Making its debut on the Lifetime Channel on January 4, How to Look Good Naked is one part televised neo-feminist revolution, and two parts consumer feeding frenzy. This is what made watching How to Look Good Naked so confusing. Perhaps it would have been more honestly entitled How to FEEL Good Naked. The show was well intentioned and inspiring.
It’s like nothing else on television save for the Dove “Real Women” ad campaign. Representations of women on TV and in the media are homogenized so How to Look Good Naked is a breath of fresh air. On the whole it is a revolutionary new reality TV show in which one shapely woman at a time is asked to abandon her life-long commitment to body loathing and dieting as she strips down to her skivvies in front of 360 degree mirrors. This makes for moving and powerful television. After she strips, Carson Kressley, a sincere and telegenic gay man, (formerly of Bravo’s Queer Eye), helps the insecure but lovely Laila take “inventory” of her body. He asks her to tell him what she loves and what she hates about her body. Laila says this is the first time she’s ever looked at herself in a full-length mirror and it is a difficult experience. It’s as if she’s meeting herself for the first time. Carson does a helpful job guiding the vulnerable Laila towards body love and away from her life-long, diet-fueled, body hatred. Carson helps Laila accept her body—cellulite and all. You feel Laila letting go of her self-loathing and see her beauty for the first time ever.
But it doesn’t stop there. Unbeknownst to her, Carson has goes so far as to project a photograph of the headless, nearly naked Laila onto an outdoor wall in a busy California square. Tape rolls of Carson interviewing passersby who are asked to comment on the beheaded, projected body. Passersby comment “nice rack,” “beautiful hips,” and “love that belly”—nothing overtly negative. Here we have a whole woman broken down and being evaluated for her “parts.” This is intended to help Laila love her body and it doesn’t quite hurt. The experience provides a powerful, alternative narrative for her to consider about herself. Can she see her body parts as others see her? Acceptable, even gorgeous?
But it’s like fighting fire with fire—disembody the woman and change the story. This solution—albeit a huge improvement over the usual TV fare—subtly contributes to the overall problem of women hating their bodies. Ultimately it reinforces the externalized gaze in which woman invest their trust in the subjectivity of others versus their own felt sense of themselves.
If the show stopped there, it would have been interesting. But it doesn’t stop there. The rest of the show follows the cheesy, formulaic “makeover” TV format. Now that Laila loves her body, it’s time to buy the products and services to go along with that all that self-love. Laila is brought to a high-end mall in which she is fitted with fancy bra and underwear—she looks and feels sexy and you can feel her on-camera transformation. She is then brought to an expensive clothier for free outfits and now Carson takes the opportunity to point out how large women should dress to accentuate their shapes versus hiding their bodies. After a spa treatment, the required make-up application, haircut and blowout—Carson tells Laila she is now in for a “naked photo shoot” —the ultimate gimmick of the show. Laila is at first reluctant but finally submits and has an obvious blast with it. It’s lovely watching her enjoy being “watched” for the first time. Has something inside of her really healed? Somehow you get the feeling this isn’t a true inside job.
Overall, the show is very sweet. It is about helping one woman at a time come to love their body as is—a revolutionary concept in our day and age. Carson Kressley says, “Unite if you’re ready to turn body loathing into body loving!” This message alone is worth tuning in for.