Prettier in Pink: The Fallacy of the Fictional Makeover

The makeover scene has been a flagship of great rom-coms for decades. Many chic-flicks share the same iconic moment: the reveal of a more ‘beautiful’ heroine.

Whether it is Pretty in Pink, Miss Congeniality or My Fair Lady, there is a structure to the ‘makeover movie’ that continues to effectively charm the viewer. The instantaneous nature of the protagonist’s ‘change’ and its supposed permanence can inspire us to emulate the same self-transformation. This desire, though seemingly flippant, exposes the flaw in the movie makeover: perfection being presented as achievable.

Audiences have always been fascinated by transformation. One of the earliest literary examples is Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a work that depends upon the shifting states and identities of characters. This trope has persisted throughout literature. Shakespeare’s use of cross-dressing, Spenser’s reliance on disguise in The Faerie Queene and Woolf’s development of gender bending in Orlando reveal how fluctuating identities consistently amuse and compel. The inconsistency of character is demonstrated in Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Alice’s ever-changing body reminds us that transformation is viewed as a magical and fantastical operation. Resigning to a singular self is presented as insubstantial, birthing an obsession with adjusting appearances.  

This obsession has only increased. However, the difference between traditional examples of transformation and the modern-day equivalent is accessibility. The metamorphosis of Bottom into an ass in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is perceived as ridiculous and impossible, whereas Annabelle Fritton curling her hair and wearing stockings in St. Trinian’s is completely obtainable. Getting a ‘happy-ending’ is attainable when all Sandy had to do was pose with a cigarette and swathe her legs in leather.

The modern repackaging of the transformation motif into the achievable makeover has resurged its appeal.

This also corresponds with the current culture of rapid self-improvement. Instagram is packed with ‘before and after’ fitness collages and sped-up make up tutorials. Scrolling down the explore page can feel like every other user has revolutionised who they are and how they look. Programmes like Extreme Makeover and How to Look Good Naked both exhibit extreme transformations in the space of 60 minutes. Interspersed between these shows are adverts instructing us that a particular cream or pill will make you a better version of your self. All of these mediums are informing us that change is reachable and immediate- at a certain price. This backdrop of instant transformations has made us crave ‘quick fixes’ instead of realistic personal development. The movie makeover simply fuels this appetite for rapid change. The difference between traditional examples of transformation and the modern-day equivalent is accessibility.

Not only is the makeover presented as instantly transformative, it is also shown to be permanent. Unlike the earlier literary examples, where characters tend to alternate between forms, the modern makeover sells the ideal of perpetual beauty. Mia in The Princess Diaries may experience moral highs and lows after her transformation, but she never ‘regresses’ back to her previous ‘lesser’ and ‘uglier’ self. The same goes for Andy in The Devil Wears Prada, even though she discovers her ‘true path’, she never reverts back to her original royal blue sweater and knee-length tartan skirt ensemble. Make-up and clothing could be seen as fleeting, yet the movie industry has presented their influence on identity as enduring. This ideology is highly appealing to the watcher; beauty and the perfect life that comes with it is not only easily achievable but also durable.

Makeover scenes are a momentary source of entertainment for the viewer. It is detrimental to believe that the beautification of the heroine could be permanent in reality. Nevertheless, with an upbeat song and spliced up shots of hair-removal and dress-fittings, we are sold the notion that complete self-renovation is obtainable. The dream of returning to school or university in September having completely re-invented your aesthetic and personality is, sadly, a common one. It seems that many films are merging the frivolous makeover scene with total transformation. It is crucial that a distinction is made between the two to avoid perceiving self-worth as intrinsic to outward perfection.

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