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More grim reality: TLC's "What Not to Wear"

2003-01-19 - 12:58 p.m.


There's a new, cruel show coming your way this spring--one that, in its "sneak preview" last night, made me fear for all the fashioned-challenged citizens of this country.

It�s yet another �reality� show, although TLC has a great euphemism for the genre: �Life Unscripted." Its awkward and deceptive title, �What Not to Wear,� makes it sound like it might be a sweet and simple show about legwarmers and Hypercolor sweatshirts. Right?


As the show starts, a 24-year-old NYC working gal named Morna is ambushed in a restaurant by Wayne and Stacy, fashion designers for the famous, who tell her (in front of friends and co-workers) that, frankly, she looks like shit--and they�re going to do something about it.

First of all, this public, ambush-style unveiling of the plan seemed particularly cruel: couldn�t they have just sent her a letter? But alas, that wouldn�t fare well in the ratings against other �reality� shows like "Joe Millionaire," then, would it.

And what�s even worse, Morna didn�t ask for this makeover herself--she was �nominated� for the honor by her so-called friends. NOTE TO FRIENDS OF TORNADO ALI: SHE WILL NOT LIKE YOU ANYMORE IF YOU GIVE HER NAME TO TLC.

Anyway. Most disturbingly, Morna, despite her penchant for Birkenstocks, �hoodies,� and other college-kid favorites, was not as unsightly as they made her out to be--in reality and, more importantly, in her own mind. The designers spied on her for two weeks-- videotaping her at home, at work, and hanging out with friends--all the while gasping and guffawing at her choice of clothing. At one point, designer Wayne--who, it shall be noted, has 1980�s Sebastian Bach hair and camouflage pants, for fuck�s sake--looks at Morna on videotape and says, �Oh my God, was she in a sorority in college? I�ll bet it was Sigma Sigma PIG-ma!!�

Turns out these fashion designers have about as much tact and sensitivity as a couple of doorstops. As you�ll see here, they take pride in making people puke. Ten minutes into the show, I found myself thinking those �Trading Spaces� designers are just the sweetest things you ever laid your eyes on. Wayne and Stacy have interesting resumes, too: the host tells us that they have designed everyone from Janet Jackson to .... Bryan Adams. Not Ryan, mind you, Bryan. Bryan Adams of jean jacket and work boots fame. Tell me again how this gives them right to make fun of other peoples' clothes?

The designers wreak havoc on poor Morna�s life. Sure, they give her $5,000 to buy a new wardrobe, but the catch is that she has to pitch everything she owns. And when she shops, she has to adhere to their rules. They watch her on a closed-circuit camera and end up ambushing her in a store to stop her from buying something they don�t like.

I really felt for Morna. In fact, I am Morna. I�m close to her age. I have a job kind of like hers. I�ve had a hard time getting rid of my college-kid clothes. I�ve got that Irish kind of name and complexion. And, I noticed with excitement, I even have the same poster of a cartoon Sevilla on my wall! But most of all, like Morna, clothes just don�t mean that much to me-- or maybe, like she said, I just don�t think they should define a person�s life and personality.

Whenever Morna tries to stand up for herself against the rude designers--telling them she feels perfectly comfortable in what she wears, that she does a great job at work and that�s all that should matter--they bowl her over with snotty comments. I�ve never seen �American Idol,� but I can safely say these designers are SO Simon.

Morna, of course, does end up with some pretty cute clothes out of the deal. And a nice haircut and some good, keep-it-simple makeup tips. But at the end of the show, instead of gushing �Oh God, thank you for making me over, I feel like my life has just begun!,� she�s honest about how parts of the process bugged her.

When the host smugly goads, �So, what part made you feel best?,� Morna starts to say she felt good about expressing her real opinions to the �diary-cam� and standing up to the designers--but the host lady cuts her off with something like, �Oh girl, you picked out the best accessories! Now don�t you feel better??�

In case you hadn�t guessed where this is going, the moral of the story is that when it comes to your appearance, your own feelings simply don�t count. In fact, these designers and this show--and apparently, this culture, considering our obsession with shows like this and �American Idol� and �A Makeover Story�--are saying �Fuck how you feel about yourself.� Appearances are everything--or at least other peoples� opinions of them. If you like the way you are, but you happen to be wearing Birkenstocks, then by God, it�s about time someone turned you in.



Have you ever noticed how easy it is to become a hypochondriac in this society? I got a fever yesterday and my face was red, and instantly I thought I had Toxic Shock Syndrome. Check out this week's Time magazine: if you have a personality, there's a disorder written up in there to match it.

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