What Makes the Man? Television Makeovers, Made-Over Masculinity, and Male Body Image

By Weber, Brenda R. | International Journal of Men's Health, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

What Makes the Man? Television Makeovers, Made-Over Masculinity, and Male Body Image


Weber, Brenda R., International Journal of Men's Health


This article examines television makeover transformations of men, arguing that makeovers provide a means of observing how manliness is constructed by the media and how male identity and body image become implicated in gendered investments about masculinity. The televised "manly" makeover also offers an opportunity to observe the relation between men's bodies and self-esteem. Since it is designed to heighten men's sense of masculinity through a process that requires men to be passive in full view of an audience, the made-over man then comes to occupy a feminized position. He must be the object of the other's gaze and accept externally determined changes of his body and self-presentation.

Keywords: male identity, body image, hegemonic masculinity, self-esteem, self-presentation

The makeover has long been a mainstay of women's advice and entertainment literature. Since the beginning of the new decade, however, television has launched a proliferation of make over-themed shows for the house, car, and body that seek to inform men and women of the pleasures and possibilities of transformation, rejuvenation, and alteration. At present, there are more than 30 makeover shows on U.S. and international television that offer to change and improve symbolic manifestations of the self from MTVs Pimp My Ride to HGTV's Trading Spaces to BBC and TLCs What Not to Wear to Fox's The Swan, cars, rooms, appearance, and bodies are all made over. While still predominately addressing women, televisual transformations have opened an imaginative terrain apart from the traditional homosocial male spaces, such as the military training facility or the athletic practice field, where men are invited/compelled to undergo change in the name of improving their physical and psychological health.

As I have argued in other work, makeover interventions are largely concerned with writing gender norms onto typically female bodies (Weber, 2005). On plastic surgery shows, the gendering of women's bodies is often done quite literally by "sculpting" the body so that it more fully emits signs of femininity: large breasts, an hour-glass figure, a pert nose, etc.1 On other makeover programs where clothes, spaces, and behaviors are the raw material with which experts work, feminization of a woman quite often happens through the guise of offering her greater self-esteem so that she can take pride in her house or show off her womanly style choices. Experts typically occupy positions of decision-making authority, which, in turn, tends to heighten and over-simplify the gender binaries mapped out by the show, so that authorities appear to function with masculine domination, while makeover subjects perform feminine subordination. The over-simplified gender binaries also reify the significance of visual stimuli as the most important indexical link to physical and emotional well-being. The logic suggests that the outside is a reflection of the inside, but also that the outside can influence the inside. Beautiful people make for healthy bodies.

Inviting men to the (operating) table, as many shows have done, opens a fascinating cultural space where it is possible to see how male power and success is imagined and constructed, and how the discourses of health become implicated in gendered investments in masculinity. It also offers a very specific arena in which to observe a sociological phenomenon about men's bodies and self-esteem. Across cultures, one of the privileges of masculinity has been its retention of the unmarked or normative category, and thus the capacity to go unexamined.2 Given this, the makeover poses a threat since it reveals, quite literally, what makes the man. And yet, since the conceptualization of manhood often relies on self-determination and invisibility, the makeover offers a puzzling enigma in that it enacts a technology of gender specifically designed to heighten one's masculinity through a process that requires men to receive assistance passively in full view of an audience. …

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