Extreme Makeover

Extreme Makeover (ABC, 2002–7)  was a reality TV makeover program, where  subjects  who  considered themselves to be ugly submitted a videotape that  detailed their facial and bodily flaws in hopes of being flown to Hollywood for an extensive makeover. Because  Extreme Makeover capitalized on rewarding those  people  whose stories  of suffering and  hardship were the  bleakest, it has  often  been  compared to Queen for a Day, a radio  and TV program that  began  in the 1950s  and  featured ordinary housewives who  had  experienced financial  hardships telling  their  sad stories  in exchange for gifts and prizes.

The extreme of Extreme Makeover came from the fact that both male and female subjects received  upward of 10 different plastic  surgery  procedures (including tummy tucks, breast  enhancements, chin implants, facial recontouring, rhinoplasties, brow lifts, and  face lifts), cosmetic dentistry, physical  training, and  hair  and  wardrobe restyling. All of these  costly interventions were given to participants for free. During the course of their extreme makeovers, subjects experienced their transformations  in isolation periods of roughly six to eight  weeks, each  episode ending with an elaborate reveal ceremony that  reunited the makeover recipient with his or her always enthusiastic family and  friends. Reveal moments were often  staged  as red-carpet  events,  and subjects frequently spoke  of feeling like a celebrity.

Though all participants underwent major  surgical  procedures, screen time  devoted  to  healing  was  relatively  nonexistent. As a consequence, Extreme Makeover generated considerable attention, drawing criticism for its often gratuitous depiction of plastic  surgery  as virtually a pain-free, cost-free, and  consequence-free aesthetic choice, here represented as a necessary form of wellness surgery. Recipients, roughly 75 percent of whom  were women, spoke with gratitude about their makeovers, suggesting  that  they were now worthy  of both love and heterosexual romance in ways that  their  former  appearance (and consequent low self-esteem) had blocked.

The show on occasion also drew praise for the manner in which it allowed subjects  to proactively claim  conventional articulations of beauty  and  thus  to capitalize on  the  cultural currency attaching to beautiful faces and  bodies. Subjects on the show  very often  spoke  of their  transformations as the best thing  they had ever experienced, a dream  come  true,  or the release  of a real self. Although these experiences have clearly been  edited  by the show’s producers for dramatic effect, the feelings  of joy and relief seemed to resonate with a wider viewing audience.

Extreme Makeover initially aired to high ratings  and gave rise to two spin-off programs: Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Extreme Makeover: Wedding Edition, both on  ABC. Extreme Makeover also  led  the  crest  of other reality  TV  plastic  surgery makeover programs, including The Swan (Fox), I Want a Famous Face (MTV), Brand New You (BBC), Dr. 90210  (E!), and  Miami Slice (Bravo). It continues to air in the United States  on  the  Style Network as well as on  cable  outlets across  the  world in such  countries as Australia, Spain,  Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Mexico,  Norway, and the Philippines.

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