I’ve written a few times before about the short shrift and unfair attitude towards women on television today. I don’t mean the blatant tits and arse variety, nor even the stereotyping in advertising – I mean the rampant anti-feminism, the hidden objectification, the cultish health programming and obsession with body image.
It was because of all this that Gok Wan was a refreshing face when How to Look Good Naked cropped up on Channel 4 in 2006. For those of you who watch the fashionista shows, and for those of us who watch them because our girlfriends watch them, he was a welcome diversion from the pointed surgery endorsing of Nicky Hambleton-Jones and fraudulent credentials of the shit-nailing Gillian McKeith.
Gok tried to convey a very simple point; that self esteem was the key to looking and feeling good and with a few fashion tips and confidence-boosting exercises anyone could learn to have style. Yes it was wrapped up in lots of fast cuts and faster talk, but when you saw how he was able to transform a mastectomy patient who despised the body that had ‘betrayed her’ or a sobbing forty-year-old who could only look in the mirror and repeat ‘this isn’t how I’m meant to look’, few could deny he had the right message.
It’s a shame that since How to Look Good Naked, though, he’s returned with a succession of bad concepts that seem to imply he’s forgotten the empowering nature of his style is what makes him appealing and instead regressed back into a promoter of all he previously stood against. We’ll ignore Gok’s Fashion Fix because that’s the shit cousin that nobody talks about and instead move onto Miss Naked Beauty, which is currently showing on Channel 4.
It’s a nice idea – find a collection of body-conscious, ‘real’ women and whittle them down until you have a spokesperson for the movement who embodies all that is beautiful and natural about the female sex.
They come in all shapes and sizers – the bum haters, the small-boob apologists, the post-surgeried, the child-sized, the vein-leggers (and one who thinks the curve at the bottom of her spine is ugly, but no-one really knows what she’s talking about). All of them naturally attractive, and most misled about their faults.
Unfortunately they’ve shoe-horned in a needless teams-and-judges element to choose a winner which means that, in-keeping with the current trend for ‘honesty television’, the women go through 50 minutes of self-empowering life lessons only to be ridiculed and insulted by a panel of celebrites for the last 10 – and go home feeling worse than they did before.
The episode last Tuesday started with a task where the women stripped off and had photos taken of their most despised body parts and ended with James Brown of Loaded fame telling two that they were smug, fake and fundamentally unlikable. You know what? If I was a 36 year old cancer survivor who’d had a breast reduction and a hysterectomy and still had the gumption to stand there topless on television, I’d be pretty fucking smug too, you judgemental, teat-suckling wanker.
By the end of the show, very little had been achieved. The women had been built up and knocked down, two had been sent home crying and Debenhams had agreed to put one mannequin in their window as part of a highly patronising and quite clearly nominal war on the highstreet.
The valuable point about self-emancipation that Gok had previously fought for had been streamlined into a pecking order. Yes, it’s perfectly fine to be normal and happy but be aware that you could be better at being normal and happy.
So basically Gok Wan used to be really good, then he went and made a show which stole the concept and the brutality from the Apprentice and applied it to vunerable women instead of thick-skinned businessfolk. Where he used to be a charming and trustworthy host, he is now another beauty-myth peddling pundit claiming self empowering tactics and being as inadvertently offensive as those he once set out to destroy.
Basically, he’s turning into Ben Elton.