How To Look Good Naked

Laurie and Debbie, blogging together again, say:

At first glance, How To Look Good Naked sounds like the best thing to hit reality TV since … well, since the invention of reality TV. Look what they say about themselves:

Welcome to the new fashion series that shows women of all shapes and sizes how to look great with their clothes on and off! And believe it or not – there’s no cosmetic surgery and no make-overs.

It’s the first show to be 100% against cosmetic surgery. Tune in to find out all you need to look and feel slimmer — whatever size or shape you are — without going under the knife. The show will tell you how to give your body a non-surgical lift, using all the tricks of the fashion trade and loads of insider beauty tips. If, as a recent survey suggested, 98% of British women hate their bodies, How to Look Good Naked is their saving grace.

If only it were true …

If truth in advertising was legislated, the show would be called How to Look Fashionable in Strategically Engineered Underwear. Let’s look first at the show itself. Fashion stylist Gok Wan (male, of course), apparently puts women through the standard reality-show abuse obstacle course …

With the pressure on, Gok gets straight to work. His first challenge for 48-year-old Roberta is to get her down to her bra and pants in front of three enormous mirrors. There’s no hiding, and Roberta is shocked by what she sees. But Gok doesn’t dwell on the bits she hates about her butt – he actually tells her that it isn’t big enough: “I’m going to lift it, and make it more curvy,” he says.

… and then dresses them in several-hundred-pound (which is several-hundred-plus-dollar) outfits. This is looking good naked? No, this is liking yourself when you’ve been a good, obsessed consumer.

This anti-cosmetic-surgery show hosts a very complex and detailed website covering almost every way women have found to hate their bodies over the last hundred years. And guess what? When they aren’t recommending expensive outfits, they’re recommending the most repulsive treatments of all.

Yes, Botox (for the horror of armpit sweating). “‘Treatments for sweating used to be based mainly on deodorants and anti-perspirants,’ cosmetic physician Dr. Roy Saleh says. ‘But we know that Botox is safe and effective, so we are able to improve the lifestyle of many of our patients with this debilitating problem.'” Sure: safe and effective. It’s botulism toxin and no one knows anything about long-term effects.

Yes, cosmetic surgery, for everything from intersexuality to sagging labia. Kirsty, who had her leg bones broken and reset to recover from the misery of being 6’3″ is “pleased with the results of her operation. She can walk down the street, without stares and gasps from passers-by. Her surgeon cut a 3in segment out of the inside of her thigh bone and a matching segment on the other side 3in further up, so that the remaining pegs of bone slotted together. Metal plates fixed the broken bones together and allowed them to heal. Today, she has no regrets about her operation and judges it a complete success. The scars on her legs are hidden by trousers and skirts and, as she points out, Norwegian women don’t get the opportunity to wear bikinis very often.”

Every link you click has more of this bullshit disguised as learning to love your body. The pattern is consistent: success stories about cosmetic surgery, peppered with warnings, side effects, and reasons not to (“Taking years off your face doesn’t come without some pain and discomfort and it’s important to find out exactly what you’re letting yourself in for before you go in.”) However, there are no stories of failure, and each section contains references to surgeons who will do the work, and who probably pay for the placement. Sections are internally contradictory, first saying that intersexuality surgery in infancy can be a problem and two sentences later saying that “without a doubt” it’s a good choice.

One way or another, every single section is designed to reinforce body hatred, self-doubt, and the desperate desire to find a consumer’s solution. This makes Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” look like the results of an amateur capitalist playing with Monopoly money.


Here’s the bright side. The message they’re working so hard to pervert and commodify is the message we, and so many hundreds of other body image activists, are working so hard to get out in its true and uncommodified form. They’re listening to us, they’re responding like the savvy entrepreneurs they are, and some women are hearing what they aren’t saying. The word is out, Pandora’s box is open, and hope is flying around the TV airwaves, surrounded by crap.

We know how to look good naked: take off your clothes.

Pointer courtesy Alan Bostick.

12 thoughts on “How To Look Good Naked

  1. Excellent post about an obviously godawful show! It is serendipitous in the timing also. I just finishing posting a message to Dove about the “campaign for real beauty”, pointing out to them that, if they are serious about helping girls & women have a positive body image & high self-esteem, they, 1)should not be associated with Oprah, who has NO self-esteem & exudes intense fat hatred &, 2) they should not be marketing their firming lotions & creams with the assurance that they help with our “problem areas”, since part of having a good body image is embracing & loving ALL of ourselves & seeing our quirks as lovely parts of our individuality, accepting our aging, & not believing that ANY of us is a “problem.” Who knows if it makes an impression, but it makes me feel better to speak up.

    Your wonderful book is an excellent illustration of “how to look good naked” & I refer to it often for reminders & support of my own self-esteem & body love. The “real beauty” is here, in all of us.

  2. That bit about “all you need to look and feel slimmer” was pretty ominous–once they said that, they were out ot the body positive realm.

    Vaguely related–I’m amazed at the proportion of bathing suits with stomach control panels. Don’t you need to breath freely in order to swim well? I suppose that not that many people care.

  3. I am also amazed at the number of catalogs I get selling clothing for the fat woman which emphasize how “slimming” their clothes are & also which use models who are not really fat, or are barely large enough to qualify as wearing what this insane, dysfunctional culture calls “plus sizes” (usually meaning a size 12, a 14 if you get lucky.)

    I get Junonia catalogs & the models are lovely, about 16’s & 18’s, I would say, with that “healthy, athletic” look so many of us are promoting these days as a way of saying that fat people deserve respect & are just like everyone else. In many of their swimsuit descriptions, it will say that the design is “slimming.” Ulla Popken is worse. Their models are, I would say, maybe 10’s & 12’s, & their whole damn mission statement is to make every item “slimming.” They brag that their clothes “will make you look at least one full size slimmer”, which again is saying that there is something WRONG with being or looking the size you are. So many of the people who say that they are talking to “real people”, “celebrating diversity”, “fostering positive body image” are talking out both sides of their mouths, & assuring us that our diversity can be MORE acceptable & worth celebrating if we change something by buying their products.

  4. Dear God. The woman who had her legs shortened is straight out of Florence King’s delightfully irreverent Southern Ladies and Gentlemen. In discussing the South’s beauty-pageant culture, she predicted that someday women would be getting their legs sawn off, trimmed, and reattached. “It’s a new treatment for gawky girls.”

    Still. Still. I had the equivalent of plastic surgery when I spent three years with my teeth in braces–a process that involved a fair bit of physical pain, but which made a huge difference to my looks. Although the lower teeth have slipped back some, I’ve never gone back to being seriously bucktoothed — a misery that I am quite happy to have been able to end.

    So where do you draw the line?

  5. I am reminded of the success stories aboutlosing weight, often featured in Prevention Magazine that NEVER say how long the weight loss took. For a healthy, sane, lasting drop of sixty pounds, count on a year or more. But the articles skirt it like the Elephant in the Room.

    I gotta hand it to Gok Wan–that man doesn’t just have a different drummer, he’s got the Madison Scouts.

  6. In this day and age, when more and more women are women are opting to go under the knife in order to change their natural body shape or size, I think this programme is a well overdue breath of fresh air, especially after shows such as Ten Years Younger and The Swan.

    However you criticize Gok Wan, the truth remains that he is encouraging women to make the most of the bodies that they have, rather than condoning and recommending plastic surgery.

    Finally, so what if Gok is a man? Is his sex really that important? He has the experience in fashion and beauty that is needed to front a show such as this one and I for one think he is doing an excellent job.

  7. Just writing to correct the original posting…

    The horrific examples of the woman who had height surgery, and the praise of botox, are not on the ‘How To Look Good Naked’ website. They are on the website for the television channel, Channel 4. It is divided into sections for different programmes (such as that dreadful programme ‘Ten Years Younger’, which enthusiastically promotes cosmetic surgery), and it is the other programmes which are promoting these treatments, not ‘How To Look Good Naked’.

  8. Andrew, thanks for the correction!

    It’s a shame that Channel 4’s website is so badly designed that a user can’t tell when she is moving from material about one program to material about another (and a shame that the good work of one show is undone by the promotion for another).

  9. The clothes worn in the programme are in the cheaper end of the market in the UK. The underwear is expensive but there are cheaper alternatives. The emphasis is on realising you are what you are. Focussing on the best bits, It is realistic and acknowledges the insecurities felt by many women without pandering to them. It is fun and non threatening. Gok is a sweet guy who has real empathy.Women who have sen the programme have said to me ‘I looked in the misrror and I thought … are ok’. I loved the experience. I am happier in my own skin since appearing on the programme.

  10. it helped me a lot and i will like to take part.i don’t have self esteam and i lost since a flat mate said to me i have streach marks. i seriously need you help me find my self again.thanks in advance.

  11. Hey – lucky people! You now have a North American version of Look Good Naked available to you (forgive me if I’m generalising with North American – I don’t know exactly who gets this and who doesn’t). See the About Face post:

    This is oh so seductive stuff. It so much feels like progress – take Dorothy’s comments above for instance. Who could argue with her…

    But this is no better than those seemingly positive articles about accepting yourself (written by genuine and skilled people doing genuine and good work – which is where Dorothy comes in) sandwiched in the pages of magazines undoing the good work.

    This show makes me really really angry. Looking from outside the situation (in that I’m a man), what I see is something that promises the world – and really looks like it delivers – but somehow manages to miss (and obscure) what’s really important. But it does such a good job of it that it’s really hard to argue against – to the extent that it makes those of us trying look like those stereotypical man-hating never-happy chip-on-the-shoulder feminist idealists (or the male equivalent).

    I feel like I’m in one of those films where I’m trying to tell the authorities that aliens have landed (or something equivalent), but the more I try to explain, the more I give details, the less people listen, the less they believe me. Which of course makes me angry, and therefore all the easier to ignore….. Excuse me while I scream.

    Hey! Laurie, Debbie. Do me a favour and write about this some more. I think you’ll do a better job. You can see more of my ranting in response to the (enthusiastic) About Face post (comments take a while to be approved and appear there so might be missing initially). They also link to on-line versions of the show (each featuring an advert for anti-ageing cream of course).

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