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The Makeover

Reality Television and Reflexive Audiences

By Katherine Sender

Publication Year: 2012

Watch this show, buy this product, you can be a whole new you!
Makeover television shows repeatedly promise self-renewal and the opportunity for reinvention, but what do we know about the people who watch them? As it turns out, surprisingly little.
The Makeover is the first book to consider the rapid rise of makeover shows from the perspectives of their viewers. Katherine Sender argues that this genre of reality television continues a long history of self-improvement, shaped through contemporary media, technological, and economic contexts. Most people think that reality television viewers are ideological dupes and obliging consumers. Sender, however, finds that they have a much more nuanced and reflexive approach to the shows they watch. They are critical of the instruction, the consumer plugs, and the manipulative editing in the shows. At the same time, they buy into the shows’ imperative to construct a reflexive self: an inner self that can be seen as if from the outside, and must be explored and expressed to others. The Makeover intervenes in debates about both reality television and audience research, offering the concept of the reflexive self to move these debates forward.

Published by: NYU Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

My sincere thanks go, first, to the generous people who completed the surveys and agreed to talk about makeover television for this project. They trusted me with their revealing perceptions of the shows and their engagements with them, even as they were aware of a general disparagement of the genre and its viewers. ...

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1. Self-Projects: Makeover Shows and the Reflexive Imperative

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pp. 1-25

Midway through interviewing people who watch makeover television shows, I had a conversation with Seth,1 a white, single, heterosexual man in his thirties. He was a fan of the United States version of the popular competitive weight loss show The Biggest Loser who wanted to lose about eighty pounds in weight. ...

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2. Gender and Genre: Making Over Women’s Culture

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pp. 26-46

On August 2, 2006, the US cable channel Bravo aired an exceptional episode of their makeover show Queer Eye that featured Miles, a female-to-male transgender person, with the project to “trans-form the trans-man.” Since its debut in 2003, the show had featured five openly gay men, the Fab Five, who with camp ruthlessness ...

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3. Not Like Paris Hilton: Instruction and Consumption in Makeover Shows

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pp. 47-79

The previous chapter offered a critique of makeover television that focused on how gender, class, and race norms are worked through contemporary demands to be more flexible workers and enthusiastic consumers. The rest of this book looks at how the audiences we talked to engaged with the project of self-making represented in these shows. ...

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4. Shame on You: Schadenfreude and Surveillance

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pp. 80-104

Like many journalists, Sarah Rodman assumes that exposure and humiliation are makeover shows’ stock-in-trade. Of The Biggest Loser’s home channel, she worries that “NBC” now stood for the “Nothing But Cruelty network” and that “survival and talent are out, and self-improvement by way of self-abasement is in.”1 ...

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5. Feeling Real: Empirical Truth and Emotional Authenticity

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pp. 105-135

Julie’s discussion of her emotional engagement with the housemates on Starting Over frames the intertwined themes in this chapter. For Julie, the housemates’ expression of emotion, particularly crying, signals the authenticity of the show, a rare value in most television. This authenticity is underpinned by her sense of the housemates’ vulnerability, ...

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6. Mirror, Mirror: The Reflexive Self

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pp. 136-163

Danica here draws together some of the themes from the preceding chapters. She disputes that What Not to Wear is a makeover show, suggesting a narrow definition of this genre that focuses only on physical transformation. What she enjoys instead about What Not to Wear is its attention to “internal” change, despite the candidates’ conscious intentions. ...

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7. Research Reflexivity: Audiences and Investigators in Context

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pp. 164-185

In the first quotation, a survey respondent chided us about a badly designed survey question; in the second, an interviewee told us where to look for good data about the candidates on a show. As I developed the frame of reflexivity to describe participants’ engagements with the shows, I realized that they were also reflexive about taking part in a research study. ...

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8. Once More with Feeling: Reconsidering Reflexivity

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pp. 186-204

This book began with cautionary tales: makeover shows invoke people’s worst impulses toward laughing and pointing at others’ misfortunes, produce obedient consumers, and turn people into self-governing, rational automatons. It narrates a story that focuses on some of the people who watch makeover television, ...

Appendix I: Protocols

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pp. 205-212

Appendix II: Demographic Data

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pp. 213-218


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pp. 219-228


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pp. 229-236


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pp. 237-245

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About the Author

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pp. 246

Katherine Sender is an associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of Business, Not Politics: The Making of the Gay Market (Columbia University Press, 2004) and coeditor of The Politics of Reality TV: Global Perspectives (Routledge, 2011). ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814738979
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814740699

Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Reality television programs -- History and criticism.
  • Makeover television programs -- History and criticism
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