Makeover TV

Selfhood, Citizenship, and Celebrity

Makeover TV

Console-ing Passions: Television and Cultural Power

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Book Pages: 344 Illustrations: 24 illustrations Published: November 2009

Author: Brenda R. Weber

Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Media Studies > TV

In 2004, roughly 25 makeover-themed reality shows aired on U.S. television. By 2009, there were more than 250, from What Not to Wear and The Biggest Loser to Dog Whisperer and Pimp My Ride. In Makeover TV, Brenda R. Weber argues that whether depicting transformations of bodies, trucks, finances, relationships, kids, or homes, makeover shows posit a self achievable only in the transition from the “Before-body”—the overweight figure, the decrepit jalopy, the cluttered home—to the “After-body,” one filled with confidence, coded with celebrity, and imbued with a renewed faith in the powers of meritocracy. The rationales and tactics invoked to achieve the After-body vary widely, from the patriotic to the market-based, and from talk therapy to feminist empowerment. The genre is unified by its contradictions: to uncover your “true self,” you must be reinvented; to be empowered, you must surrender to experts; to be special, you must look and act like everyone else.

Based on her analysis of more than 2,500 hours of makeover TV, Weber argues that the much-desired After-body speaks to and makes legible broader cultural narratives about selfhood, citizenship, celebrity, and Americanness. Although makeovers are directed at both male and female viewers, their gendered logic requires that feminized subjects submit to the controlling expertise wielded by authorities. The genre does not tolerate ambiguity. Conventional (middle-class, white, ethnically anonymous, heterosexual) femininity is the goal of makeovers for women. When subjects are male, makeovers often compensate for perceived challenges to masculine independence by offering men narrative options for resistance or control. Foregoing a binary model of power and subjugation, Weber provides an account of makeover television that is as appreciative as it is critical. She reveals the makeover show as a rich and complicated text that expresses cultural desires and fears through narratives of selfhood.


“[R]igorously scholarly yet very entertaining book. . . . [A]n indispensable buy for every Cultural Studies / Gender Studies library. . .” — Georges-Claude Guilbert, GRAAT Anglophone Studies

“In light of the proliferation of makeover programs, Weber provides an astute and rich examination into a genre that highlights the cultural struggles and desires individuals face to attain a self that is deplete of ambiguity.” — Mina Tsay, Journal of Communication

“Makeover television is a relatively new genre of programming, and Weber’s enlightening, thoughtful analysis will be good reading for those interested in media and gender studies. Recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, general readers, professionals.” — R. Ray, Choice

“Overall, Makeover TV offers a timely snapshot of a television genre full of contradictions that entices participants and viewers alike to believe that a drastic change is needed for them to find their inner selves. . . . Weber makes a strong case that the desire to conform is omnipresent in our society. . . . Weber presents an important paradigm shift for viewers of makeover television by opening their eyes to the underside of seemingly innocent transformations.” — Gary Goldman, International Journal of Communication

“Weber . . . offers a long-overdue analysis of what being made over means in American culture, and given the proliferation of these programs, her work is worthy of attention. Finding one’s true self, she argues in this dense and insightful critique, is the great irony of makeover TV. . .” — Publishers Weekly

“Weber expresses her pleasure of watching makeover programming, and negotiating her position as both a feminist academic and a fan of these shows. The book is thorough in its theory and analyses, yet Weber’s personal investment in makeover programming makes the book accessible and enjoyable.” — Melanie Kennedy, Scope

“Weber has written a powerful, thought provoking book analysing makeover television and its contribution to embedding ideologies within society.” — Danielle Mulholland, M/C Reviews

“Weber's nuanced theories of gender keep her discussions both provocative and in play with current debates. . . . Beautifully and clearly written, Makeover TV will be highly appealing for inclusion in graduate and undergraduate courses because it demonstrates the urgent need for careful analysis of popular culture, as well as the centrality of feminist concerns in that analysis. It will also be a significant book in many intersecting studies—of celebrity, television, the body, citizenship, and consumerism, to name just a few—because of its sophisticated fusion of feminist theory, textual analysis, and cultural scholarship.” — Linda Mizejewski, Women's Studies International Forum

“Weber's study is fascinating in both its breadth and its particularity. One of her most valuable contributions is providing vocabulary to better understand the distinctive logics covering all makeover shows. . . . Makeover TV is an excellent text for any course at undergraduate or graduate levels examining relationships between identity and media, especially gender and reality TV. The text could also be useful for upper division undergraduate or graduate-level theory courses, as Weber adroitly explains the complex theoretical matrix of makeover shows. Furthermore, the book is a must for anyone currently researching reality TV, whether the makeover show specifically or identity/ politics generally. All in all, Brenda Weber's Makeover TV is a significant contribution to the growing canon of studies on reality TV and will likely generate more valuable research in several related areas in the future.” — Jennifer Lynn Jones, Journal of American Culture

“[Weber’s] book blends the enthusiasm of a fan who has thought through her own connection to the genre with a high degree of scholarship that will be of considerable value to students and scholars alike. . . . It is the combination of redemption and coercion that make lifestyle such a fascinating genre and Weber’s book such an engaging read.” — Gareth Palmer, Celebrity Studies

“The book is an engaging work that is as humorous as it is horrifying. While Weber’s very personal conclusion still questions the processes of humiliation and painful surgical procedures endured in the name of reality TV, she remains quietly optimistic about the role of the makeover genre because, after all, we all want to feel better about ourselves.” — Peter C. Pugsley, Media International Australia

“Weber sees in these makeover programs a strange new world—or, more accurately, a strange new nation, one where citizenship is available only to those who have made the transition ‘from Before to After.’ . . . Weber’s makeover nation is an eerie place, because no one fully belongs there, and, deep down, everyone knows it.” — Kelefeh Sanneh, The New Yorker

“Whether or not you’re a fan of What Not to Wear and its ilk, Makeover TV is a great read which raises some serious questions about our society’s obsessions with appearance and conspicuous consumption. Next time I’m staring at my reflection in a department store three-way mirror, I’ll not only be wondering ‘What would Tim Gunn do?’, but also ‘What would Brenda Weber say?’” — Librarian Hot

Makeover TV is a great book and a true pleasure to read. Brenda R. Weber’s treatment of makeover television as a crafting of the self within the broad scope of neoliberalism, postfeminism, and a kind of savvy consumerism is convincing and provocative. Her book is an important contribution to television studies, media studies, feminist theory, and cultural theory.” — Sarah Banet-Weiser, author of Kids Rule!: Nickelodeon and Consumer Citizenship

Makeover TV is a project of striking originality and timeliness, written by a skillful, sure critic. Brenda R. Weber’s analyses are consistently subtle and penetrating.” — Diane Negra, co-editor of Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture


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Price: $28.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Brenda R. Weber is Associate Professor of Gender Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction. Into the Makeover Maze: A Method in the Madness 1

1. Makeover Nation: Americanness, Neoliberalism, and the Citizen-Subject 37

2. Visible Subjects: Economies of Looking, Pedagogies of Shame, Sights of Resistance 81

3. "I'm a Woman Now!" Race, Class, and Femme-ing the Normative 127

4. What Makes the Man? Masculinity and the Self-Made (Over) Man 171

5. Celebrated Selfhood: Reworking Commodification through Reality Celebrity 215

Conclusion. Can This Makeover Be Saved? 253

Notes 267

Bibliography 285

Videography 301

Index 315
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4568-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4551-0
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