No one would know it—because I’m ashamed—but I watch a lot of bad TV. Other people follow programs with plots, complicated characters, mystery and revelation, human frailties and dramatic redemptions. I watch “Mythbusters,” “Iron Chef,” and—my secret favorite—”What Not to Wear.”
When friends discover my viewing habits, I claim it’s secondhand TV, stuff my children watch and I overhear. But now my kids pass through the room groaning as I indulge failings they’ve conquered. Sitting in front of that stuff is occasionally okay for them, their rolling eyes imply, but I’m an educated man of refined tastes. They’re too polite to ask, but I know what they’re thinking, “Why do you give a crap about another tearful makeover?”
Yet, make no mistake, I care deeply about makeovers. When Stacy London and Clinton Kelly (I know their surnames) caustically confront their victim’s sartorial drift, I feel for the “guest.” When the same person reappears a butterfly at the end of 30 minutes, wiping tears off her now perfectly lined eyes and waxing poetic about how these changes have been more than external, I know the kind cruelty of Stacy and Clinton’s method is wise. Whaddayaknow, they meant all the best all along. All the guest needed was some concerned companions to push her in the right direction and an appreciation of her body type and judicious tailoring.
You wouldn’t think I’d identify with these participants. I’m hardly a candidate for a makeover myself. First, the What not to Wear pair don’t do males—Clinton’s sarcasm might earn him a very unbecoming black eye—and, second, there’s not much to make Clinton and Stacy’s expertise necessary. While I’m more metrosexual than some, I spend as little time as possible keeping myself up and try to look nice without appearing to care. It’s absolutely okay for me to choose among six pairs of pants and twelve shirts, as long as I change my underwear and keep my shoes something like polished. And I haven’t lost my way or suffer from diminished confidence because I’ve quietly given up on me-time. My dreams of a new haircut evaporate at the sight of the first bald man. I have hair. I’m lucky.
So why do I watch? I’d like to believe I’m above the brazen manipulation of a makeover story, but maybe I need some possibility in my life too, if not for me than for someone else, someone—I’m always convinced—deserves it. I like getting to know these women. They do what we all do, spend energy burying dissatisfaction instead of doing something about it. They think it’s petty to want a new dress because what they really want, and are ashamed to want, is to be noticed, valued, loved. That, anyone can identify with.
Look at me, I’m not ready to confess I’m a fan of “What Not to Wear” on Facebook—because that’s kind of weird—but wouldn’t it be better if I could come out of my closet —with or without all my outdated and wrong clothes—and admit I want to start over, to love myself without remorse? Maybe I’m rationalizing my lowbrow tastes, but couldn’t we all use a makeover sometimes…and a $5000 Bank of America credit card to make it possible?