How to Look Good Naked

How to Look Good Naked (United Kingdom, Channel 4, 2006; United States,  Lifetime, 2008) is a reality program first begun in Britain, where  it was hosted by Gok Wan, and then modified in the United States, where it is hosted by Carson Kresley (the fashion stylist from  Queer Eye for the Straight Guy). In both versions of the program, the  hosts encourage women who  are  insecure about their  bodies  to undergo a perception revolution where  a woman’s eyes can be reeducated to appreciate her actual  size. This  modified form of seeing,  the show  argues, will allow a woman to lay claim to greater  self-confidence and consequent beauty.

Both  Wok  and  Kresley lead  women through various  perception modification exercises  that  include asking  a female subject to strip down  to her underwear and slowly  categorize her  perceived body  flaws. Quite often,  women will comment on how much they hate  the size of their  hips  or thighs. In the American version, Kresley then leads the female subject to a lineup of women, all with the same flaw that  the subject perceives  in herself.  He then asks the makeover subject to insert herself into the continuum of women. She invariably misidentifies herself, believing she is worse  than she is by putting herself  at the  bad or large extreme of the continuum rather than at the  good  or thin  end.  In another exercise,  subjects are asked to look at three female figures walking down the street, their faces obscured. One  woman is dressed casually,  another sophisticated, the  third  messy.  In each case,  the  makeover subject selects  the  woman in more  expensive, sophisticated clothing as being  thinnest and  most  attractive. Kresley reveals  at the  end  of this exercise that each of the women being examined was actually one woman dressed three  different ways, all to underscore that  clothes help  to shape  perception.

Given  the  importance of clothing for such  altered  perceptions, it is somewhat ironic  that  the  show  bills itself as How to Look Good Naked. Both  the  British  and American version  of the  show  make  good  on  the  claim  of looking good  naked by ending each  makeover episode with  a photo shoot in which  the  formerly  insecure makeover subjects now  flaunts  her  curvy  body  while  nude. How to Look Good Naked has  been  hailed  by television critics  as well as by Oprah Winfrey  as a positive  antimakeover show,  since  it does  not  feature plastic  surgery  or weight loss and seems to advocate that  women embrace themselves at whatever size they may be. Popular appeal has been strong, and How to Look Good Naked’s premiere on Lifetime  had the network’s largest  ratings  event in its 24-year history.

The show’s perception alteration exercises, however, work to reinforce a notion that  big is bad, so women on this show  learn  that  they aren’t  as large as they believed, but  bad, fat, ugly, and unkempt are still shameful categories to be avoided. How to Look Good Naked’s  premise suggests that  women (and,  indeed, it targets only women) are essentially skewed  in their  perceptive abilities,  and  they cannot find happiness in an image-obsessed world until  their  pathologized way of seeing is reeducated by the respective male host.

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