The woman in the 360 Mirror: What Not To Wear and the feminist construction of reality | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 1, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 2050-0726
  • E-ISSN: 2050-0734



In the last decade, ‘makeover’ reality television has become popular. Feminist scholars in particular have focused on this genre, analysing the ways in which makeover programmes reinforce specific definitions of femininity, class, and sexuality. Academics have been especially critical of the show What Not To Wear, arguing that female guests are demoralized by hosts who prescribe a rigid set of rules for dressing. Many feminist writers perceive the subjects of each week’s episode as unwilling, insecure women who yield their individuality to the dictates of the programme’s stylists. We contend these articles ignore one of the basic tenets of feminist research: the subject must be given agency and allowed to define her experience in her own words. We argue feminists should start from the presumption that these women know how they feel and mean what they say, and even allow them to participate in exploring the meaning of the makeover. To this end, we closely examined several episodes of What Not To Wear that focus on making over highly educated women (several of whom exhibit high levels of gender consciousness) in order to explore how these women understand and interpret their experiences. Also, we interviewed an actual participant in the programme and discussed these issues with her. What results is a more nuanced analysis of what women experience when they are told ‘what not to wear’, in which the subjects smoothly integrate the aspects of the makeover that resonate positively with their sense of self, and leave the rest behind.


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