Lifestyle-makeover programming and the paradox of looking like oneself


Susanna Paasonen

Makeovers, with their depictions of ”before” and ”after”, have been staple features of women’s magazines for several decades. Since the late 1990s, makeovers have become an increasingly visible cultural trend across a field of media: while magazines continue to make over their readers, interior designs and various kinds of objects, television lifestyle and makeover programmes transform, tune and pimp up people’s apartments, cars and bodies in order to make them look both ”better” and more like the people involved in the makeover. In the framework of consumer culture, the bodily appearance of individuals (as that of their clothing, interior design, or car) is seen as a reflection of their personality. The imperative of looking like oneself can be achieved in makeover programming through transformations guided and brought forth by various kinds of experts – and with the transformation, the participant becomes more ”like herself”.

In this article, I investigate this paradox of looking like oneself – and, centrally, of being made to look like oneself – as the central dynamic of lifestyle-makeover programming. Drawing on Anne Cronin’s discussion of compulsory individuality, I argue that lifestyle-makeover programmes illustrate the porosity of the boundaries of the individual, as well as the constant making of the self in networks of tastes, styles and commodities. As the self is recognized in styles and commodities (be this a moment of self-identification or an association made by the experts featured in the show), it gains shape in the process. Associated with the assumption of unique individuality and the imperative of expressing it, ”looking like oneself”, as presented in the makeover shows, concerns constant negotiation and updating that are not simply questions of individual quest.