Heel Thyself

Saving Souls Through Fashion

All this voyeuristic probing is just an extended lead-in to the dramatic makeover moment, and it yields one of my favorite TV lines ever: "Coming up next: an emotional day at the spa." I've heard of yoga tapping into buried emotions, but a seaweed wrap? As we watch the salon staff rake these women over with hot stones and pore-cleaning facials, we're encouraged to equate these beauty treatments with therapy—as if a hot mud mask could yank out literal impurities and return you to a state of childish innocence. Where Trinnie and Susannah suggest that sprucing up your wardrobe can re-energize you, A Second Look implies that changes in appearance can percolate down to your soul, washing away even the most ingrained social and emotional problems. Not only can you judge a book by the cover, but the cover changes the book.

"The people you meet on this show will never think of themselves in the same way again," Westerman promises from the steps of the Jose Eber Salon in Beverly Hills. But when Westerman visits Samantha a few weeks later to present her new kitchen appliances and a job at a celebrity catering company, her look has already reverted to what it was before. This image of Samantha—puffy and sallow, with overbleached blond hair and a dumpy sweatsuit—suggests the limits of the makeover fantasy of personal redemption, which values up-by-your-own-bootstraps individualism over collective solutions. The message of makeovers is that anyone with sufficient determination can overcome both genetics and long social odds. These days, being pretty is a moral imperative—not to mention a life sentence. As two co-workers who'd just been turned into glam princesses on an episode of TLC's A Makeover Storyrecently commented, "You're gonna have to keep on my back about keeping up the look, and I'm going to have to stay on yours."

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