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One good, one could do better

A couple of British makeover programmes offer very different viewing experiences.

I watched a couple of makeover programmes on telly last night, with mixed results.

The first was How to Look Good Naked, presented by Gok Wan. This is new to me, though if memory serves, my sister is a fan. I think it's been going for a couple of years on British telly.

I can see why my sister likes it. Although the programme is a tad formulaic and also a bit loud for me, like much of British culture, Gok is the kind of gay best friend every woman needs - frank, encouraging and full of endless fillips. He is also very kind, which is a marked contrast to Trinny and Susannah. He was apparently very fat in his youth, so he has an understanding of body image.

The amount of nudity shown would have been shocking on prime-time TV even a decade ago, but it must be a relief to many women to see women of normal height and weight and degree of hairiness shown on television, talking openly about their bodies, rather than the stick-thin teenagers we're all supposed to emulate. I was once a member of The Sanctuary, so I have no illusions about what real women look like...

Essentially, HTLGN is a self-help programme aimed at improving a woman's self-esteem and in the episode shown, Gok played a couple of simple tricks that were very telling. The subject had an obsession with her 'huge' post-childbirth belly, so he lined up a bunch of women of varying waist sizes and asked her to position herself where she thought she fitted (this is apparently a staple of the programme). She placed herself with a waist measurement of about 36 inches. In fact, her waist measured 30 inches and she was a UK size 10 - her image of herself was completely off kilter. Not one subject, so far, says Gok, has ever put herself in the right place, because we all suffer body dysmorphia, thinking of ourselves as bigger than we are. 

He also got her to stand in front of a mirror and then pinned back her loose baggy clothes and cut off the excess fabric to show her quite how much she was wearing - two or three dress sizes too much, every inch of which made her look larger. This is something I wish I could do with a lot of people, to be honest. He also made her chuck out her godawful hippy wardrobe and attempt a degree of personal grooming. By the end of the programme her confidence had been so boosted that she was in her first relationship for three years, pregnant and about to get married. So much for appearances not mattering.

The programme I watched afterwards was Trinny and Susannah Undress the Nation, which was a poor offering in comparison. I have always enjoyed What Not To Wear, but the new programme (on UK's Channel Four rather than the Beeb) lacks the in-depth focus on one or two subjects that always made the old series worth watching no matter how gimmicky the presentation.

Our relationship with our appearance is always a complex one, especially as woman is traditionally the 'observed' sex (read John Berger's Ways of Seeing for more on this concept), and without the psychological aspect of WHY a woman presents the appearance she does, Undress the Nation was simply a whole bunch of double-quick makeovers of people you neither knew nor cared about.

Nor did most of the women look much better afterwards than before, as they were simply dressed off the rack with whatever the presenters had to hand, rather than choosing a whole new wardrobe according to a new set of criteria, as on What Not To Wear.

On the whole, this made it much less involving, and although I might give it a couple of more tries, I have a feeling this is a programme I won't find unmissable.   

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A prescription for beauty

In The Beauty Prescription, two doctors take a four-part approach to looking and feeling good

Dr Debra Luftman and Dr Eva Ritvo are out and about plugging their new book: The Beauty Prescription (£13.99, McGraw-Hill). 

Luftman is a dermatologist while Ritvo is a psychologist, but as friends, comparing notes, they realised that their patients had many of the same body issues - low self-esteem, poor self-image etc. Luftman's clients were looking for external solutions to their problems, while Ritvo's were looking more inside themselves, but the two women decided they could come up with a 'beauty prescription' that would work for everybody.

"True beauty," says Luftman, "isn't about being physically perfect: it's about maximising your beauty potential. When you do this, people will subconsciously want to treat you better." 

At the core of the 'prescription' is what the women call the 'brain loop' - inner beauty, health, outer beauty, environment. 

* Inner beauty covers areas such as mental and emotional well-being, self-esteem, self-awareness and self-confidence.

* Health deals with taking care of your physical health through the right nutrition, sleep and leading a healthy lifestyle in general.

* Outer beauty covers maintaining your external looks such as make-up, hair, skincare etc.

* Environment deals with your surroundings and what feedback you get from them - home, work, relationships and friends.  

The trick, says Luftman, is to keep all areas of the loop flowing. "When someone says you look beautiful, you feel more beautiful," she says. "When you feel more beautiful, you start to look after yourself more. The better you feel and look, the more positive the response you get from your environment, the more people are attracted to you and the more confident you feel."

But although this can be a positive circle, she adds, when one area isn't working, you can also end up in the opposite - a circle of negativity.

The tips are pretty basic, but they include:

* Inner beauty: do voluntary work, value your relationships, practise self-affirmations.

* Health: exercise, eat properly, get enough sleep, have regular medical checkups.

* Outer beauty: see a (non-affiliated) make-up artist for some tips, develop a daily skincare regime, replace your makeup regularly, 'dress up'.

* Environment: spend time with people you like, avoid people you don't, do little things to cheer yourself up such as putting flowers on your desk. 

Well, basic they may be, and the doctors have come in for some criticism because of it, but I wonder how many of us actually do them?

Because I practise Buddhism (though I'm not a Buddhist) I learned a long time ago to write down five positive things at the end of every day. It sounds naff, but it does help you to focus on the good things in your life instead of the bad things, while is my tendency, being the depressive sort. I also put my health before everything these days because I have an auto-immune disease which would otherwise lay me flat (hence the downshift to the countryside instead of my former caffeine-fuelled life in London). How many of us go through our makeup drawer twice a year and chuck out everything that's past its sell-by? Most of us suffer a shot across the bows like conjunctivitis before we learn that lesson (yes, I do mean me...).

Lots of women never learn to put themselves first in anything, and then whinge like martyrs that their husbands and kids boss them about (as a non parent I see this all the time with mothers). But as they say in emergency services: put your own oxygen mask on first (ie: if you don't, you're no use to anybody else) and that's not a bad tip to carry through life.

However, it strikes me from this little list that the lesson some women never learn is to cut people out of their lives who aren't worthwhile, especially when it comes to men. How many women stay in relationships that are violent, or disrespectful? And realistically, how many men do this? How many women stay with an alcoholic husband? Nine out of ten, according to stats, while nine out of ten husbands leave an alcoholic wife - very interesting.

We're even worse when it comes to family, as if there was some reason to put up with people you wouldn't otherwise be friends with in a million years. And speaking of friends, how many of us have negative friends, who do nothing but suck the mental energy out of you and leave you feeling tired?

Probably owing to my dysfunctional family, I had a habit over the years of putting up with crappy friends myself. But I do notice, thank God, that as I get older, I'm more ruthless about cutting them off. My friend T put her finger on this exactly when she said: "I don't have time to spend time with the people I DO like. I'm sure as shit not going to spend time with people I DON'T..."

For more on The Beauty Prescription, including a longer list of tips, see this article in the Mail.  

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