My Complicated Relationship With Movie Makeovers.
Updated: Sep 17
My thoughts after revisiting a few makeover scenes from classic movies. As you get older, the cracks in this popular plot device are more apparent...
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When Your're Mesmerised By Movie Makeovers...
Ah, the makeover scene. A cinematic staple found in countless rom coms.
- Motive. Why does this character go to great lengths to change their appearance? It could be to get a guy to notice them (ugh), to fit in with the popular crowd at school, or to stand out at a new job.
- Montage. Who could resist a perky montage with an upbeat track playing on top? (Just refer to the “supermodel” song if you’ve seen Clueless.) You’ll most likely see toes painted, hair styled, and body hair pulled out. Beauty is pain as they say.
- A ‘MY OH MY’ moment. When there's a grand reveal after the makeover. This might include the newly-transformed character ‘strutting down a staircase or a hallway' whilst everyone around them stares in awe. (Or in jealousy if we’re talking about the Devil Wears Prada.)
- Extra points if the strutting character falls over on the way. A moment designed to showcase that they’re still the same, quirky person underneath. (Miss Congeniality did this so well.)
Now, I don’t know about you, but I find these movie makeovers mesmerising to watch. After all, many of us grew up with these scenes. They were in plenty of movies I saw as a teen. The Breakfast Club, The House Bunny, and so on. And, being a person who is obsessed with fashion, I adored seeing what outfits would come out of these magical makeovers. Heaven.
It takes me back to the first time I saw The Princess Diaries.
You know, that coming-of-age film where an awkward fifteen-year-old finds out they are royalty. Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) is the name of the teenager that has this huge responsibility thrust upon them. To transform Mia into a fully-fledged princess, her royal grandmother (Julie Andrews) brings in a consultant named Paolo (Larry Miller) and his two assistants to beautify her granddaughter.
In a makeover montage, Mia’s chunky glasses are swapped with contact lenses and her brush-breaking curls are straightened. The eyebrows are also attended to. I mean, who could forget Paolo’s savage one liners like “If Brooke Shields married Groucho Marx, that child would have your eyebrows.” It says it all really.
Once Paolo and his assistants have worked their magic, it’s time for the grand reveal.
Two photos of the ‘old’ Mia are held in front of her face. They’re then pulled away to reveal the new, shiny-haired Mia underneath. With a gleaming smile on her face, it’s clear that she’s satisfied with the results. However, there’s something about this makeover that rubs me the wrong way.
I began to see movie makeovers in a different light when I revisited them with adult eyes.
You see, a good makeover should not try to erase who you are. Instead, it should enhance the positive qualities of your natural appearance. You shouldn’t try to shape everyone into a rigid notion of beauty - especially if it doesn't represent them well!
However, I do understand that Mia needed the makeover to become the best princess she could possibly be. Here's what i'd do if I had to makeover Mia Thermopolis: I would not just straighten her gorgeous curls. Instead, I would make sure she knows how to treat and style them properly. I would also find her a pair of glasses that flatter her face when she's not wearing contacts.
These are tiny tweaks that would help her look more put-together in the public eye, but wouldn't sacrifice her individuality either. If you think about it, scenes like this give impressionable young girls the idea that they have to fit a certain mould to be loved or accepted. Not exactly a good message to be sending out to tweens.
She Was Already 'All That.'
If you want an example of a movie makeover motivated by a bad reason, look no further than She’s All That. A classic rom com from 1999. Yes. I enjoy this movie. But also, imagine changing your looks over a cruel bet. Not worth it at all.
Laney Boggs (Rachael Leigh Cook) is the resident outcast at a Southern Cali high school. She’s viewed that way for a few reasons: she keeps to herself, she’s a tomboy, and she’s an artist!? (shock horror.)
Anyhow, Zack Siler (Freddie Prince Jr) is the school’s heartthrob. He makes a bet with his friend Dean Sampson Jr. (Paul Walker) that he can turn any girl from school into the next prom queen. Whilst searching for a girl to bet on, they spot Laney who conveniently trips up a staircase in her paint-splattered overalls. Target confirmed. The boys don't view her as ugly, per se, but Zack does think she's "scary and inaccessible." For him, this'll be a challenge.
As the film progresses, Zack weasels his way into Laney’s life so he can subtly mould her into his potential prom queen (whilst falling for her along the way!) In one notable scene, his sister Mackenzie (Anna Paquin) updates Laney’s appearance by chopping off her hair, taking off her glasses, and popping her into a cute red mini dress.
At the end of the day, Laney didn’t need a makeover in the first place - especially if it was all for a stupid bet. She knows who she is. Even with the girly clothing and the polished hair, she was still the same independent, expressive, and creative girl she was before. But there is one thing I like about the makeover. It’s when Mackenzie shows the results to Zack and says “welcome to the new, not improved, Laney Boggs.” That girl is everything she needs to be already.
From Movie Makeovers to IRL Makeovers.
After revisiting a few of these movie makeovers, I’m left with ambivalent feelings towards them.
I will never believe that a person should change everything about themselves to fit in, but I also think that seeing yourself in a different light can be beneficial for a person’s self esteem.
Just take a look at modern, IRL makeover shows.
Netflix’s Queer Eye is a great example. It features effective makeovers that cover all areas of someone's life: style, hair, interior design, confidence, and culinary skills. The fab five - who are the makeover gurus in the show - are not there to hide a person’s identity, but to help them express it better. It’s wholesome viewing that doesn’t stray into the outdated judgement of 2000s transformation shows like Snog, Marry, Avoid or What Not to Wear. It’s everything that a makeover show, in my opinion, should be.
The next time I stumble across a makeover scene, I'm going to enjoy it with a mixture of teenage enthusiasm and adult skepticism. I'm not in the camp who believes that they're always harmful for young girls to watch. It's all about how well these makeovers are represented on screen. If you know of any healthy, modern makeover scenes in recent TV or film, do tell! It'll another thing for me to get obsessed about...
Thank you for reading this latest chicandcultural post!
Hope you enjoyed my thoughts on movie makeovers.
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