How Do I Look? Is it discriminatory?

I love a good makeover show as much as anyone. Seeing girls or older women who have no clue about fashion and style and who really want to learn, and see them benefit from others’ expertise, is a lovely thing. Sometimes it results in a whole new lease of life and improved self esteem which is a great thing.

But lately something has been irking me that I’d like to get off my chest: some shows, particularly “How Do I Look” decide that alternative culture is not valid and that ladies with alternative/goth/punk/rock fashion senses need a good smack upside the head.

Occasionally this is true. For every well put together rock chick there may well be another girl who just looks, well, trashy. But often I see people who already have a strong sense of self, being pressured to give up their old clothes, hairstyles etc…in order to please well-meaning siblings and friends who want to ‘vanilla’ them down. Know what I mean?

Often it is in the guise of “but this isn’t helping you in your career/finding a boyfriend/meeting other moms”. I do actually applaud it when some hopelessly naff or super slutty-dressing gals are shown how they appear to others.  Sometimes their looks are genuinely putting people off from getting to know them.

But I get super annoyed when the host or a friend will say something like: “she was attracting the wrong type,” and inferring that anyone who has tattoos, long hair, piercings, etc must be a loser. (I have actually heard them stereotyping alternative guys this way on a show).  Some of these guys are losers, like a percentage in any demographic, but how about finding her a nice guy who happens to already share her worldview, sense of style and taste in music? But NOOOOOO, we have to find her a nice average joe with a neat haircut, who wears chinos and listens to jazz. (And natch, she has to keep her vanilla looks in order to keep the boy). Hell, even the Millionaire Matchmaker goes out of her way to find someone with stuff in common!

It is also generally assumed that to get ahead in their chosen field, or be liked, that they have to dress in a reasonably narrow way. In some professions, and with some people, this is the case.  But times have moved on, and now tattoos are becoming more and more common and accepted, as well as coloured hair and various other personal grooming choices. Perhaps it is like people in the 50’s who wanted to keep everything ‘nice’ and couldn’t bear to see the sixties swingers  donning very different fashions and hairstyles (for that, of course, just represented the sinful ways of the new decade).

It might surprise Jeannie and the producers of the show to know that there are many of us who dress creatively, be it punk one day, goth the next, vintage another day and high fashion when we feel like it, and that none of our looks particularly slows us down in our enjoyment of life or what we want to achieve. Furthermore, we also have successful, highly paid jobs, scads of variously different, well-adjusted friends, and extremely happy marriages to amazing guys who love us to death, who also have successful careers, and who happen to have long hair, piercings and tattoos!!

Maybe it’s just me. What do YOU think? What really gets up YOUR nose when it comes to these make-over shows who make under gothic and other alternative chicks? Do they make unfair assumptions?


  1. Leeah Lemieux says

    I’ve been think the exact same thing for quite awhile now. These makeover shows rob people of their own personal style and turn them into cookie-cutter versions of the same, boring, uncreative, corporate drones. This is why blogs like yours are so necessary and inspiring. As a 40-something goth, I look to you for more inspiration than those shows could ever give me. Thank you so much for this post.

    • Another 40+ goth – yeah!! While I don’t think they all look the same, and many do come out looking stylish, it worries me the perceptions and stereotypes that they are perpetuating in some of these shows.

      I think if someone cool like Daphne Guinness, Anna Piaggi, or Anna Dellorusso went on the show, they’d castigate them for not dressing age-appropriate, and being too “out there”. (They’d DEFINITELY say that about Betsey Johnson or Zandra Rhodes or Vivienne Westwood!)

  2. I totally agree with you here. It really gets my goat when people dismiss alternative fashions or anything that is slightly left of field as being off-putting or ugly. I know plenty of gorgeous women (yourself included) who pull off alternative fashion with such flair and panache that it leaves me breathless and slightly envious of their style. I would never dream of telling these lovely ladies to tone it down for the sake of being more ‘mainstream’. I think if a person is truly happy with the way they dress, there’s no reason for them to change. If a person isn’t pleased with their style, or wants to try something new, then it’s OK to offer advice.

    I met with a group of fashion-conscious girls a few days ago, and one of them was mouthing off about ’emo’ fashion and how she would encourage a person who dressed in ’emo’ or ‘punk’ clothing to try something more fashionable and trendy because, “guys like that better”. I nearly fell off my chair. Sure, some guys probably prefer women who dress in a mainstream way. However, there are plenty of guys who are looking for a lady who has the guts to dress in a way that makes her happy, even if that differs from the norm.

    • Oh my, how shocking to hear someone say that!! And i LOVE your sentence “there are plenty of guys who are looking for a lady who has the guts to dress in a way that makes her happy”

      Yup, if someone wants to change their style, fair game. Some of us change our style every time we leave the house!

  3. I hate this attitude. I have come across it and I do have to tone down my leanings for work. I refuse to go mainstream again as I spent most of my teenage years in a small country town trying to fit in. It is hard to have to be someone you are not. I now dress how I feel. Some days I may look mostly like the girl next door (I say “mostly” because my jewellery remains macabre), but, when I have a choice, I wear what I like. Fashion is pointless if you hate who you are when wearing it. I would rather be dressed goth/punk/rockabilly/psychobilly and be happy in myself than dressed mainstream but crying inside. What is the point of “attracting a mate” if he expects you to be the kindergarten teacher on the inside to match the packaging?! I’d rather meet a man who loves my music and at least has a fascination with altcult! And if he borrows my eyeliner, all the better! 😉

    I don’t usually watch tv, but if I saw an attitude like this on a show I would be changing the channel as quick as I could.

    • Although, just for the record, I like dressing trashy some days just for the fun of it. It is trash with fun in mind though, not by accident.

    • I love how you’ve come to an acceptance of who you are, and dress to make yourself happy. (Love the phrase “And if he borrows my eyeliner, all the better” – ROFL!! And touche to dressing trashy IF THAT’S WHAT YOU INTEND, for the hell of it 🙂

  4. Oh my, I couldn’t agree with you more. I understand when the show is about polishing someone’s look but when it completely discards one’s look and personal style, I simply can’t watch!

    • Agreed – polishing one’s look is great, and there really are some fabbo outfits on the show, which help people to look great. I’d love to see some follow up, to see if everyone maintains the new persona 🙂

  5. I’ve never seen this show on tv, but I don’t think you should take it so seriously! Most of people who go to those shows are payed actors, and they just pick different kind of people to do the makeover! Now, I also find annoying when people judge diversity, but that’s always happening in real life, and I don’t think that tv could be any better! It will always show the worst of our society! They0ll always have something to say about any kind of diversity… So I’d just ignore it!

    • Oh, it’s not like I spend a lot of tine angsting over it…just it niggles sometimes. I didn’t realise that a lot were paid actors – how naive am I? I thought they were all real people. Do you know for sure that’s true?

      • I know how it works here in Italy, and I’m sure that in all of those shows people are payed to act like they’re told! It may be also possible that they’re first dressed strange to dress them “well” afterwards!
        In italian shows you often see people doing different shows, every time with a different problem, or you can recognize an extra from a movie talking in a tv show!
        It’s like that, people that are on tv are always the same! I think that italian tv is the crappiest of them all though, so maybe in Australia it’s better. Hope so!

        • I happen to know two people from my real life that have been on makeover shows and a third that has been approached to be on one – mostly “what not to wear” – they are all regular people and non-actors! One was a goth boy with long black hair and they cut it all off! Tragic!

  6. I feel the exact same way!!! We have a similar makeover show in the U.S. called “What NOT to wear.” The show’s famous amongst lolitas because there was once a lolita on the show and they threw away her “brand” dresses and she was crying by the end of the show.

    Programs like this only make sense if they makeover people like frumpy older people or busy moms. For them, the makeover is a special treat that they enjoy. They shouldn’t makeover people who like the way they look!

    • Hehe, I know that one well also. It started off in the Uk with Trinny & Susanna. I never saw them make over an alternative person though. I can’t believe that lolita went on the show if she didn’t really want to change. Perhaps she wanted some style direction, but didn’t know they were going to chuck out her clothes? That would be devastating, I have to agree!

      • I read somewhere that her friends didn’t like the way she dressed and they would like her being more ‘normal’, though I’m not sure.

  7. I couldn’t agree more! Even in Dutch show’s you get that if you are different you immidaitly look crap?

    • Really? Do you have any makeover shows that make alternative people over? I wonder if in countries like germany where there is such a large number of goths and punks, if it is any different….

    • I’m wondering, which show are you talking about? I’m from Belgium btw 🙂

  8. I have seen bit’s and blobs of different episodes through youtube but if they are polishing someones look or people who don’t care for the clothes they wear and such and they help them (like Trinny and Suzanne do most of the time) than I think it’s okay. But if they are people who really like their style than I think it’s not that good. (Oh man I’m so bad at explaining things in English XD) But I do think they are nicer on this show than on another one I’ve seen, this one: I think that’s just so mean and arrogant. Plus the after is sooo boring, they are not even interesting outfits…

    • Oh, that was sooo funny!! I mean, ahem, yes it WAS extremely rude…but I gotta love a dose of harsh british sarcasm. The essence is right there: “What have you done to us?” Answer: “I’ve made you look normal”.

      I agree with you, the ‘after’ is pretty bloody boring…you MIGHT just go down the corner shop for some milk dressed like that, but no further. Kinda semi-hipster, but without the hip :/

  9. I couldn’t agree more. Those shows make me so mad. In particular, “What Not To Wear.” There have been a number of episodes wear the people getting the make-over had a real individual or alt style, and instead of just tweaking or modifying it, the hosts crush it. The most interesting thing about the American version of What Not to Wear, the host and makeup artist seem to follow few of “rules” they tell the viewers to follow.
    I find it fascinating that these shows seem to do the same thing to alt style all over the world.

    • Yes, I have to say, sometimes I’ve actually gasped aloud at something they’ve said on that show too, in that it was just so off the mark and judgemental. We need to have shows where hosts are already more in the alt vibe, who help alt people to dress more stylishly. How about Mari Moon? She’s not an English speaking host, but she’s awesome 🙂

  10. I haven’t seen that particular show, but I have noticed that this genre of shows tend to make people dress more generically. In any style of dressing, alt or mainstream theres a flattering/great way to dress and there’s a terrible way to dress. Its sad when people cant see the beauty in other styles, it just shows a lack of creativity.

    • I love this! “In any style of dressing, alt or mainstream theres a flattering/great way to dress and there’s a terrible way to dress”. EX-ACT-LY!!! You hit the nail on the head, sistah!

      The shape and colour of a garment will either suit or not suit a particualr body shape or colouring, regardless of whether it happens to have skulls or studs on it. Much stuff they throw out as being too childish, is actually just an inconsequential detail in the grand scheme of things. You see Balmain doing AMAZING things with distressed fabrics, and McQueen putting skulls everywhere in such skilled, couture ways…there’s no way you can just say absolutely that something ripped, made of fishnet or decorated with skulls is wrong and automatically going up the chute.

  11. I have a proper love/hate relationship with a UK show called ‘Snog, Marry, Avoid’ – they mostly ‘make under’ the stereotypical uber-trashy chavs, but a lot of the women on it are really happy with the way they look in the first place, so why change it? (I think it’s on youtube!)
    Urgh, Trinny & Suzanna ;( At least Gok Wan tries to make people feel good about themselves!

    … Which reminds me that there’s a whole ‘natural beauty’ thing going on the moment. I get it, but what if I don’t want to look natural? Does that automatically make me a fake and liar because I wear make-up and have piercings and tattoos?

    In slightly less ranty news, I ruddy love that Vivienne Westwood is still rocking it. Amazing. 🙂

    • Hehe, I have to admit I have a mini-crush on Gok myself 🙂 He does in all fairness make people feel good about themselves, as you say, and he applauds out-there style if done well.

      Oho, I’m never getting on that natural beauty wagon, nu-uh. I’d look 20 years older without make-up. And anyway, where’s the fun and creativity? Some of us like to express that in how we look, not just in artworks we may create, or in the work we may do.

      Vivienne…what can we say about the Grand Dame of punk? I just discovered this AMAAAZING wallpaper of hers yesterday, with little bugs and insects in it, yet it looks all damasky-brocadey. LOVE. (see here:

  12. I have seen this show several times and have to agree that the after is a little too cookie cutter glam, and occasionally cringed when I thought something that was cool and unique went up the “chute”,
    but most of the girls on the show were not wearing even garb that flattered their shapes and others not for appropriate for the profession they wanted to enter.

    The hard part to accept is that if you want to be in a certain type of job, you sometimes have to literally wear a certain type of “uniform” to fit in with the drones to be accepted as one of them or risk not getting or losing the job. When a company hires you, how you dress is a reflection of them and you have to keep that in mind when selecting your work wardrobe and make up options and if you live in a small gossipy town that carries over to your personal life also, which is why I moved to a bigger city and although I dress boring ugly appropriate at work, my weekends are my own and I will dress however I want.

  13. Hallelulja and Amen ladies!! I support all views here!

  14. I love this post! It made me really happy! I wish these shows would take people’s PERSONALITIES into consideration – there IS a fabulous way to dress any style! And I absolutely agree that they are perpetuating negative stereotypes of subculture people. It’s amazing to me how many people I meet that are scared of GOTHS! It’s ridiculous – the most sweet, polite, astute and harmless subculture – and people are scared!

    I also agree that it really works to dress to represent you true self to find your TRUE perfect match! I once dated a guy who wanted me to dress down more often! So glad he wasn’t “the one”!!!

  15. Oh, heck YES! I couldn’t agree with you more. What makes me cranky is that someone, somewhere has apparently decided that there’s only one type of socially acceptable dressing or beauty, which is SO ridiculous! *Everyone* is beautiful.

  16. How can I read the comments for this post? They don’t apperar! Have the layout some problem?? Thanks! 😉