Saturday, June 7, 2008

What Not To Watch, Er, I Mean, Wear

There are few things I hate, and even fewer that I hate with a passion.

Having said, that, I utterly hate the TV show "What Not To Wear". (For those not in the know, the show is about when "friends" and family volunteer or, perhaps better said, subject, the supposedly poor-dressed victim to a fashion analysis, recommendations, a makeover, and a $5,000 budget for new clothes, on the condition that everything in the old closet has to go).

My mother loves it with a passion. Every Friday night, I struggle for all of 30 seconds to stay for her sake, for that coveted mother-daughter bond. But I just can't. I have to literally, physically, haul my body from the room.

Why do I hate it so?

Maybe it's because fashion isn't exactly objective. What constitutes "fashionable" is largely based in the hands of those with the power to tell you that you look ridiculous or great. Fashion definitely isn't static- you're bound to get laughed at if you wear today something considered fashionable twenty years ago (or, in some social circles, just a month ago). And what's more, fashion is personal. Clothing is not just something you put on to hide, or more likely today, to give tantalizing teases of, your nakedness. Everything that somebody puts on is a choice and those choices include quite a bit more than just "I like this." or "This looks good.". In light of fashion's deeply personal nature, its subjectivity, and its ephemeralness, how can the show rightly counsel others?

Or maybe it's not even that which bugs me so. Maybe it's the show's very attitude. Instead of presenting itself as a helpful "Hey, maybe that's not so flattering for you, what about this?" type of show, one solving the true, un-arguable fashion faux pas of the world (socks with sandals, big, beautiful girls who hide their pretty and voluptuous shapes with jeans that give them the horror only known as "muffin top", etc.), they prey on their female victims like hungry vultures. Once they've finished picking the bones clean, they've finally arrived at their goal: a woman identical to a store mannequin- not only in dress, but in cardboard personality, too. And all with the biting, acidic sarcasm that is sure to turn a happy, bubbly, confident-in-her-own-clothes girl into a scared and beaten-down shell of herself, feeling so pathetic that she'll clamp onto any advice they give her. Hey, whatever gets you ratings, right?

These women do not come on the show voluntarily. They are not the ones who have issues with their clothing. But like most "fix it" solutions, the answer is not to treat the people who have the actual issues (those "friends" and family members who suggest the show's weekly stars)- it's to make the non-conformists fit in, lest we all have to deal with our own discomfort. I wouldn't have a single problem with the show if the gals came there saying "Hey, I know that I don't really have a good eye for fashion, and I think you do, could you give me a makeover and give me some pointers?". I probably still wouldn't find it very entertaining nighttime lineup television, but at least I wouldn't have so many hangups about it.

Everytime I hear the intro to the show, I am delighted by the "befores"- girls who relish their clothing and style choices, whether it's that one low-cut top that makes her feel sexy and confident but others tell her is too slutty, or that ratty old sweater she's had for decades that feels and smells like home and comfort, or the kind of baggy stuff she wears because it's comfortable and it hides the parts of her body she'd rather not put on display, or that one really weird print dress covered with monkeys that she keeps because it's fun and kooky and she likes how freewheeling she feels in it. It's not to say that I agree that these things are fashionable . . . oftentimes, they're utterly ridiculous or they just look plain bad. But they make these girls feel happy.

Or perhaps another pet peeve is the emphasis on femininity. As far as the show's hosts are considered, it is the goal of every woman to be the epitome of Woman, with a capital W. Time and time again, on maybe every other show, is the claim that so-and-so has lost (or more like, never had) her femininity. Without getting into a giant argument of what constitutes "femininity" (does it have to be a skirt and a floral print top?), I'm tired of women being told that if they don't emphasize their T&A that they're somehow hiding their "feminine assets". Pity the tomboy who gets plucked to be on the show- she doesn't have a chance. Any resistance is futile, because everything is countered with a rash of psychobabble analysis.

If you express discomfort in wearing snug, fitted clothes that hug your curves, you hate your body (and are forced to go through a self-love, look-at-yourself-in-the-mirror therapy session). If you don't want to give up your more revealing and snug outfits, you're a trailer trash slut. If you'd rather cover up those "feminine assets" or wear tomboyish or outright masculine clothing, you "aren't in touch with your sexy self". Disagree with the chosen outfits they've selected for you to try on? You must still be brainwashed into your old, incorrect style. And by God, if you think you ought be wearing clothing that pleases you, instead of pleasing others, well, you really are just beyond anybody's help, at that point.

I swear, I'm not anti-fashion. Heck, back in the day, I used to own a whole, stuffed-tight box full of those "girlie" magazines- Seventeen, Cosmo, you name it, and I remember pouring over them obsessively. Even though I was hardly a feminine girl and had about as much fashion sense as a rock (my daily junior high uniform: one of many identical neon-bright V-neck tank tops, a pair of denim shorts, and flat sandals), I loved flipping through the lovely pictures and reading up on this and that and oh, how lovely wouldn't it be if you paired them together? I still have that little fashionista inside of me. She (or is my inner fashion lover a totally queeny and well-dressed he?) doesn't dictate what I wear or buy, but she comes out to appreciate others' ensembles and she watches "Project Runway" religiously.

I guess I just come from a line of folks who had different ideas. Both of my grandmothers were admirable lasses- the one who adamantly hated bras and was apt not to wear them, and the other, who sewed up her own hats- outrageously loud and colorful printed material bunched into wacky shapes that almost never looked even halfway decent- and then wore them in public. I remember them fondly. There are more stories to the pictures of them than of my own mother, who will get a deserved nod and a "She always was a nice dresser." before moving on to frankly more interesting topics.Am I crazy because I don't want to pay $20 for a shirt that has somebody else's name on it- because I effectively don't want to become a walking advertisement without getting paid for it? Am I crazy because I'd rather spend an hour in a bookstore instead of at "Forever 21"? Am I fashion-unconscious because I choose function over form or because the things that I find beautiful might get described by others as "too much"? Does it make me certifiably mental to believe that there just might be more than one style or fashion that people can identify by?

I even wrote this story just to get rid of some of my frustrations over these types of shows.

All I can say is that if anybody- and I do mean anybody- tried to get me on this show, there'd be only one response: I'd look right in the camera, extend that arm and then that middle finger, and reply with a big grin: "Fuck you." And yes, I've warned everyone I know, and I'm warning you all now, too.

So go ahead, cringe when I walk by. I don't mind it, honestly, because I like whatever it is I choose to wear. Go ahead and give me some of your fashion advice. I might give you some advice, too- like to mind your own business.

1 comment:

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