How to Look Good Naked — For Real

Carson and the How to Look Good Naked models

When was the last time you sat on the couch, squealing in delight because you were so impressed with the programming? I know. Us neither. We’re not even all that into TV. That’s why we’re so excited about “How to Look Good Naked,” a new Lifetime reality series.

The weekly show is hosted by Carson Kressley from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” and features a new woman each week who learns to love her body as it is. (Yes, really.) Each week, the show culminates in a photo shoot where the woman poses naked, flaunting her new-found confidence. The show is structured in much the same way as a typical makeover show, but the goal is one of self-acceptance, instead of diet and plastic surgery.

The title of the show may evoke something straight out of seedy late-night cable, but this show genuinely strives to counter pre-conceived images of beauty to which women compare themselves. Carson repeatedly comes back to the idea of loving one’s body, and seeing it as others perceive it, instead of as our own skewed version.


The first episode featured Layla from Santa Monica, CA, and put Layla through a program to allow her to see her body as it really is. In the show, Layla takes a good look at herself in several full-length mirrors and lists off every part of her body that she dislikes, while Carson emphasizes her positive attributes. Shortly afterward, Layla sees interviews with people on the street as they speak about a huge, projected image of her body. Instead of highlighting so-called problem areas, many individuals found Layla’s body beautiful and refreshing. After going bra and underwear shopping, clothing shopping, having a spa treatment, haircut, and makeup restyling, Layla poses naked for a photo shoot.

We find this show delightfully subversive, as it uses the typical makeover show paradigm to promote a positive message about loving oneself. Not once are diet or cosmetic surgery mentioned as possible avenues for self-improvement. There’s still the predictable corporate shilling, in not-so-subtle moments of product placement, and we saw at least one diet pill advertisement during the commercial breaks (et tu, Dexatrim?). Also, too much emphasis was put on making Layla look and feel “sexy” and desirable to men. However, we are impressed with Carson’s compassionate and unorthodox contributions to this reality series, which makes the show watchable and entertaining.

Numerous critics have cited the show for promoting obesity/unhealthy lifestyles (their words, not ours) and glossing over the benefits of healthy eating and exercise. Apparently these critics assume that the show’s viewers have never heard those suggestions before. Apparently these critics have not been paying attention to the corporate sponsors. Ads aside, “How to Look Good Naked” stands out by not taking part in that rhetoric. We are not given information about Layla’s medical profile, her eating habits or her exercise patterns, because that is simply irrelevant.

These same critics have touched upon their own impulse to judge the women featured in the episode as being too lazy to change their bodies, and finding acceptance as a sort of defeat. What do you think? Did you find yourself pointing out Layla’s flaws along with her?

We’ve heard this sort of argument a lot, blaming and bullying women who do not work day and night to achieve a cookie-cutter goal for their bodies. The show has something to say about that: Carson explains that in the 20 years Layla had been dieting, she could have been having fun, being good at her job, dating more. She had been putting her life on pause, waiting until she was worthy to go out and be proactive. That was one of the most poignant moments of the show, and one that will most likely hit home for many of the show’s viewers.

You can watch the whole first episode in three segments on the Lifetime website here. It’s also available for free download from the iTunes Store.

So if you love this show too, take action!

1) Let Lifetime know how much you appreciate its programming by writing Lifetime Television / 309 W. 49th Street / New York, NY 10019.

2) Send Carson’s agent a letter or e-mail and tell her what a great job he’s doing.

3) Support the show by tuning in and encouraging your friends to watch it.

As always, we welcome any comments you might have about the show. Let us know what you think!

The details:

“How to Look Good Naked,” Lifetime, Fridays at 9PM/8PM Central.

— Avital Isaacs and Hilary Burgin

Avital is a sophomore at Oberlin College, where she majors in Cinema Studies. After many years of quiet admiration for About-Face, she is thrilled to be joining the ranks.

Hilary is also a sophomore at Oberlin College in the great state of Ohio, studying Environmental Studies and Latin American Studies. She was raised in a female-positive family that loves to have event gatherings based upon food. She could most likely live off of garlic, chocolate, spinach, cheese, and grapefruit.

6 thoughts on “How to Look Good Naked — For Real

  1. This is the US version of the UK show with Gok Wan. In the latest UK series, they have had numerous pre-watershed images of real women’s naked bodies – in particular lots and lots of non-augmented breasts, and it’s been very normalising.

    I hope the US version does a good job. I know it focusses on helping women to ‘look and feel sexy’ and effectively turns them into pin ups, but these are not women who already feel confident or who accept an alternative paradigm of beauty, they are women who feel unattractive and desexualised.

  2. I’ll try to find time to look at your version of this. The UK one has been around for a while now (a year or two). I hope yours is better than ours. I think the whole thing appears radical, while actually being quite the opposite – and I know that at first sight it appears very radical and positive…

    The UK version is very very good in some respects:
    – Real shapes of women (big and small and in between) – and enough of them shown to see what real women look like. And they are shown smiling.
    – The individual women feel much better about themselves by the end, and mostly look pretty good in the clothes that are suggested (not least because they are proud to be themselves).

    And it is bad in many other respects:
    – There is a test of a product type in each episode – e.g. face cream to remove wrinkles. This is presented as if it is somewhat scientific but it’s a load of ****.
    – The presenter still talks about ‘your good bits’ or ‘bad bits’ and invariably prescribes horrible squash-you-tummy-in long underwear things.
    – The clothes are almost always decorative rather than particularly functional (great for a party or a night out, but not so good for the office or for a management role where you have to be outside sometimes).

    I like looking at this subject from a whole-society point of view – imagining that there’s a conspiracy to keep power away from women. This sounds less crazy when we find out that in systems theory there doesn’t actually have to be an actual conspiracy… society will still work as if there is (look up ’emergence’ on Wikipedia).

    From that starting point, what I see is:

    There’s a bit of a backlash against the overwhelming ‘thin is good’ social message. (Currently this ‘thin-is-good’ message serves to distract women – to get women to spend time and money on an unreachable goal, and to almost guarantee that women generally feel less confident than men generally.) Rather than fighting that backlash, it’s more effective for society (trying to maintain the power imbalance) to work with it… so the new message becomes: “YES! Welcome to the new world! No more oppression! It doesn’t matter what size you are, so long as you study really carefully what you wear, and learn to hide your bad bits and emphasise your good bits, you too can get your appearance right, and thus become desirable/confident/popular.”

    Funny, but that doesn’t really sound radical to me.

    It’s certainly a million miles from the message that I get (as a man) from society – which is something like: “Don’t worry! You’re great! Fine just as you are – whether fat (well built), thin (wiry), intelligent, stupid (down to earth), obsessive (an expert), violent (tough), weedy (gentle), etc etc etc etc. – you can be anything you want, and if you can’t then it probably wasn’t worth being anyway… ”

    I’m not sure, but I also think that the series started better – and slowly slid into more and more of the rubbish stuff later. From the conspiracy point of view that approach works too.

    Like I say – I hope yours is better – but keep awake to the possibility that this is just a repackaging of old messages.

  3. NO! No! No! No! No!

    I watched some! Sorry – but this is so close to the UK version. I can’t stand it long enough to wait to see if the product test bits are in there – but the fact that an anti-ageing cream ad fronts each segment of each episode says it all.

    You remember how long it takes to work out that the positive article in the women’s magazine is simply a way to get a wider audience in to read the (destructive) advertisements etc… And how it takes a while to notice that the ‘positive’ article actually is pretty good in some ways but really isn’t positive overall… And how we eventually realise that a sentence like… “Nowadays it’s become much more acceptable to have a series of sexual encounters, so be who you want to be” is actually saying “but of course it’s still not really acceptable and you should aim to be a virgin with lots of sexual experience” (whereas a ‘men’s’ article – sitting alongside adverts showing power and influence and money – takes it for granted that it’s OK – and that monogamy is OK too…)

    Well – this is just the TV version. The whole thing is so seductive – but simply shifts the goalposts yet again.

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