I have a confession to make: I LOVE watching What Not to Wear. The Trinny & Susannah shows, of course. I hear there’s a US version. I hear there’s a new UK version. Not those. I love Trinny and Susannah.
When I watch the program, I sometimes question myself — how does this fit with my feminist beliefs? With my core values regarding women, how women are perceived in our culture? The pressures on women? Women’s body image? Sense of self worth?
The answer is that sometimes I feel great about it, and sometimes I feel wrong. And of course when I feel wrong about stuff it tends to piss me off. I kind of like to shout at the TV screen as if Trinny will hear me, and say, “Oh yeah, you have a point”.
I watched a chapter of Trinny & Susannah Take On Israel last night. I did a bit of shouting. I also got a bit teary-eyed. And what’s the point of having a blog if I can’t write about it?
Here’s What T&S Get Right
- They believe women are beautiful. Women of all shapes and sizes. Of all ages. Of all races.
- They do a good job of drilling down into what is upsetting women about their bodies, about the image they project, and tackling that.
- They are very body-positive. They are not shy about discussing and showing their own bodies (and avoiding it being in an overly sexualized, prurient way). And they encourage (force?) the women they work with to really look at their own bodies. Generally women who are avoiding doing just that, which is a symptom of self-loathing, or at least a lack of self-acceptance.
- They don’t promote SKINNY. More about playing the beauty game further down, but they aren’t part of the mythological-beauty-promoting industry. IMO. They celebrate the female form. They love curves — breasts, bums, legs… And they also love women with fewer curves. I love that.
- They are honest about the female form including its “flaws”. Honest is good — women change when they age, when they have children, when they go through menopause… now it just depends what you do with that honesty.
- They are outspoken women with a point of view. They believe in something, and they make it happen. They are not in anyone’s shadow. Go T&S!
Here’s What T&S Get Wrong
- Notwithstanding what I wrote above, T&S *do* engage in playing the beauty game. I disagree with criticisms that have been made of them that they make women feel bad unless they fit the beauty concept prevalent in western culture. But I do think they promote that concept of beauty — with their own celebratory contributions I described above — without ever really questioning it.
- Leading to the fact that I often think T&S are overly rigid in their viewpoints, probably to the detriment of some of the women they are trying to help, and certainly upsetting me from a feminist perspective. To wit:
- Not allowing for different gender identities and perspectives.Two examples just from the recent Israeli series:
- The first was when they made-over a lesbian couple. The femme member of that pair — no problem. But her butch partner… Major problem. Even though they said some of the right things about her maintaining her identity, they pretty much forced her into makeup she will never wear again, and into sparkly fabrics she didn’t want, albeit a sparkly vest. I didn’t feel this was a shining moment for them.
- The second was the makeover of a self-professed feminist. She did express a desire for her clothes to express more of her femininity, but she was very adamant that she didn’t want it to spill over into anything objectifying or sexualized. The dress+leggings they picked were probably okay (though overly dressy, see next item down). But Trinny would NOT let up until the woman agreed to wear very high heels. Not respectful of a desire to align beauty with comfort — from a principled perspective as well as a practical lifestyle perspective.
- Not allowing for cultural differences.T&S come brimming with well-defined ideas of how women should dress. The fact that they have a POV is laudable. But if they dress an Arab woman in Jerusalem as if she were an Anglo in London, well — I’m not sure how respectful, or effective, that is. I get wanting to bring on the changes they are promoting. But when they dressed a religious girl who didn’t want to wear trousers or a short skirt, the pressure came on again. They are a force to be reckoned with, and I’m not sure they are doing anyone a service by forcing the issue in these cases.
One major comment T&S came away from Israel with is that Israeli women should dress up more, and wear more color. I hear them. I feel them. I really do. But failing to understand that a shiny dress would probably only be worn at a wedding in this country, and even then — not at EVERY type of wedding — is not serving the woman they are dressing. If they really want to make an impact, they should find clothing that is still within the gamut a woman would be comfortable with given the social environment, and that also meets their exacting standards. It CAN be done.
- Are they overly touchy-feely? Mixed feelings about this one. I find Susannah’s admiration of the female form to be sincere, and her enthusiasm infectious. I’m just not sure every one of those women really wants her breasts grabbed. I’m wondering if participants sign a breast-grabbing release form before the show is filmed, to avoid sexual assault claims.
And then, I have learned a lot from them about WHAT NOT TO WEAR. I am always extremely appreciative of those I can learn from.