Faking femininity: Masquerade and epic theatre in fashion Tv’s lesson | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 3, Issue 1-2
  • ISSN: 2040-4417
  • E-ISSN: 2040-4425


Fashion reality programming is traditionally panned by critics as shallow, rooted in what seems like liberating postfeminist power consumption and in rigid gender, racial and class divisions. Relying on what Angela McRobbie has called the postfeminist masquerade, the experts featured in these shows use the logics of postfeminism and consumer capitalism to construct the ideal female subject. In each programme, the programme host is the fashion expert and the contestant is the grateful pupil, receiving a lesson on the tenets of a culturally constructed and idealized postfeminist femininity. Contestants learn how to stitch together and perform the desired feminine subject by adhering to the cultural codes outlined in the postfeminist masquerade. In embracing the postfeminist masquerade, however, experts are also teaching contestants how to engage in a strategic performance of gender, making each programme’s lesson segment an unstable space that exposes the seams of femininity. The lessons on feminine masquerade are intended as tutorials on consumerism. Nevertheless, these lessons acknowledge the labour of femininity and demonstrate the artifice of gender production. Parsing the postfeminist ethos that permeates fashion-themed reality programming, I discuss whether the lesson of masquerade productively undermines the myth of natural, gendered beauty, possibly prying open spaces for political contestation and enabling the contestant to pursue what can be understood as a ‘becoming’. While a postfeminist, consumerist femininity is always positioned as the desired result of each lesson, I propose that the tactics of masquerade that structure each lesson segment acquire political implications as they approximate the theatrical spectacles that Bertolt Brecht has called ‘epic theatre’.


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  • Article Type: Article
Keyword(s): epic theatre; fashion; femininity; makeover TV; masquerade; postfeminism; reality TV
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