Mayim Bialik is the former child star of the 80’s show “Blossom.” Mayim was often the most sensible and mature character portrayed on that sitcom. At the time that “Blossom” was on the air, Bialik stood out in that she was not what society deems to be classically beautiful and was not overly fixated on her appearance or boys.
When “Blossom” ended, Bialik did not become another child star disaster. She pursued an undergraduate degree in neuroscience, Hebrew and Jewish Studies at UCLA. When we consider the fact that so many child stars like Corey Haim and Todd Bridges end up with either serious addiction problems or legal issues, the fact that Mayim was able to avoid the traditional traps paints a picture of a woman who is true to herself and does not base her self-esteem on the opinions of others.
Today she is the mother of two and has a PhD in neuroscience, and yet when Clinton Kelly from TLC’s What Not To Wear had to sum her up, she was reduced to “all quirk and no cute.” In the eyes of Stacey London and Clinton Kelley, she had totally “let herself go” because her priorities have been education and raising her family. In a world in which appearance is deemed most important for women, Mayim’s achievements are devalued.
Though What Not to Wear has had male participants, I have yet to see a male neuroscientist or professional told that his fashion choices would negatively impact his career. Fathers are never told to be conscious of their appearance when they wear an old pair of jeans or a t-shirt that has seen better days to play at the park with their kids, and yet a mother whose shoes do not match her purse has apparently stopped caring about herself. Nothing sexist about the disparity in the commentary at all, is there?
As Mayim roamed from fitting room to fitting room, her biggest concern was that she was not going to “feel like herself,” whereas Clinton felt that it was far more imperative for her “to find something figure friendly”. If clothing is supposed to be a reflection of who we are and functional for the lives that we lead, why were Mayim’s concerns so easily cast aside? Oops! Silly me, “real women” are meant to spend their lives attempting to be pretty as a peach and any diversion is an abdication of duty. If her appearance is not about pleasing herself, clearly it is to satisfy the male gaze
To complete the transformation, each new person on the show is given a haircut and makeup tips from Carmindy. According to Clinton, the tips that Mayim received from their resident makeup artist would “give this hippy mom a natural look.” How is applying makeup to your face more natural than the way that you look without it? It implies that there is something wrong with her, no matter what her comfort level with her appearance may be. This is exactly the tactic that the beauty industry uses against women, guilting us into spending our hard-earned money on products that make wild claims and yet produce little to no results.
After spending two days shopping to find more appropriate clothing, what would any makeover show be without the big reveal? Clinton declared we spent “one week transforming a baffled and confused Blossom into a fresh bouquet.” Unfortunately, Bialik’s previous accomplishments appeared cast aside. It seemed as though her biggest claim to fame should be that she stood in front of their famous 360 degree mirror and allowed herself to be shamed into admitting that she did not conform to artificial appearance standards, that she was not a good, subservient capitalist.
“Now you have presence; before not so much. It says, I’m hot, look at me”, declared Clinton as he marvelled on his supposedly transformative work. From the moment a little girl is born, this is the message that is continually reified. Femininity is only understood in terms of how our bodies can be appealing to males.
What Not to Wear is one of the hottest shows on TLC. Week after week, women submit to shaming because they are not appropriately performing femininity. The dreaded 360 mirror is used to ensure that every supposed fault is magnified and duly acknowledged as an abdication of the roles that we are born to play.
While it is completely understandable that some women focus more on appearance than others, publicly shaming the ones that refuse to keep up is nothing more than a genderized assault. From start to finish, the basis of this show is conformity. At a time when women are taking on more responsibilities it is decidedly anti-woman.