Makeover Industry Disha Roy

Article Posted in: Research Articles

Perfect Style, Perfect Self: effects of the makeover industry, by Disha Roy

Ashvamegh : October 2015 : Issue IX : Research Papers : ISSN : 2454-4574


“Women’s Health available on iPad, iPhone, Android, Kindle, PC and Mac. FIT IS THE NEW SEXY”                                                                                                   Cosmopolitan, March 2015

“Every morning before facing the world, I face myself…The crystal clear image fills me with confidence. Inspires me to go ahead and take the challenges , head on…Bringing the world’s the finest technologies to give you unmistakably clear and distortion free images.”

Society, March 2015

“Looking and feeling young is also about dressing the part.”                             Savvy, March 2015


The obsession with physical beauty has been integral to civilization since time immemorial. Gone are the days of Victorian morality that would stress upon one’s inner moral values as the foundation for outward beauty. In fact, today’s neoliberal framework is characterised by the exact opposite of this phenomena whereby a standard, perfect and beautifully crafted physical appearance serves to enhance those very inner qualities that constitute or must constitute a subject. The beauty of the body is no longer an end in itself or a luxurious exercise that one would indulge in, in his or her ‘free time’ but has acquired a lot more significance as almost an economic and social necessity and thereby a responsibility. Whether in the personal or professional sphere, one is always driven by the urge to look ‘presentable’. So, what is the most convenient method of achieving it? By resorting to the consumer-friendly means of acquiring quick beauty. This is precisely the tendency that the makeover industry has capitalized upon to create a symbiotic relationship of granting a Cinderella-like transformation by cosmeticizing and pathologizing beauty. If one analyses the growth of the makeover industry in the era of globalization, beginning from the “Mecca of makeover culture”, America, to its effects in the third world countries, it won’t be difficult to realize that the popularity of the makeover industry is based on people’s emerging idea of beauty as an asset that is to be possessed. In other words, makeover, in itself, has become a form of capital. In his theory of forms of capital, Pierre Bourdieu talks of how cultural capital is fundamentally linked to the body in its embodied state. To link the above argument with Bourdieu’s idea, he negates the possibility of a makeover by suggesting that the acquisition of embodied capital “like the acquisition of a muscular physique or a suntan… cannot be done at second hand”(Bourdieu 245). Bourdieu defines embodied capital as a form of self-improvement. However, the very industry of makeover thrives on its ability to grant an improvement that cannot be acquired on its own. The question that arises now is, what is it that makes makeover a form of embodied capital? Bourdieu writes,

“The accumulation of cultural capital in the embodied state, i.e, in the form of what is called culture,   cultivation, Bildung, presupposes a process  of  embodiment , incorporation, which, insofar as it implies a labor of inculcation and assimilation, costs time which must be invested personally by the investor (Bourdieu 245).”

Given the times, when one’s personality is also to be judged in terms of how one physically appear before others, the cultivation of embodied cultural capital entails makeover. An appropriate appearance, in adherence to the societal standards of beauty and style, is no longer considered an excess but is inextricably linked to a person’s disposition. A constant strife for acquiring and maintaining the perfect look is considered by many, today, as an expression of their inner self.  In this paper, I would like to site testimonials of women who underwent makeover in order to highlight its importance.

In the blog titled “Total Image Consultants”, Ginger Burr highlights the life-changing influence of makeover by quoting her clients in their ‘Before/After’ profiles.

         “I had a dose of happy today when I put on my teal sweater, belted cream tank, and saw the blue in my  eyes just pop!  (My coworker and students commented as well.) I really felt competent and capable of anything that was thrown my way today  (and, believe me, it was). – Diane McKay”

“Ginger has shown me, not only how to dress in the best ways for me, but also how to be truer to myself. She has an extraordinary ability to see deeply into her clients and–gently–show each of us how to let our own, unique qualities shine forth.” – Amanda Sobel”

The title of the blog itself is suggestive of the function of makeover to create a ‘total image’ of a person. What one gathers from these testimonies is that besides constructing an ‘image’ that is worthy of being displayed in society, makeover also has to do with one’s realization of his or her competence. If it brings out the ‘truer’ self of a person, then this external physical refinement, far from being superficial, is about making people feel more of their authentic selves. A person’s discomfort with his or her physical appearance often becomes a reason for low self-esteem or self–confidence. Makeover, on the other hand, through make-up, following the current fashion trend, weight loss enhances productive capacities in whichever field they operate. This marvellous transformative capacity of makeover is based on its potential to create the ‘beautiful’, the appreciation of which has its own socio-economic connotations. Mimi Thi Nguyen talks of beauty’s force on three registers-redemptive promise of beauty, distribution of beauty as opposed to ugliness and beauty as pragmatic, to bear on the production of selves and sentiments. To link all the three, beauty, in occupying a superior position to that which is not beautiful, asserts the promise of a better future through a series of techniques to produce the socially sanctioned subject. This is promised by makeover, in its employment in the embodied state, to acquire economic and social capital. For instance, one is aware of the importance stressed upon how a person looks, dresses or carries him/herself in the professional world or in corporate parties. Even in one’s personal life, one is meant to ‘look the part’ for their loved ones, to be the ideal ‘type’ so as to be valued, a striking  example of which are the matrimonial advertisements. Moreover, a made-over body implicitly carries in it the hope of social mobility, away from what Bourdieu would term as one’s ‘habitus’. Nguyen, in her essay, further talks about how makeover has served as a means of restoring independence to the burqa-clad Afghan women who are otherwise suppressed under the terror of the Taliban rule(Nguyen 360).In a country where painting nails or doing the hair is nothing less than blasphemy, the beauty salons act as subversive spaces for these women. They would apply cosmetics that would never show in public in order to normalize their life in a world that has otherwise gone haywire. Unlike the times when women painting their faces would be classified as ‘cheap’, today, makeover is seen by many as a means of exercising their democracy, granting a kind of an agency, especially to women. Thus, people, without any reservation, would openly admit their having undergone cosmetic surgery or subscribing to weight loss courses or even participating in reality shows like ‘Extreme Makeover’. One can deduce that beauty, in this case, through makeover, becomes a site of empowerment and freedom.

Underlying the idea of makeover as a humanitarian right is an interesting paradox. If beauty acquired through makeover is indeed a form of embodied capital, it is important to interrogate the necessity of the same. What kind of beauty does the act of makeover bestow? What are the parameters that ascertain an appearance as ‘perfect’?  If makeover is about expressing one’s true self, an act of freedom, then this very freedom is regulated by societal norms. Even the titles of fashion magazines like ‘Vogue’, ‘Cosmopolitan’, ‘Society’ or ‘Savvy’ expose the intricate relation between appearance and social demands for the same. A certain yardstick of what can be called a perfect appearance is already in circulation which is further facilitated by the makeover industry. Since each body is subject to scrutiny, it is under constant pressure of living up to this standard. The body, being always visible, is perpetually performing to be acknowledged and accepted by the others. This can be substantiated by another testimonial from Ginger Burr’s blog.

“The reactions from my friend and family (not to mention those in the supermarket) were wonderful! It was a phenomenal experience, and I love the whole look!” – Marianne Cohen”

Thus, how one is perceived in his or her socio-economic environment is a matter of concern and perhaps this is one of the crucial factors behind the restoration of dignity that the makeover boasts of. This false sense of agency will in turn be guided by the makeover industry as experts would advise their clients on the shape that their body must maintain, on the kind of attire to be worn at an office or at other occasions or what fashion they are to follow in order to keep up with the trend. In other words, makeover promotes a manufactured sense of self-expression. This compulsion to keep a perfect shape and style has been internalized in such a way that one assumes it to be a matter of choice rather than a burden. McNay remarks, “Control in modern societies is achieved… not through direct repression but through more invisible strategies of normalization. Individuals regulate themselves” (McNay 359). This act of normalizing has converted social statements into truth statements which has further resulted in self-monitoring. Also quite apparent is the gendered normative expectations about the body. In a patriarchal setup, it is a woman’s body that is more visible and therefore a victim of greater criticism.  The directly proportional relation of appearance and success is found to be more prominent in case of women than men.

This bias about a greater need for a woman’s ‘perfect’ appearance is exemplified through the marketing pattern of cosmetics or pathologized beauty.  All across mass media, the cosmetic industry has spread one basic message – “almost everybody is now “failed” in some respect” (Heyes 361). Any characteristic of the body that deviates from the standard will be deemed a disorder which needs to be corrected. This correction can only happen through the consumption of the marketed products. Post liberalization, as Marlis Schweitzer points out, beauty has become “something that could be acquired… through good purchases” (Schweitzer 280). The consumers, smart as they are, will be lured precisely because such purchases will guarantee an easy access to that ideal beauty. So, when ‘Kairali Health thru’ Ayurveda’ promises a weight loss in just 14 to 21 nights (Cosmopolitan 119), cosmetic surgeries provide chances of changing body features overnight or when fashion magazines chart out the look that one must wear to make one feel ‘new’, the neoliberal consumer is helplessly drawn towards such offers. Quite similar is the reason behind the purchase of vanishing creams, concealers, pore minimising products or Holi special sessions arranged by companies like MedSpa to reveal the secret to lasting beauty as all of this will render the defects invisible, for it is this possibility of quick invisibility to appear ‘normal’ that serves as the greatest drive. Thus one is not surprised, in fact, quite elated about experts like Ishika Taneja for making an entry into the Guinness Book of World Records, for doing the fastest airbrush makeup on sixty models in sixty minutes.




Primary Sources

Cosmopolitan March 2015

Savvy March 2015

Society March 2015

Web Sources




Secondary Sources

Bourdieu, P.The Forms of Capital. Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education(1986).241-258. Print

Dolezal, L. The (Invisible Body: Feminism, Phenomenology, and the Case of Cosmetic Surgery. Hypatia 25(2009).357–375. Print

Nguyen,M.The Biopower of Beauty: Humanitarian Imperialisms and Global Feminisms in an Age of Terror.Signs. Vol. 36, No. 2 (Winter 2011).359-383.Print

Schweitzer,M.”The Mad Search for Beauty”: Actresses’ Testimonials, the Cosmetics Industry, and the “Democratization of Beauty”. The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.Vol. 4, No. 3 (Jul., 2005). 255-292. Print

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