Loving, lusting after, or running from Stacy London’s new show

Stacy London is back, and I’m not sure what to think.  For those of you who don’t know who I’m talking about, Stacy London has made a very successful career out of telling people how to dress, first with her co-star Clinton Kelly on TLC’s What Not to Wear and now on her own show on TLC, Love, Lust or Run.

Glancing at the show’s web site will give you an idea of how the show works. Women who have some rather unusual wardrobes come to London for style help.  They get new hairdos, new makeup, and of course, new clothes.

The gimmick is that strangers judge the women’s before and after looks, saying if they love the look, lust after the look (or the woman — it’s unclear), or would run from the look. Their answers come as no surprise — they run from the old look and love the new look.

There are two competing ideas on this show.  On the one hand, London talks a lot about how style should reflect the inner person. In this clip, she says that fashion is “not shallow” because it’s all about building confidence by breaking negative thought cycles and changing the literal and figurative way you see yourself.

So far, so good. I’m all for helping women build self-confidence. But it’s difficult to take this message seriously when the show is based on winning the approval of others. When people comment on the new looks, they use words like “confident,” “professional,” and “intelligent.”  Very empowering words.

But the final message is that you’re not OK until someone else (and in this case, total strangers) tells you you’re OK. That’s no way to build self-esteem. How can we be truly confident if we’re led to believe our worth as people depends on what someone thinks of our outfit?

London also talks a lot about “personal style.”  And yet, while the women all come in looking very different from one another and with varying ideas about beauty, they come out the other side looking very much alike.  They all end up falling into a very narrow, conventional definition of “beautiful” and “feminine.” Though there may be a small piece of their previous styles left, all of the final looks are remarkably similar.

While one might argue that these women need to make some changes if they are to be successful professionals, that doesn’t mean they all have to come out looking like mass-produced dolls.  Why can’t their new looks reflect more of who they are and less of a generic definition of beauty?

I struggle with this show because I’m a believer in personal transformation.  I love the idea that we can remake ourselves. But that remaking should be based on our own ideas of ourselves, not the opinions of others, and especially not of random people on the street. Our own ideas of who we are — and who we want to become — are far more important than what anyone thinks of what we’re wearing.

Tara is a writer and educator who has a long-standing interest in sociology and women’s issues. She is particularly interested in the way the wedding industry defines and reinforces a single, narrow definition of womanhood.

15 thoughts on “Loving, lusting after, or running from Stacy London’s new show

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  1. I was referred here after writing my latest post. http://naturalmedley.blogspot.com.au/2015/03/too-costumey-no-such-thing.html
    I love what you say! I feel sad that all aspects of our lives in Western society seems to have lost the sense of play and downright enjoyment we see in other societies. The way we decorate our houses and raise our children and the cars we drive etc. have all become so narrow. It’s as if we are afraid of exhuberance! Jazzy Jack

  2. Stacy London’s taste is just so dull dull dull. She would pull the same sh** over and over again on What Not To Wear. All the clients would come out looking the same and it was awful.

    It was so refreshing to watch the original version of WNTW with Trinny and Susannah. If a woman was an art teacher, they would help her to preserve her quirky style, just in an upgraded way that served her better. They also ditched that tired “surprise makeover” trope and worked with women that actually wanted to be made over. So much more respectful.

  3. I thought about that “surprise” trope that you mention when I wrote the article, and if I’d had more words to spare, I would have discussed it. I agree-it’s quite disrespectful. Your life is going well, and then all of a sudden, you learn your closest friends have been secretly taping you and mocking the way you look. Not exactly something to give people the warm and fuzzies. I wonder how many people turned down the opportunity.

  4. I really like this piece and couldn’t agree more! I hadn’t heard that Stacy London was coming out with a new show, and I’d always felt conflicted about “What Not to Wear.” Just as you say, it seems great by talking about boosting self-confidence, but then why do all the styles seem so similar in the end??

  5. Thanks, Anisa. I know exactly what you mean. I had the same mixed feelings about WNTW. On the one hand, most (although not all) of the women seemed to be pleased with their new looks, but the way that the hosts “surprised” the women with this “fabulous opportunity” just seemed mean spirited. I think I would be upset at my friends for a while if they nominated me for that show rather than just talk to me one-on-one.

  6. I agree with your viewpoint, Tara, and I agree that each person should choose a style that defines her as an individual, according to her personality, lifestyle, preferences, and budget. I haven’t seen the new show but did watch WNTW quite a few times. What struck me on WNTW was that most of the women chosen for the makeover had put themselves last on their own priority list. In that way, I thought it was good for them to be “forced” to invest in themselves. However, I always felt sorry for them when they received the initial surprise visit and scathing critique from Stacy and Clinton. It seemed a bit mean-spirited for friends and family to “nominate” them.

  7. By the way, isn’t Stacy looking a bit “witchy” lately? I think she needs a makeover of her own. Something a little softer maybe? Oops! Am I becoming what I just criticized? lol

  8. Gee Tara, I struggle with some of your observations about Love, Lust, or Run, which I believe is an excellent show.

    1) To me, the before-and-after voting is less about “winning the approval of others” and more about reinforcing the fact that what you wear does affect how other people view you. You might THINK that your own ideas about who you are and what you want to become are more important than what anyone thinks about what you’re wearing, but if you’re going to have any success as a professional (which is what the LLR women want) you one day will have to face the reality of dressing the part. There has to at least be SOME balance, so why not just let a little of LLR, you know, maybe actually … sink in?

    2) I thought ALL of the makeovers were awesome, and NONE of them looked alike. It wasn’t just a small part of their previous style that Stacy saved but a lot of it. And I thought EACH of the new looks reflected more of who these women are. Honestly, I don’t know what you’re looking at! But again, I think this may speak to the fact that you think anybody should be able to let it all hang out style-wise, and that’s just not the way it works. I would LOVE to be there in 10 years when the light bulb goes off over your head on this, but I digress …

    3) All that said, you and a few others are entitled to your opinions on What Not To Wear and LLR. What I can’t stand while trying to have a legitimate discussion are comments such as the second one provided by “Cindy”. I don’t believe anonymous mean-spirited remarks are what the About-Face people were going for when they allowed you to post this blog, and if the comment I referenced is not quickly deleted I will be calling the number provided in the “contact us” section to register a complaint. Thanks for reading!

  9. Hi Pete,
    I’m OK if they choose to remove my comment. It was perhaps a little “mean-spirited”, which is not who I am. I was attempting humor; although perhaps not effectively. I think that’s probably what Stacy is trying to do on WNTW when she literally mocks every item of clothing in a person’s wardrobe, sometimes bringing them to tears. I’m sure she’s not a bad person, but whether something is humorous or not depends upon who is the object of the joke. My attempt was to point out that by poking fun at Stacy’s look, I was becoming what I was criticizing. Sooo, it’s all about opinion, isn’t it? On the serious side of my comment, I think the dark, straight hair is a little severe as Stacy ages, and a little softening would be good. No mean spirit intended; just giving an opinion.

  10. On second thought, I don’t have the time or the inclination to point out all the things I disagree with already on this thread, or to tsk-tsk the comments lacking in class, and I probably shouldn’t have taken the bait anyway.
    But before I leave, Cindy, I can’t let you get away with saying that Stacy and Clinton ever made anybody cry on WNTW. I watched the last seven years of the show, and I NEVER saw that happen. Their comments were all about the clothes, not the people in the clothes … all of whom they helped immeasurably.
    So as I leave you I’ll just say to anyone looking at this on About-face that WNTW and LLR are both excellent shows that aid women; Stacy is a compassionate and outrageously talented stylist (in addition to being a world-class beauty, IMHO); and for the open-minded and nice people, who thankfully are in the majority, Love, Lust, or Run is back June 12 on TLC. I know you’ll enjoy it.

  11. Shows like that teach women to be out of a man’s league when they are stylishly well-dressed by taking Stacy London’s advice. It’s no wonder Stacy London isn’t married. Men must feel very insecure around her. Most people on average here in North America prefer someone who isn’t stylishly well-dressed and attractive in public to others because they are too attractive for them.

  12. I love the show. I would love to meet Stacey and see if she can help me. I have an illness that made me lose my hair, I’m self confident about that. No eye lashes or brows… My medicine that keeps me alive makes me 30 lbs more than I was… I feel old and frumpy. I would love help and advice.

  13. I really enjoy this show! Stacy does a fantastic job at helping these women transform not just their appearance but also many times their self confidence. In doing that it changes how one feels about themselves making them “walk taller”.
    So many of us struggle with self image. Having Stacy or someone who has the training or fashion sense can make a huge difference to help those of us that need the help. Great job!
    Loving this show!!!

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