Earlier tonight, What Not to Wear had its season premiere over on TLC. I was watching a different show with my mom during the first airing, so I decided to catch the late-night rerun based on feedback I was seeing in real time from fellow sports fans. It was just so unbelievable I had to see this for myself. Well, it was actually worse than I originally thought it would be.
Also I don’t know how to make screencaps off my TV, so this is kind of wall-o-text and I’ll try to break it with pictures.
What Not to Wear is not a show I usually watch. It and Style Network’s counterpart How Do I Look rely too much on tearing down perfectly normal, lovely women before throwing out their clothing and making them buy new stuff, dolling them up and presenting them before public audiences. Sometimes it can be fun to get all dolled up”“ I’m not at all denying that, I like to do it myself”“ but it should also be perfectly all right for a woman to wear a T-shirt and jeans if she likes”¦ or even a hockey jersey.
Sadly for Becky, that’s not how the world works, apparently.
In the intro, hosts Stacy and Clinton discuss Becky, who is 37 years old and divorced”“ the way Stacy’s voiceover says “single 37-year-old” is just so condescending. She moved from Chicago to LA to work for Jenny McCarthy and Cheryl Burke as a personal assistant after her divorce, but retained a deep and abiding love of Chicago sports. She owns a lot of shirts and jerseys for her teams and also wears lots of jeans and T-shirts. (Jeans and T-shirts are my uniform”“ full disclosure). However, Clinton explains that a “negative self-image” has left her “hiding in her sports tees.” By contrast, I know I feel more powerful and confident in my sports shirts. Anyway, she’s thinking of moving back to Chicago, so Cheryl and Jenny want her to stay and reinvent herself in the Land of Unattainable Perfection.
Cheryl explains that Becky doesn’t make much of an effort in her looks. Clinton wonders if Becky feels intimidated by the perfection. Jojo McCarthy says that Becky just has never had style. (Keep in mind the two are childhood friends, by Jojo’s admission. OUCH!)
Becky is cautioned by Cheryl that she may need to “let go” of her treasured jerseys. Keep in mind that a standard jersey costs $160, according to the official Blackhawks shop, and as Cheryl says that, she’s holding a Patrick Kane jersey. (I looked up the price for that one.) You’d basically have to pry a proper jersey”“or even a shersey”“out of my cold dead hands, Charlton Heston-style.
“Do you think other people are happy looking at you in this outfit?” Stacy asks as Becky enters the 360-degree mirror room, in which I would spend like 20 minutes just looking at myself and wiggling around. Becky is wearing a grey pullover jacket, a pink shirt with a V-neck and jeans. “Nobody ever thinks “˜you look comfortable!'” Clinton adds. “They say “˜you look like a slob!’” Keep in mind Becky’s hair looks clean and pulled back, her face looks clean, she’s wearing makeup and I think she’s showered and such”“ she doesn’t look visibly dirty. “The impression that you’re giving off is that you don’t matter,” he adds.
They show her some V-neck shirt with a camisole. The V-neck has a huge ruffle down the middle and ruching. I honestly think it’d make her look bigger. “If you wear something like this, you’ll be noticed!” Clinton says. “People will actually look at you.” Now I imagine poor Becky attempting to buy something at the drugstore, but the clerk looks through her as if she has an Invisibility Cloak on because she’s wearing a tee and jeans. Oh please. Then they make her hug the mannequin awkwardly.
But then when she is talking about her hesitance to wear a dress because of her legs, they reassure her that no one cares and they’re worried about their own ankles. This directly contradicts their earlier “Are people happy looking at you?” comments.
Cue the wardrobe-trashing scene. Clinton immediately gathers up a pile of Becky’s sports shirts and flips through them before tossing them into a trash can. They also toss some nice button-up blouses that are good for work, calling them “man shirts” even though one of them is pink and you can tell by the construction of the shirts that they are for women (hint: darts). She can’t keep a red Canada shirt even though she has family there and maybe that shirt has sentimental value. Her jerseys, you see, are in the way of her looking sparkly and pretty and noticeable. But she’s attached to them”“ rightly so, they cost an arm and a leg”“ and she reveals she has a signed Patrick Sharp jersey, so she wants to keep that safe from the trash can. By the way, her ENTIRE wardrobe is in this overflowing trash can.
The whole, “What sport is this? Football? What’s football?” act Clinton and Stacy put on while looking at her jerseys at this point (she has a few White Sox ones and then three Blackhawks ones: Kane, Toews, signed Sharp) is just condescending. Becky explains she is a sports fan and so these jerseys are a big part of who she is. But Cheryl to the rescue, uttering the truly insightful (not!) phrase that is the title of this post: “A dude would wear that and you’re a beautiful woman, so you should not wear this.” I wasn’t aware jerseys came with wearing guidelines based on the sex and gender presentation of the wearer. “EXACTLY!” Stacey agrees.
The stick and the carrot: the team says Becky might be able to keep her jerseys if she does a good job shopping. Clinton explains that everyone can have a few shirts and jeans. But Becky has let comfort take over her life. Stacy, who is apparently a licensed psychologist, diagnoses it as being because of Becky’s issues about size. Well, if she sees the same toxic messages I see about women who are larger than, say, a size 4, then I can’t blame her for it.
Back from commercials. Clinton explains it’s all about building Becky’s low self-esteem to improve her LA life. Becky now has $5,000 to use on shopping. (She could get some great Blackhawks season tickets for that price.) Clinton and Stacy watch Becky shop now. Clinton judges her for wearing jeans and a tee when he is wearing a plaid button-up with white pants and hideous green slip-on shoes sans socks. He basically looks like a refugee from the Miami Vice era. There is even visible chest hair.
“She needs to pop out. She needs to make sure people know that she’s there,” Cheryl says because she showed up to help Becky pick dresses. Becky is apparently a human jack-in-the-box. Becky gets frustrated while trying on dresses and Stacy sympathizes. “Women think it’s them and not the clothing,” she says. Well, hello, look at what you’ve been telling the poor lady! They then help her shop at some sort of department store. They pick for her a drab olive color dress with draping at various angles because she used to have a drab olive Army shirt. If she were to wear it, she would announce to the room, “Guess what? I’m here!” But Stacy also says that Becky needs to give herself a break. Please try to get your stories straight.
“Any woman who loves hockey generally has an edge to her!” -Clinton
Cue pithy laughter from Stacy and Clinton. I am still not really sure if they meant that positively or negatively, considering what they’d said before.
Back from commercials. Cheryl has a surprise for Becky They’re going to Vegas for her big reveal, baby! (Could it have been during the NHL Awards?) This part gets kind of ho-hum. Hair consultation: red highlights for her wavy brown hair. Red, very appropriate for a Blackhawks fan. She feels pretty after an admittedly very nice haircut. Then it’s smoky eye time.
Okay, big reveal to Clinton and Stacy, who seems to be getting paid per cheesy exclamation. “Shut the front door! You look amazeballs!”
Becky does look nice in a patterned shirt, slacks and white blazer thing. But Becky! The pride you feel will stay with you even after the cameras go off and you wash off the makeup because you’re an accomplished woman. I think that message is definitely buried here under, “Yay let’s buy you new clothes and tell you women can’t wear sports apparel!”
Stacy’s Nuggets of Knowledge: “It takes the same time to put on a tunic as it does to put on a hockey jersey. Guys are definitely going to hit on you in this as opposed to the jersey.” She seems to not fully understand the aphrodisiac power of good things happening in the sports world between sports fans. I’m pretty sure that lots of people in jerseys had some, uh, fun times after Chicago took home the Cup last year.
Now, a big surprise: They framed her jersey(s? You’ll see why I’m unsure about the pluralizing later). And Clinton can’t pronounce Toews. Becky politely corrects him. Stacy retorts, “Whatever, just don’t wear that shit in your real life.”
Then Clinton makes some weird joke about “him” being older than 19, indicating Toews’ number. (Uh, for the record, Toews is 23. But thanks for playing!) Does he mean the guys Becky will bring home? I don’t know. I’m just so confused.
Becky spent that $5,000 on “over 35 outfits that are red-carpet ready” and Stacy tells us how many of each item she bought. Then Stacy adds in that she got “one framed hockey jersey,” the Toews one. But what about the SIGNED Sharp one? I’d rather keep that if for some devil’s bargain reason, I had to pick just one. Alas, no one mentions the other jerseys. I really want to know what happened to them. (EDIT: I’ve been told by someone who knows Becky, and whom I trust, that she received all her jerseys back safely. Also she had some sports shirts in the laundry back at her place that were never shown on TV.)
Vegas time. Becky is in a pretty blue dress and everyone is happy. A fortnight later, Becky Skypes in an update. She’s happy. Yay.
In all seriousness, a lot of people wondered why I was making such a big deal about this. It’s just a show, they told me. Sure, it is, and you know what? Television shows are one of the most effective methods of disseminating opinions, thoughts, ideas and rules to be absorbed by society at large. If television shows keep on propagating this idea that proper women can’t be sports fans or can’t wear what they want to when they want to, it’s going to keep being absorbed and repeated by people who may otherwise mean well but have rather narrow-minded, limiting views on women who like sports. That’s very problematic. It needs to be called out when it happens, simple as that, and I do not plan to stop doing so any time soon.
Editor’s Note: This delightful post originally appeared on Adventures in Pucking, by the delightful Emma.