I’ve often wondered how the lives of people who have appeared on TV personal style makeover programmes have changed. After the smiles from the reveals had faded, were they more confident and happier as the result of their new outfits?
As I wrote in this post, an improvement in my self-confidence helped me find my own sense of personal style. It’s crucial to emphasise that it came in that order. Compliments helped spur me on, but I wouldn’t have experimented with the new outfits in the first place without having first felt more confident with myself, and happier with who I am.
As much as I like my pretty dresses and their colour adds some cheer to my day, they are not my armour. For example, I’ll walk the 20 minute journey to the gym in my unflattering running leggings, bare-faced and with my hair scraped back (fear not, I do not go out topless: a sports bra and top complete the look).
With or without pretty dresses, make-up and hair done nicely, I am still me. I was still me before I had my confidence epiphany, but lacked the guts to express it.
That’s why I wonder about the long-term success of the TV style enhancement shows that were all the rage a decade or so ago. Programmes like Extreme Makeover, What Not to Wear and How to Look Good Naked sought to refine and improve mainly women’s (with some men too) personal appearance, usually with the aim of making the participants more confident which would in turn lead to achieving their life goals and infinite happiness.
The shows would do this by coaching the participants accept and dress for their body shape, help them choose a new wardrobe, get a new hairdo and make-up. Extreme Makeover would usually add plastic surgery and a fitness boot camp to help them lose weight or tone up in to the mix.
Some of the participants had lost their mojo after years of putting others (often their children) first. They wanted to look and feel better, but didn’t know where to start and were worried about looking like mutton dressed as lamb. Others had had a hard-knock life and needed something good to happen to them, to show them it was ok to value themselves. For these people, it could have been the start of a journey to improved confidence and self-esteem that was aided by a new wardrobe and renewed sense of self, but didn’t necessarily have to centre on personal appearance.
Others’ confidence and self-esteem was at such a low ebb the process seemed like a traumatic ordeal, often resulting in tears in the changing room. While they always looked great in the reveal and there were smiles all round, I couldn’t help thinking that it needed much more than new outfits to solve their issues.
Many of us know the boost a new item of clothing, hair cut or lipstick can give, but they don’t solve our problems.
It saddened me when such people had been nominated for these programmes by their family or friends – and sometimes their spouse or partner. I am sure the nominations were made with the best of intentions – they wanted their loved one to make the best of themselves, and to be happy.
I wondered why they thought that happiness could be sought through a TV show makeover, and why they couldn’t just tell the person how much they loved them whatever they looked like, and how important they were to them. That’s where real self-worth comes from. Maybe they had done that, but to no avail and thought that telly holds magic powers.
There may be some people whose confidence does depend on having the right outfit/pretty hair/make-up, or improves as a result of having a nose job or their boobs done. If it makes them happy, that’s great.
But self-confidence should not always be equated with personal appearance, and personal appearance should never be used to measure someone’s value as a person, or their worth to us.
Boob and nose jobs, new hair dos and new outfits do not have magic powers and cannot, by themselves, transform people’s lives.
Confidence comes from within: it evolves over time. Genuine, enduring confidence is best gained by valuing ourselves – and valuing others for who they are, rather than what they look like.
Helping people accept their body shape if they were unhappy about it is fantastic, especially in a culture that all too often demands women (and men too) conform to a (impossible, for most) physical ideal.
I hope those who were looking for their lives to be transformed by a new wardrobe and/or plastic surgery found the happiness they sought. However, our self-image is tangled up with how our brains our wired. So, while an improved appearance may be a good start on the path to increased confidence and happiness, the transformation is unfortunately not always that simple.