CFC: She’d Be HOT Without the Glasses and Ponytail!

Makeover scene from Princess Diaries
Anne Hathaway as Mia Thermopolis (center) in The Princess Diaries

From Mav: A few weeks ago, we did an episode about the Princess Diaries 1&2 films. Ever since then, something has been getting at me. In the first film, there’s the requisite teen movie makeover scene…. Mia Thermopolis is an “ugly duckling”, but it turns out all they really have to do is take off her glasses and fix her hair and then suddenly, DAMN! SHE’S SO HAWT!!! And of course, there’s the obvious not so subtle theme that this is silly. It’s the same girl; beauty is just a performative and arbitrary set of markers that we have decided on and the real beauty was always inside… yadda yadda yadda! And of course there’s the counter dig is that it’s really easy to say that everyone is secretly beautiful on the inside when everyone is secretly Anne Hathaway. But most of us don’t have that advantage.

But really, none of that is what grabbed me when watching the film. Instead it was that the honest truth is… I had remembered Mia being “uglier” … or at least “less conventionally attractive” before her makeover. I at least remembered her wearing her glasses more. But not so much. In fact, she barely wears her glasses at all. Just enough to remind you that she needs glasses and is therefore hideous… then she takes them off! So really, most of her makeover is… they comb her hair. Ok, they also tweeze her eyebrows and put on some makeup… but really, not that much… because most of the magic here was that they were already working with a base of Ann Hathaway. It’s really just the straightened hair

Makeover scene from Not Another Teen Movie
Chyler Leigh as Janey Briggs (left) and Mia Kirshner as Catherine Wyler in Not Another Teen Movie

So I went down a slight rabbit hole here thinking about the other films which do this whole makeover that is really just taking off the glasses and letting out the ponytail. The obvious one here is Chyler Leigh in Not Another Teen Movie since the fact that that’s all they’re doing is sort of a major plot point in the movie. They’re making fun of the fact that everyone treats Janey like she looks different even though she looks exactly the same.

Before and After makeover from She's All That
Rachel Leigh Cook as Laney Boggs in She’s All That

But the thing is, that scene isn’t really all that over the top. The reason they have to go SO FAR as to have Janey fall through the floor is that the original version of the scene in She’s All That is already very self-aware and knows that Laney’s transformation is anything but drastic because Rachel Leigh Cook is just a knock-out even as a nerd. The parodies act like Laney was treated as though she was a hideous loser… but really, that’s not true. She’s unpopular — mostly because she’s poor, unstylish and antisocial — not ugly. The movie knows that the simplicity of Laney’s makeover was ridiculous.

Makeover scene from Miss Congeniality
Sandra Bullock as Gracie Hart in Miss Congeniality

The truth is, as far as I can tell most makeover scenes actually aren’t really all that drastic. Especially not the teen makeover scenes. I found a list of “the Best Hollywood Makeover Scenes” and went through them all and most of the classic ones that everyone remembers are for adult women and they’re more about the clothes than anything else: In Pretty Woman Julia Roberts is already a gorgeous prostitute. Similar for Maid in Manhattan with J-Lo or Devil Wears Prada, again with Anne Hathaway, it’s more about not being able to afford the luxury items that that make you the right kind of pretty. It’s a statement on class more than physical beauty. The biggest example I can think of to making an actual specific statement about femininity through the makeover in a modern film is Miss Congeniality where Gracie is still a rough and tumble tomboy even if she happens to be wearing a formfitting dress. But even there, the message is that Gracie is the same person underneath and the sexiness is more of a disguise than anything else… not a true transformation. It’s still about class! This was always the thing with stories like My Fair Lady in the first place. The inner you is the real you. Or whatever.

Before and After makeover from She's Out of Control
Ami Dolenz as Katie Simpson in She’s Out of Control

But I don’t think the teen makeover is really doing with the teen makeover scene. Here it’s more about sex… and sexual power. I think the clearest example here is She’s Out of Control starring Ami Dolenz and Tony Danza. If you’ve never seen the movie, I’m not surprised. It’s… well, bad… very bad. It has a GENEROUS 11% on Rotten Tomatoes. BUT, I watch these things so you don’t have to, and there’s some really key things that happen in the film that make it notable. (Really, don’t watch it… but if you must, it’s totally on Amazon Prime)First of all, Dolenz’s character, Katie, really does look different before and after her makeover. But that’s because the film went out of its way to dress her down BEFORE the makeover. Her hair is a mess, she’s got thick coke bottle glasses, braces, and absolutely no fashion sense. Is she ugly? No, not really, but the makeup and costumers made the contrast drastic in a way that most makeover scenes really aren’t.

The second makeover from She's Out of Control
Laura Mooney as Bonnie Simpson in She’s Out of Control

But there’s more to it than that; we don’t really see Katie being rejected before her makeover. The film isn’t about that. The issue is more that her FATHER doesn’t notice her beauty and sexuality. And then when he does, the film becomes about HIS inability to handle that his fifteen-year-old daughter is a sexual being that boys might desire. Basically, in a reverse Oedipal moment, Danza’s Doug character is forced to realize, recognize, and reconcile his own male gaze towards his daughter and deal with the ramifications of this. All of the power over men that Katie seems to have is more in Doug’s mind than anywhere else. The movie isn’t good, but I think that it has something to say.

Perhaps the point of these films is to recognize that that the power of the male gaze is ALWAYS entirely situational and performative and more of a commentary on the gazer than the gazee? After all, Katie isn’t on a virginity quest. This isn’t a coming of age for her… nor is it really for Laney, Janey, or Mia. But the films, and by extension we as a society, only acknowledges young women as sexual if they are sexy. Even to their fathers. This is underscored by a final scene in which Doug is once again shocked when his younger 12yo daughter Bonnie suddenly also undergoes a makeover before going out on a date.

Makeover scene from He's All That
Tanner Buchanan as Cameron Kweller (left) and Addison Rae as Padgett Sawyer in He’s All That.

Anyway, I want to talk about makeover scenes. What are your thoughts? Especially in teen movies but if you have other examples give me your thoughts there as well. Also, there are some boy examplesa LOT of them actually. I stuck to the girl ones for this post, but I’m curious as to how people feel about the reversing of genders on this issue as well. Let us know in the comments.

4 Comments and 2 Webmentions for “CFC: She’d Be HOT Without the Glasses and Ponytail!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *