Laura Doherty reviews a show that promised to fight impossible beauty standards, but fell into all the same traps as a beauty paegent
I couldn’t tell you exactly how long it has been since the final episode of Miss Naked Beauty UK, which is perhaps testimony to the fact that the show did not do what its presenters Gok Wan and Myleene Klass promised: find a woman from the general public endowed with all the qualities required to act as an ambassador for all the ‘real women’ of the UK.
Apart from the fact that the term ‘real women’ seems to imply that there are some women in society who are not real (a dubious assertion surely?), I found this series to be fraught with hypocrisy and contradictions.
It is just another example of mainstream television ‘playing’ at integrity, pretending to be subversive in the face of prescribed feminine ideals, armed with the knowledge that there is a growing collective conscience among women that they are not represented honestly, or particularly pleasantly, in mainstream media… only to wind up supporting those same degrading stereotypes after all.
This show offered the notion of a movement or revolution that could remedy insecurities that seem to be found ubiquitously among women in today’s society, for example not having the ‘right’ body shape, or failing to conform to the ever narrower mainstream model of what it is to be a desirable woman.
The message seemed to be that the show was aiming to explode any kind of ideal model of femininity, but it was was full of inconsistencies, which laid bare that this was just another money-making product sold to the masses, cleverly disguised as something honest.
What stared me in the face more than anything was the fact that this show was structured like a beauty pageant; the winner having battled her way to the final would be crowned Miss Naked Beauty UK.
I am aware that this was probably supposed to add a playful dynamic of irony to the show – a sort of amusing parody of the traditional beauty contest. But can one really justify this kind of similitude when, in reality, Miss Naked Beauty UK was not so different to a real beauty contest? The competition had winners and losers; the losers were picked off in a humiliating show, week by week, judged as being guilty of possessing the most short comings.
At least a woman entering the Miss World Pageant does so under no illusion that she is being judged for anything other than superficial properties. This show encouraged all women to feel good about themselves, and then proceeded to shatter that assertion by demonstrating how you can judge a woman’s ‘validity’ by degree. It was painful to watch at times!
One of the judges on the panel was the editor for FHM, a magazine in which women are presented as existing primarily for the enjoyment of men, in glossy, airbrushed glamour shots – and don’t expect to find any diversity in the models of FHM – they are consistently size eight to 10, busty (or made to appear so) and big haired: need I point out the glaringly obvious irony here?
It was interesting how despite the constant comments about breaking free from the shackles of prescribed feminine identity, it was deemed acceptable to ignore that rule when dressing up for the red carpet – high heels, makeup and cleavages on show.
When interviewing the glamour model, Jodie Marsh, there was a definite feeling that she embodied everything the contestants despised. Instead of regarding her as a product of the societal pressures upon women to conform, they seemed to see her as the enemy. Perhaps she one of these ‘fake women’ that the show implies exist.
However, Dawn (who made it to the final) apparently “had a really individual style”, so in this case smoky black eye makeup and tight vintage, pin-up style waistlines are okay – never mind the fact that they are inspired by traditional male sexual fantasies, and hark back to a day when it was legal for a husband to rape his wife…
I realise it is extreme and tenuous to link those things, and that the show was not advocating this kind of treatment of women – but what I am trying to illustrate is that a show making grand statements of change has a responsibility to demonstrate a clear set of values, otherwise it is pointless and misleading.
It is either very naïve and simplistic in its assumptions about the reasons for the current state of female identity, or else it is a cynical money-making enterprise that seeks merely to throw a thin veil of suggested subversion over what is actually, when followed to its conclusion, a firm support of the status quo.
When you think back over the various episodes, the most glaring confusion seems to be over what really matters. Is there a physical ideal to adhere to or not? If not, why did they wear makeup at any point? And why in his other show does Gok have to teach people How to Look Good Naked?
Is it not more damaging than helpful to use terms such as ‘real women’, which inadvertently suggests a divide between women. All women are real women, and indeed human beings, and isn’t it this that should be the representation of women in mainstream media?
This is a show that made such grand statements about its mission that it quickly began to grate when it became clear that it was designed to entertain, not educate. It was a series that promised integrity and implored the viewer to care about important issues, and then made a mockery of anyone who actually did.