“I’m a sucker for makeovers”: Identity and Makeovers


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In the first season of Glee, Rachel Berry is a mousy sophomore with a big voice and an even bigger penchant for cardigans and knee socks (“sexy school girl librarian chic,” if you will). Despite her enormous talent, she consistently remains at the bottom of the high school hierarchy. In the episode “Hairography,” Kurt gives Rachel a sabotaged makeover. Kurt tells her that the boy she is trying to impress, Finn, is into the sexy look, so she allows Kurt to sex up her look. The next day she goes to school wearing a corset and receives attention from every guy in school. Rachel quickly reverts to her schoolgirl style because she realizes she doesn’t want attention if it’s not from Finn.

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Her second makeover takes place in the fourth season, after she has moved to New York to attended NYADA. Although Rachel is now a New Yorker, her look still says Lima, so once again Kurt comes to the rescue and outfits Rachel in couture gowns and diamonds, courtesy of the vogue.com closet (with the editor in chief’s blessing of course). Not only does this makeover commemorate Rachel’s life long dream of moving to New York, it also acknowledges her personal acceptance of being a diva. In Lima, Rachel certainly had her diva moments, but she’s realizing in New York, diva is a way of life. Makeovers not only empower us, but also give us a chance to reveal and showcase our true identity.

There are two types of makeovers: those depicted in film and television, and those in reality television shows. However, the motive for both is the makeover recipient’s (what I call the makeoveree) struggle with his/her identity.

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For reality show makeovers, it’s not uncommon for the makeover to be against the makeoveree’s will. During the initial confrontation (when the makeoveree is still in denial), close friends and family express concern for the makeoveree for a variety of reasons: the makeoveree letting herself go after becoming a parent, poor body image/low self esteem thus seeking comfort in food, resulting in lower self esteem, not wanting to let go of the past, even though most middle aged adults do not actually wear their clothes from college (even if they want to show that they still fit), etc. Sweetman writes that every article of clothing, piercing and tattoo contribute to your overall identity; “As corporeal expressions of the self, tattoos and piercings might thus be seen as instances of contemporary body projects: as attempts to construct and maintain a coherent and viable sense of self-identity through attention to the body, and, more particularly, the body’s surface” (Sweetman, 293).

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Bodily modification can be viewed as an “act of ‘self-creation'” (Sweetman, 306). Unlike Rachel, clothing isn’t enough for some people to express their true self, such as contestants on reality competition shows like The Swan or The Biggest Loser. Through bodily transgressive practices like tattoos, piercings, implants and surgeries, anyone can take the body he/she was gives, and modify it to the body she wants. The motives range from personal reasons to making a statement. Some girls get a tattoo to commemorate their 18th birthday and newly found adulthood, others get a nose job; “Tattoos [act] as permanent reminders of particular periods or events” (Sweetman, 307).

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Many contestants on The Biggest Loser give reasons for wanting to lose weight like wanting to watch their newly born (or future) child grow up in addition to the health benefits. Changing your appearance is a way to start over and gain confidence; “A new item may affect mood by reinforcing an individual’s feeling of uniqueness and providing a break from the sameness of appearance that an individual had been presenting for a period of time” (Roach and Eicher, 110).


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For fictional characters, the motive for a makeover is usually to gain something, whether that is the attention from a certain someone or respect from peers. The classic good girl gone bad example is Sandy from the movie musical Grease. In the beginning of the movie, Sandy is the quintessential girl next door. As Rizzo sings in “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,”

I don’t drink

Or swear

I don’t rat my hair

I get ill from one cigarette

As the movie progresses, Sandy learns the hard way her good girl ways aren’t exactly the norm for Rydell High and they are certainly not what her love interest Danny is used to. In the final scene we see Sandy has traded her poodle skirts and saddle shoes for a black leather jacket, skintight leather pants and stilettos. Sandy was once Danny Zukos biggest secret, now he proudly proclaims, “You’re the One that I Want” at the carnival in front of all of his friends. Sandy’s desire to get the guy was greater than preserving her good girl image. She even smokes a cigarette (though with much coaching from Frenchie and Marty) to fully convince Danny of her changed persona and new identity.

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A more contemporary example of good girl gone bad is Cady from the film Mean Girls. When Cady first arrives at her new high school, she’s a “home schooled jungle freak.” Cady’s transformation from mathlete to “less hot version of [Regina]” is initially an undercover mission to infiltrate and destroy the Plastics. Ultimately it consumes her and soon enough, Cady is as plastic as it gets—solidifying her position as the new Queen Bee. Cady’s main motive for her dramatic transformation was simply to fit in at a new school. She was able to make friends (and enemies) along the way but more importantly, she was accepted by her peers—both the mathletes and the disbanded Plastics and possibly even Glen Coco.

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Lastly, we have Andy, the smart but slightly lumpy aspiring journalist who finds herself as the junior personal assistant to the most influential woman in the fashion industry—Miranda Priestly. At first Andy is adamant about distinguishing herself through her smarts and not her looks, but soon discovers that to be in fashion, you have to be in fashion. With the help of Nigel, the art director, she retires the cerulean sweater in favor of Chanel over the knee boots and other designer goods. Like Cady, Andy’s makeover was to impress her peers and fit in at a new job.

Clothes aren’t merely objects we put on our backs to protect ourselves from the elements but rather instruments in telling a story; “clothes are congealed memories of the daily life of times past” (Wilson, 1). Part of Andy’s makeover is transforming the way she thinks about and appreciates clothes. To Andy the cerulean sweater is just another sweater. But to Miranda the sweater represents “billions of dollars and countless jobs.” By putting more thought into her clothing, she is given access to many more opportunities because of her looks, but Andy also puts more thought into her demeanor and allows herself to take more risks. She quits her job after working there less than a year and still gets a fantastic recommendation from Miranda.

As discussed in tonight’s class, women (and some men) will go to great lengths to alter their appearance ranging from a simple haircut to reconstructive surgery. The promise of a life changing makeover is enough for many women to go to great lengths like juice fasts and apply expensive creams just so they can transform into a swan.

Works Cited

Roach, Mary Ellen and Joanne Bubolz Eicher. “The Language of Personal Adornment.” Fashion Theory: A Reader. London: Routledge, 2007. 109-121. Print.

Sweetman, Paul. “Anchoring the (Postmodern) Self? Body Modification, Fashion and Identity.” Fashion Theory: A Reader. London: Routledge, 2007. 292-314. Print.

Wilson, Elizabeth. “Introduction.” Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity. Berkeley: University of California, 1987. 3-15. Print.

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