Long obsessed with having long nails, every so often I venture into whatever the latest development (acrylics have featured heavily) may be to instantly achieve said nails. It seems that my desire for polished fingernails lies deeper than nice cuticles, I seem to truly believe that with this part of my person transformed; some of my personality will drastically improve. I tend to think I will become smarter, better looking and generally more sophisticated as I go about my daily life. This is something you may be familiar with, as we have seen it all before, this small transformation can be likened to ‘The Makeover’ that we are so familiar with seeing in the popular culture sphere.
In her paper, Before and After: The Makeover in Film and Culture, Angela Clair Dancey, seeks to discover why it is that viewers get pleasure from the makeover. It seems that it as if these scenes reiterate to us that by changing our appearance we are transforming something else within ourselves, or as Dancey says, ‘The makeover narrative establishes a direct connection between changing one’s appearance and the accomplishment of other life goals, such as social ascension, a successful career, or snagging the male love interest.’
This idea is ingrained in our cultural psyche, even knowing that women are more than their physical appearance, I continue to feel a sick thrill of triumph whenever a woman’s (in film or otherwise) emergence from a cocoon is heralded by a physical transformation. We can see that it has been reiterated to us from the beginning of our engagement with text. Picture any one of the Disney Princess’ and there will always be a before and after, the after it should be noted, usually includes a new outfit, a Prince and enough symbols of wealth that we assume she will never have to work another day in her life. Fast-forward to films aimed at young adults and even across generations The Makeover has been a mainstay. Films such as My Fair Lady, Clueless, Mean Girls, Princess Diaries, Grease, The Breakfast Club and Strictly Ballroom all feature a transformation of sorts; usually from a virginal, softly spoken outcast to a mature and ominous darker clothed counterpart.
And those who assist in making these makeovers occur? Parallels can be drawn between Fairy Godmothers, meddling teenagers and sophisticated mentors we see in texts to the women (and men) in our lives. Those who huddle around changing rooms, send links of clothes that suit us and spend hours debating over whether we should cut our hair. Taking this into account, it could be said that each of us goes through a renaissance, that there is an evolution that occurs and we shed our old layers to present a more refined version of self. However, it is the surrounding pressure which seems to cause these transformations to occur which is the concern, not to mention the focus on the physical as well as the expectation which everything will be different, and at such a rapid pace no less.
Next time I go see a movie and a I witness a character go through some kind of development, I would love to see our protagonist walk out holding a flag that says, ‘I’ve f*cking changed’ and a look in her eyes which shows she means it, new hairstyle or not. And for once, I won’t have my fingers in a bowl of acetone, soaking acrylics off.
Picture from here