I do love a makeover programme. I try to switch them off, but despite my best intentions, I get sucked in, waiting expectantly for the swan to emerge from her chrysalis. (Ah, the beauty of the mixed metaphor. My English teacher would have a fit – but it’s the kind of illicit thrill only a vicar’s wife could enjoy. Next best thing to being a Love Rat, one imagines).
Of course, the swan isn’t always a duckling to begin with. She’s normally pretty stunning but cunningly disguised behind a pair of glasses or a lamp-post. Gok Wan’s the biggest offender here. Aside from grabbing women’s breasts and calling them ‘baps’, he also picks yummy women with hour-glass figures and works transformation with the addition of – wait for it – a belt. Then there’s Trinny and Susannah, who brow-beat their victims into sartorial submission. What’s that Peggy? Your husband’s gone off with your sister, your dog’s died and you’ve got a crack habit? What you need is a nice floral scarf and some Spanx. Problem solved.
Many of these programmes act as telegodmothers, offering to transform not just their subjects, but viewer’s wardrobes and, by implication, lives. In some ways though, I’m left feeling a lot more confused – and dissatisfied at the close, than I was at the outset. What exactly is a ‘capsule wardrobe’, for example? Why haven’t I got one? Am I a pear or a kumquat? What are my colours? And how on earth have I managed to negotiate life thus far without a Boden account? Then there’s the more extreme versions, where a lucky recipient gets not just a fashion upgrade, but surgically remade. Despite the fact that they’re still smoking forty a day, sleeping in a sunbed and living on Ryvita and cottage cheese, these cosmetic changes purport to offer the gateway to health and happiness. After all, if you look good better on the outside, then what reason could you possibly have to feel unhappy?