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The TeeVee Makeover Challenge

I was walking along the Third Street Promenade a few weeks ago, people-watching as usual and musing that living in Los Angeles was a lot more fun now that I’d decided to spend all my waking hours pretending I was on an anthropological expedition. It’s my latest coping strategy: rather than give in to the urge to kill every time some spindly Bikram yoga addict manages to lose control of her Escalade and plow across three lanes of traffic because a) she is attempting to pilot something the size of Sherman tank in a space meant for commercial automobiles, and b) she’s trying to do so while on the phone, I figure I’ve been handed a fine opportunity for observational research. I’m the Margaret Mead of Marina Del Rey. Look for my findings in Coming Of Age in Santa Monica.

So I’m walking along, reflecting on how wearing a ruffled miniskirt in public is probably analogous to harrowing coming-of-age rites in other primitive cultures, when this woman stops me.

“Excuse me! Would you like to go on a TV show and get a makeover?”

“Um.” I searched in vain for a snappy comeback and eventually settled on blurting, “No!”

The woman jammed a flyer in my hand and hurried off before I could recover enough to ask, “Why? Do I look like I need a makeover? Are you going on the show too?”

And then I stood in the middle of the promenade, utterly gobsmacked. Until that very moment, it had never actually occured to me that I needed a makeover. I couldn’t fathom why I’d want one. Unlike the women I had seen sobbing their way through The Swan, I hadn’t assigned my looks credit or blame for whatever successes or failures I’d weathered. Unlike the people I’d seen on Extreme Makeover, my friends and relatives had better things to do with their time than meditate on how much more pleasant I would be if I’d lose the all-black wardrobe and invest in some volumizing spray. And unlike anyone I’d seen on I Want a Famous Face, I’m enough of an egomaniac to scorn the idea that I should be trying to emulate anyone else.

Yet this total stranger seemed to think I needed fixing. It finally occured to me: perhaps she passed along the paper because I’m not very attractive. My gob continued in its smackitude. It’s one thing to suspect, in the little-visited corners of your soul, that you’re on the left side of the bell curve in looks. It’s another to have someone else offer an unsolicited confirmation without warning.

“I’m going to go find out exactly why she pulled me aside for that nonsense,” I growled to the husband, since getting confrontational with a stranger who just told you you’re ugly is always a good idea.

“Catfight!” he cheered, as I charged down the sidewalk in hot pursuit of the woman.

Eventually, I found her pulling all sorts of women out of the crowd — older, younger, heavier, thinner. There wasn’t any pattern, which disappointed me because it would have been helpful in figuring out why she approached me. There was, however, a steadily growing crowd of women surrounding the Makeover Mary. And instead of crowding around her because they were about to form an improntu lynch mob out of outrage, they were demanding a chance to be made over.

Defeated, I turned around and began walking back to the husband. Makeover shows depress me — if not because so many people seem to willing to accept total strangers bossing them around, then for the usually dismal results. The so-called experts seem more intent on stamping people into a cookie-cutter ideal of beauty that is neither ideal nor beautiful: it’s more like what would happen if Barbie was real, and had just gone on a Vegas bender with the tigers at the Mirage. I had always figured the point to self-improvement was to make the most of what you had, not obfuscate or eliminate it because it didn’t fit in with someone else’s idea of appropriate.

But now the makeover shows depress me because of that Third Street Promenade incident. It’s not because a total stranger told me I could benefit from God-knows-what renovation. It’s because apparently, so many other people are more than willing to believe that they do. And they’re willing to tell the world on TV.


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