makeover movies;
- They reinforce the idea that changing how you look will change your life
This is such a hard idea to challenge. We are constantly taught through media, marketing and movies that if we lose weight, buy new clothes, etc. our lives will change. Well, your life may change if you go into credit card debt to try to finance a new look but there is no, absolutely nada evidence that focusing on how you look will change your life for the better. In fact, several studies on happiness have shown that the more we focus on how we look the less happy we are. Furthermore, people with poor body image tend to over-evaluate the importance of appearance. They tend to think that good looks are responsible for good things happening in their life or may feel that others treat them badly because they aren’t attractive enough. Yet this just doesn’t stack up to reality. The truth is that how we look doesn’t have a big impact on our career advancement, relationships or overall happiness. What does impact us is our self-confidence.
- They tell women that your appearance is the most important part of your life
These movies typically show a woman getting a makeover then getting the attention of her crush, a fab new job or apartment or whatever. The message here is clear, “get your looks together and you’ll get your life together!” Of course, the message is also, “If you don’t look hot you won’t have a partner/great job/apartment” or whatever. Reality of course is a different story. Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with wanting to look your best. I get it. I like going to the salon as much as any other woman. But I think we can all agree that our success in our careers and financial stability has very little to do with our hair color or how sexy our clothes are. So many of us are trained to think that by investing in our looks we’re investing in our success. Of course, it’s important to take care of ourselves and look professional but with the average American woman spending an estimated $12,500/year on “beauty” I wonder if we might be better off investing some of that cash in our education or other goals?
- They portray characters as one dimensional
These comedies tend to show characters (especially women) as one note. There’s often the “geeky” friend, the “dumb” girl, the “sexy” woman, etc. These types of characters reinforce that how a woman looks v. her personality is the most important aspect of her personhood. Writing characters that are so cliché and one-note forces us to focus on how the actors look v. what they are saying or doing. This only reinforces false beliefs that people are responding to how we look v. who we are.
I would love to hear your thoughts. Are you a fan of makeover movies? Why or why not? I’d also love to know if these makeover/Cinderella type movies have impacted you or your body image?