Lifetime puts a clever twist on everyone’s New Year’s resolution with its new British import “How to Look Good Naked.” Unlike reality shows that tout themselves as a social experiment, this series feels like the real thing — or at the very least, good watercooler material. Despite the salacious title, the series takes women with low self-esteem and poor body image (apparently there’s no shortage of candidates) and helps them realize their own individual potential without plastic surgery or a grueling weight loss program.
What seems like a very tricky proposition is handled with sisterly care under the auspices of host Carson Kressley. Bravo’s “Queer Eye” gave Kressley notoriety for flamboyantly manscaping fashion-challenged heterosexual men, but “How to Look Good” could make him a folk hero to women. His “perfect, no, beautiful, yes” approach is the ideal antidote to the Rachel Zoe culture of frighteningly thin women. “Zero,” says Kressley, “isn’t a size, it’s a warning sign.”
The current barrage of stick-thin models and actresses appears to have real consequences on the participants featured here. According to the show, four in five women say they are dissatisfied with their bodies.
While shows such as “The Swan” and even “The Biggest Loser” offer drastic solutions through invasive surgery and extensive diet regimens, “How to Look Good” offers an introspective journey.
The scope of the negative body-image epidemic is driven home in each episode, in which Kressley works with one woman over five days to help her come to terms with her perceived flaws.
Sometimes weight isn’t even the issue, but what’s truly fascinating and equally unsettling is that every woman in the first three episodes cries at the mere thought of having to strip down to their skivvies in front of the mirror. One young woman confesses that she won’t even brush her teeth in the bathroom for fear of catching her own reflection.
Kressley uses a fairly common-sense approach, along with his outrageous girlish antics, to help the participants realize how false their self-images really are. For instance, when asked to place themselves next to a woman of similar size, unfailingly, each participant overestimates their waist, rear or hip size by several inches.
There are no diet plans or exercise programs, no talk of procedures or operations. Instead, Kressley forces these women to hear something they’ve never expected: compliments from strangers.
The subjects of “How to Look Good Naked” initially appear without makeup and look especially frumpy at the beginning of the show. By the end of the episode, their transformation –with the help of a talented stylist and a new wardrobe — is all the more impressive.
There’s also an underlying impression that deep-seated psychological issues can be cured in a few days with a quick pep talk, a cute blouse and new shade of lipstick. No doubt emotions are a bit manipulated here, but it seems to serve a greater good, since Kressley, acting as fairy godmother, at least appears genuinely invested in the wellbeing of these women.