In a show earlier this year on Channel 4, a downtrodden-looking woman was exhibited to members of the public who were asked to guess her age. When, as invariably they did, they overestimated it, a team of image-management professionals - cosmetic surgeons, celebrity hairdressers, make-up artists and the doll-like 'stylist' who presented the show - got to work transforming her. With the aid of botox, eyebrow lifts, a snappy hairdo, pointed boots and denim, she was made-over and re-exhibited to the public, who duly assessed her age as ten years younger. Miraculously, the outside now corresponded to the inside where, we were led to believe, a younger, trendier - though up to now invisible - person had always been hiding. To achieve this result, you can be pretty sure that the poor woman was made over not once but twice: once downwards as they put her in her worst clothes, stood her in strong sunlight and forbade the use of make-up, and once upwards, using the plastic surgeon's skills, soft focus and professional make-up. But now Plain Jane has become Beautiful Barbie, she can fulfil her potential and let her true self emerge from the shadows.
LRB 3 November 2005 | PDF Download