Can you re-make yourself from the outside in?

Last night I watched the first episode of Queer Eye at my daughter’s insistence and I watched it through determined to open my mind to a new way of seeing the world. What I saw I disliked. Not because the five gay men who make up the cast aren’t delightful people who exude a certain energy that has its appeal but because I felt there was something essentially dehumanising and humiliating about taking a 57-year-old truck driver out of his home for a week and gussying him up, both his home and his clothes, his all over bodily appearance to render him more attractive to others, particularly to the woman in his life.

It struck me as such a construction. Given I recognise that all television entertainment even documentaries and real-life shows are all constructions, why would I think otherwise?

Still I kept thinking about all the money that went into reviving this man’s wardrobe, his house and his love life. They did it all in a week, with much cooperation from him.

At least, they didn’t try to make him lose weight or alter his complexion radically. Tom, our made-over man, suffers from Lupus, hence his skin is dry and red.

Prior to his makeover, Tom hid behind a shaggy pepper grey beard that covered the bottom half of his face and a baseball cap that covered the top half of his face and balding head. Only his blue eyes peeked out from his ruddy complexion.

It was clear he was a man who was loved within his community, a man with friends although he was lonely at night after work, after three failed marriages, one daughter who lived nearby and a grandson whom he treasured. He tended to sit in his favourite poo coloured recliner and watch television.

His favourite meal was Mexican nachos and some sort of tequila mixed with Meadow Dew over ice concoction that he clearly enjoyed, but which his five minders found revolting.

In the series, the five make over artists are each ascribed a role, one in clothes, one in design, one in diet, one in culture – whatever that means – and one in grooming.

I did not enjoy this series because it focussed on the appearance of things even as they argue that to give up on your appearance is to give up on yourself and they’re right to a degree. Not just on your appearance but on looking after yourself.

Tom repeated this mantra: ‘You can’t fix ugly’.

It was this statement and the efforts the five guys made to reassure him it was not true that left me again troubled.

I think of ugliness as very much in the eye of the beholder and also something that can reflect our inner state.

When I feel bad inside I feel ugly on the outside and it has nothing to do with the actual aesthetics of my face or body.

It’s a feeling, which is not to say there’s no such thing as ugliness or beauty. There are things that reflect both, but people are people irrespective of their appearance and if we get hooked on merely improving the appearance of things we fail to recognise what lies beneath.

Maybe that’s the point of this show, to get below the surface into what lies beneath but I sensed a missing element, the true complex state of mind of all these people.

13 thoughts on “Can you re-make yourself from the outside in?”

  1. It’s mindless fluff masquerading as something beautiful and in-depth. I can’t stand reality shows — it’s part of the reason we in the United States are in the mess we’re in.

    1. I suppose the US these days feels like one long reality TV show, Elizabeth, or so it seems from here across the sea. I recognise how hard that must be for all you genuine, authentic and real people who live there. That’s the essential feeling i took from this show, a make over which to me has all the hallmarks of falsity. Thanks, Elizabeth

  2. I watched an episode or three of the older series. That was all I needed. I just wasn’t sufficiently interested to watch more. There’s plenty to watch. And walks to go on.

    1. I watched only one episode, Glenn and that’s enough for me. Again, what is it that holds or interest or otherwise? To me there needs to be something authentic and I found authenticity lacking in Queer Eye, though certainly the performers gave an impression they felt genuine, and maybe they did. But still it didn’t resonate for me. Thanks Glenn.

  3. This is the new Australian version, I assume. I don’t think it is (meant) to be taken too seriously, but seriously people will take it. It is not something I care to watch. I worry about them when after the show goes to air and they have reverted to type, as did the participants in the weight loss programme by one of the television shows did by five years later. Still, they have their 15 minutes of fame and it was their choice, and I expect they had a good laugh along the way.

    There is some truth in what you say about looking ugly when you feel ugly. The subject of beauty and ugliness is vast.

    1. I agree Andrew, there’s the issue of what happens to these people once made over. It takes a lot more than make up, new clothes, new furniture to tackle what lies underneath and gets in the way of someone leading what to them feels like a fulfilling life. You can’t bring that about in a week no matter how much money you throw at it. Thanks, Andrew.

  4. Well, you’ve done nothing to encourage me to watch the show. Not that I was considering it for even a second. Ugly is an ugly word. It’s not a word I use much and even when I do it’s about things rather than people. Ugliness has the same problem as beauty: it’s in the eye of the beholder. Is footbinding attractive? To us it sounds barbaric—well, it is—but for the longest of times people got it into their heads that it was a thing of beauty. And nothing has changed. I hate the world we live in. Advertisers define the norm and everyone goes along with it: You are not beautiful unless you’re taking a selfie with the latest iPhone because nothing else could do your beauty justice. Makes me sick. We’ve become so superficial. Anything to be accepted. Now that doesn’t mean getting a haircut, having a bath and putting on clean clothes won’t make you feel better on the inside but it won’t change who you are on the inside; feelings are an untrustworthy metric. Change, in my experience, is a painfully slow process and also untrustworthy. I look like a sixty-year-old man but there’s a thirteen-year-old, an eighteen-year-old, a thirty-year-old and a forty-year-old all trying to convince me they’re still the real me; them and a dozen other mes some of which have to be realised. And they all have a case.

    I met my current wife online. That’s nothing new nowadays but twenty-odd years ago it was still unusual. What I appreciated about getting to know her that way was I got to meet the person she was on the inside without all the normal distractions. After a while I did get to see a photo which I still have framed and on display in the living room but she wasn’t that person and never has been. The photograph wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t sit staring at it or anything. It simply confirmed she either didn’t have two heads or was adept at using Photoshop. Before we met, however, we exchanged—and I jest not—millions of words and that sealed the deal. I’m not saying I didn’t take note of how she looked when she walked into International Arrivals but it really wasn’t a big issue and never has been. Is she beautiful on the inside though? you ask. To be honest that was never what I was looking for. I was looking for my intellectual equal. And that was and still is the bedrock of our relationship. That, a few shared interests and the unfathomable fact she seems to quite like me.

    1. I’m not encouraging you to watch the show, Jim. you guessed it. More puzzling over why my daughter finds it so appealing. She’s a very thoughtful profound individual so maybe I missed something. Or maybe it’s generational. I must say i agree with you about the importance of what’s inside despite appearances but appearances count as well. we can;t hep it, I understand. as human beings were drawn to beauty and repealed from what we consider ugly, but it’s fortunately subjective and also driven by culture and fashion and all things constructed. At least at our age we can worry less about these things but they till have an effect. it’s so much harder for the younger folk with the pressures of Facebook and the like. Thanks, Jim.

  5. Elisabeth, that whole show is an LGBTQ in-joke. Or at least it was back when I watched it when it premiered on American TV about fifteen years ago. Originally titled Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the person getting the makeover is supposed to symbolize the alleged uncouthness of the typical heterosexual male, as opposed to the typical gay male’s more exquisite sense of style. Yes, it trafficked in stereotypes, but for the intended audience, gays or allies of gays, a highly empowering stereotype. I only watched a few episodes (once you get the joke, you get the joke), but I noticed the schlubby makeover subject always seemed amused by what was happening to him, and it made me suspect he was there less because he was distressed by his lack of good taste and more because it was a chance to be on TV. As I haven’t watched the show in years, and certainly not the episode you saw, it could be the original, satirical Gay vs Straight premise has given way to a decidedly non-satirical, more superficial Pretty vs Ugly premise, and that’s a shame. Maybe the show itself is now in bad taste. You may need five gays to direct you to something better on TV. Opera, maybe.

    1. The idea of an LGBTQ in joke makes sense to me Kirk and I suspect you might be right. Now that there’s so much more acceptance these days of the non-normative, the Queer series might have lost some of its momentum though my twenty four year old daughter thinks otherwise. So maybe it’s just me and my unfamiliarity with these tropes that renders them less meaningful. I tend to think in images and symbols but in the case of this series I find myself stuck in the literal. Thanks, Kirk.

  6. I’m going to be the lone dissenter here because I like the show. There’s a limit to what the format can accomplish, but in what I’ve seen the men have addressed issues of acceptance (of course), upbringing, religion, and a lot of other issues with the people they encounter each week. It’s also about something simple, but underrated: kindness. They show an enormous interest in the well-being of ordinary people who at one level or another have given up on themselves. Some of it’s corny, but so what.

    I happen to believe that how we live, what we settle for, does in fact reflect our self-respect. The men encourage others to see beauty and value in themselves, and to treat themselves as people who have value.

    1. I’m glad you dissent here, Laurel. Your point is most likely the point my daughter makes. The generosity and inclusiveness of showing compassion for one’s fellow person. Especially towards those from minority groups.

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