The Makeover Mentality

You know I love my Dior shadows and lip gloss. You know I love my fabulous footwear. And if someone offered me a fancy trim for my neglected locks and an afternoon with a professional stylist – gratis? Like most women, I would likely say yes.

But what’s up with the makeover mentality? Why do we always feel a need to do something to our appearance – as if we’re never quite good enough?

What has my feathers ruffled is a seemingly innocuous article on making over inspirational women. They all seem happy with the process, so why should I care?

Here’s my concern. We never feel spiffy enough, updated enough, attractive enough. Why can’t we consider inspirational women laudable, and focus on that?

Doesn’t the jump from courage to beauty tips seem a far stretch? Am I the only one who finds this odd?

Perk Me Up or Make Me Over?

Look. I get it. Really. There are times in our lives as women when we feel like crap. We struggle through terrible pregnancies, or illnesses, or tragic events. We come out the other side stronger but worse for wear. Our bodies and self-esteem take a beating.

And who doesn’t feel better when they feel like they look better? Who wouldn’t benefit from a few fashion and style tips to do so – not to mention access to experts and expensive services they wouldn’t have otherwise?

The Good Housekeeping article in question is providing “pick-me-up” services in terms of style and grooming. Pick me up, perk me up… Perhaps I would be less miffed if that’s what this process was called.

Life Events Encourage Change

There are times when life events change us, and we have good reason to revisit habits of all sorts, not to mention the face we show to the world.

Divorce is a great example. A new haircut, a new wardrobe, a new perfume – a new something may be just what the doctor ordered, to assist in taking us from an old life into a different one. If we’re changing careers or transitioning from student to professional – again, we need a new look.

See? I get it. There are many reasons to update our style, and feel-good benefits are part of the package.

Makeovers for Women, But Not for Men

Here’s the rub: We’re constantly “making over” our women. We read about it, we don’t think twice about it, and we do this to ourselves.

  • But when we accept the makeover mentality, what does it say about us, and our view of women?
  • Doesn’t it reinforce the attitude that a woman’s value is about appearance before all else?
  • Won’t this add to our feelings of never “good enough” – especially in the looks department?

Would we ever reward a man who accomplishes something difficult or noteworthy with a dye job and a new wardrobe? I’m not saying we never seek to update or “make over” our men, but it’s relatively rare. Patti Stanger does it on her show, Millionaire Matchmaker – but surely that’s the exception.

Beauty as Asset

Look. If you’ve got it, use it. We all know beauty is an asset.

If it’s a woman’s choice, her desire, her genuine need – hey, why not offer a “makeover” as a reward? But the more I ponder this one, I’m feeling waves of Frankenstein – or Bride of Frankenstein, and bristling at the concept of being “remade.”

Appearance is important to me, and an appropriate appearance is necessary. Moreover, I readily admit to loving fashion, but the makeover mentality is about something else.

Shouldn’t we be calling attention to exceptional courage and contribution by offering rewards of like substance? What about a vacation for these deserving women? Or social and professional opportunities to connect into helpful communities?

A Woman’s Value

I think it’s lovely that Good Housekeeping provided a variety of services to these fine women. And I certainly like the idea of a periodic style update, but I would prefer that term to “makeover.” In fact, I am now consciously expunging that word from my vocabulary.

I have no problem with teaching grooming skills and fashion sense to men and women both – in need of changing things up, as they move forward into a new phase of life. But is there an underlying issue we’re ignoring?

What about our perpetual preoccupation and assessment of women based on appearance? Must I really bring up the flap over Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “no makeup” look?

Language Reinforces Perception and Beliefs

My concern is this. Looks matter, yes. But a person’s value lies in character, talent, accomplishment – and so much more – regardless of sex.

Language reinforces perceptions and belief systems. Perhaps the word “makeover” – and other terms like it – are worthy of scrutiny if we wish to reshape awareness, shift the cultural conversation, and view our women with a more substantive eye.

Care to join me in tossing aside the “makeover mentality” – in favor of the occasional (gender neutral) style update? Wouldn’t this move us closer to a more well-balanced view of ourselves – for ourselves, and our daughters?


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  1. says

    Semantics matter – thank you. I think I’ll be talking about this one with my daughter, one of those casual-in-the-car conversations that means nothing and everything. You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen my indignant daughter when she believes that any group is being treated unfairly, and (tee hee) I’m going to love watching her get up in arms about this one!

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Be sure to let us know how that goes, Pollyanna! If we can at least teach our children that language matters, that subtle differences in terminology convey varied meaning, it’s a start.

  2. says

    I just remember when Greta Van Sorens(omething) got a total face re-do. I was pissed. There are some wicked ugly male reporters out there and they aren’t feeling any pressure…WTF?

    • BigLittleWolf says

      TKW, you always make me grin. Those facial do-overs… they can be a fright.

      No rallying cry (pro or con) from the other side of the gender divide?

  3. says

    Makeovers for men? “I don’t have a beer gut, I have a protective covering for my rock hard abs.” Ha ha ha. The ever perplexing double standard in our society. The documentary “Miss Representation” is an interesting look at how media contributes to the idea that women and girls’ value lies in their youth, beauty and sexuality. Will we collectively change?

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Uh-huh. Mr. Belle, you just made my case (basket or otherwise). “A protective covering for your rock hard abs.” Perfect. And thank you for the link.

  4. says

    Honestly, if you ask my mother, I am in need of a ‘periodic style update’- periodically. I have an LL Bean style and she is very fashionable.

    The term ‘make-over’. I totally agree with you. The language is wrong. And a double standard exists when it comes to who needs one. I used to watch a show on TLC years ago called ‘What Not to Wear’, where friends and relatives nominated someone they thought needed a make-over. Almost everyone nominated for the show was a woman. They got a new look – from clothing to hair and makeup (head to toe) – from the experts (they also had to learn to shop for themselves – for their body type). They went to N.Y.C. for this fabulous make-over, and then returned home – their new and improved self – to a waiting audience of said friends and family (to have their new look appreciated). I liked the show, a lot. However, only on the rare occasion would someone nominate a man. I think part of the reason is that women (who did the nominating) are harsher judges of other women, and for the most part, we give men a pass.

    Great observations!! (Although I don’t want to be hard on the women that participated in that ‘make-over’. They looked like they enjoyed it!)

    • BigLittleWolf says

      They did look like they enjoyed it, Robin. I agree. It’s the fact that it’s so ingrained in our culture that as women, our value is tightly linked to age, weight, overall appearance. We need to shift the conversation… at least a bit. So glad you stopped by to read and comment!

  5. says

    In the days of cable and free time (hahaha), I used to watch a lot of House Hunters on HGTV and it’s amazing how many people cannot look past the aesthetics to assess the quality of a home. Nevermind great bones, wonderful layout and high ceilings, oh my God, the paint is too bright/dreary/white/green… People seriously have a hard time looking past that, so while some of us may not be that way, a great many are. It’s scary how many people think you’re only as competent/smart as you are pleasing to the eye…

    And knowing that there are many out there who judge a book based on the cover, it’s hard to blame those who are eager for a makeover. It doesn’t mean I think it’s right. Sometimes the uphill battle is just harder.

    Also, I know I’m of the same camp as you. We do take care of ourselves. We do like our shoes and makeup and fashion, but since not everyone does, I think it’s just a fun way for them to revive their own va-va-voom that they may have lost or that they never knew they had. Like you said, feeling good on the outside boosts confidence and makes us feel good on the inside too, so why not? Agreeing to a makeover doesn’t mean one is buying into the beauty myth. Perhaps they just want to feel good for themselves? We have to applaud that too, no?

    • BigLittleWolf says

      That’s a wonderful analogy, Justine – the structure of the home versus its appearance, and likewise, the person versus appearance.

      Yes, I think these makeovers made the women in each case feel better. So yes, I applaud the fact of helping these women feel better. But what about all the other (non-stop) “makeovers” we think will change our lives or make us more acceptable to a partner, in the dating market, or the job market for that matter? It’s the disproportionate value placed on appearance. And it’s also the word, as I said.

      I’m going to work on training myself to think “update” versus makeover. It’s more accurate. And for that matter, speaking of houses, we “update” the exteriors, don’t we?


  6. says

    “I’m not saying we never seek to update or “make over” our men, but it’s relatively rare.”

    That’s because it’s hopeless.

    (Fran still tries, occasionally – hope goes up against experience).

    Great story of the lady who wanted to buy me a cashmere winter coat because my favorite old trench coat was looking a little ratty. Nuggets of the story: 1) I love that coat — military style, got it when I was 16, more that half a century ago. As a compromise, Fran has succeeded in having me store it in the attic; 2) Lady didn’t really help her case by explaining that she was rich and I was poor, and she wanted to do something nice for me (there are some amazing stories about this lady, and the irony is that she was young and gorgeous. I may have referred to her previously); 3) I would have had trouble explaining this to my wife.

  7. says

    I was just reading “From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” to my boys tonight – one of my favorite books. And in it, Mrs. Frankweiler says something to the effect of “I’m at an age when I no longer look in mirrors or pay attention to my looks. I rarely look past my eyes. Because the eyes are what matter. They are the window to the soul.” And I thought, I want to be at that point about my looks.

  8. says

    As always great food for thought. I am so not a fashionista that if I was given a “makeover” I would so love it just to give me ideas to freshen my heathen look.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I hear you Madge. But if you called it a “style update,” personally, it wouldn’t rankle me.

  9. batticus says

    From the male perspective, the makeovers added the critical ingredient, a beautiful smile (Anne’s salmon dress was an excellent choice too). Serena’s hair extensions look fantastic but I think that is going too far when it comes to an update; it isn’t maximizing what you have, it is faking up for what you don’t have which has to be less fulfilling for her and indicative of the dark side of makeovers.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      The dark side of makeovers… very interesting, batticus. “Fakeovers?”

      You may be onto something there…

  10. says

    Picture this:
    Two moms, two nine year old girls, sitting around a dinner table at a cabin, discussing this blog post over cheeseburgers and salads. Pictures those moms speaking earnestly, trying to explain the dilemma…..and the girls jumping in with their own ideas, eyes ablaze, fully KNOWING what they are worth, and absolutely “getting it.” We moms read your article and used it as a discussion point, but it’s the girls who took the conversation and ran with it.

    You’d have been proud, BLW. Very proud. Thank you for being a part of our dinner conversation!

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Truly. It’s so wonderful to hear that these girls have such a strong sense of self. You just made my day, PollyAnna.

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