Yes, it’s true: I got a makeover on TLC’s “What Not to Wear.”
First off, let’s get to the immediate questions. Yes, the show’s hosts Stacy London and Clinton Kelly are as warm, friendly and sweet off camera as they are on. Yes, you really do get $5,000 to spend on clothes and shoes in two days. Yes, they take all of your old clothes away and donate them to charity. Yes, Carmindy is a genius when it comes to makeup and Ted Gibson is a hair wizard.
But probably the most pressing question — why I, a style editor at a major women’s website, would need a complete “What Not to Wear” makeover — is going to take a little longer to answer.
My “What Not to Wear” ambush and subsequent full mind-and-body makeover airs tonight on TLC, and will show you all of my oversized sweater and misshapen clothes glory. Because the truth is, despite being able to recommend what others should wear, I’ve always struggled with my own fashion options. And that’s mainly because I have what’s called body dysmorphia.
If you haven’t heard of it, body dysmorphia is a psychological condition wherein you become excessively concerned that one or some parts of your body are deformed or defective. Symptoms include being overly critical of one’s appearance, depression and social anxiety. It’s onset is usually in adolescence. For me, my dysmorphia is rooted in the distinct sense that my body feels very large and unwieldy. I look down and I see massive thighs, an immense blubbering stomach and huge, disproportional hips.
You may say, don’t all women have this? Well, any woman that’s looked at a fashion magazine and compared herself to a super skinny Photoshopped model has probably felt a twinge or two of self-criticism. But having body dysmorphia is different, for the sheer amount of self-loathing and discomfort you feel in your own skin. It had been holding me back from feeling really happy and comfortable, in both my work life and my personal life. How bad had it gotten? I’d taken to buying things off the rack and not even bothering to try them on, because I just couldn’t deal with disrobing in a store anymore. And working in the fashion industry doesn’t really help this.
Enter Stacy, Clinton and “What Not to Wear.” Nominated by The Frisky’s editor-in-chief, Amelia, I was ambushed at a West Village fashion event in early February. Two days later, the show’s producers checked me into the swanky midtown hotel I’d be living in for the week while we were taping the show.
Every day was epically long. Day one was watching the secret footage they filmed of me hanging out with friends in my neighborhood looking like an absolute lazy schlub. I then had to model my regular wardrobe for Stacy and Clinton and spend some quality time in the show’s patented 360 mirror. There is nothing like seeing yourself in the cold hard light of the 360 mirror, while being flanked by two gorgeous, tall, TV-ready people, to really make you feel UGLY. But this is how the show works: they break you down in order to build you up. Stacy and Clinton repeatedly admonished me for thinking so negatively about my body, and talked about ways that I could work with what I have. I was given my “rules” — the code with which I was supposed to make all shopping decisions over the following two days. They attempted to make me see my curves as an asset, instead of a detriment. But I still really didn’t believe them.
Over the week of shopping and being forced to try on clothes — and follow the rules — it began to slowly sink in. I had been doing myself a disservice by cloaking myself in huge sweaters and frumpy coats. I had been giving off the wrong image, making myself look worse than I needed to. But more than that, maybe things weren’t as bad as I thought they were. Still, the week involved lots of long days, discomfort and crying. Lots and lots of crying. Doesn’t every makeover show, though?
I’ll save you the big reveal — you’ll have to watch the show for that — but suffice it to say, “What Not to Wear” made a huge difference in the way I look and the way I feel about myself. It did not cure my body dysmorphia — nothing but intensive therapy and lots of time could–but it did help me chip away at it a little bit.
Catch “What Not to Wear,” featuring yours truly, on TLC, Tuesday, March 29, 9 p.m. EST.