Remember when reality TV makeover shows were all the rage on cable TV?
It all started in the early 2000s with shows like “Extreme Makeover” and “The Swan,” both of which glorified the power of plastic surgery, presenting it as a cure-all for insecurities.
These shows didn’t do much to address real issues, like a lack of confidence or self-esteem, and instead hinged on the idea that a woman could conquer the world so long as she fit the mold of what society (and the show’s experts) deemed beautiful.
The early 2000s also gave us the original “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” a show that was fun, campy and way ahead of its time. Just as plastic surgery was somewhat taboo in the “Extreme Makeover” era, so was watching a group of gay men overhaul a straight man’s life and wardrobe. But the show’s hosts also changed the direction of makeover shows by providing a healthy dose of support for their subjects, rather than putting them under the knife.
Thankfully, the tide has turned in that direction. As Netflix’s “Queer Eye” reboot and even TLC’s “What Not To Wear” show, confidence and self-love are in.
Below, we’ve ranked 11 popular makeover shows from the most damaging to the most supportive:
"The Swan" (2004)
"The Swan," which aired for two seasons starting in 2004, is definitely one of the most destructive makeover shows to have ever existed. In fact, media critic Jennifer L. Pozner called the show “the most sadistic reality show of the decade
Women on the show received very extreme makeovers that involved plenty of plastic surgery, and were then pitted against each other in a pageant-style competition in hopes of being crowned "The Swan." Each week featured two women deemed "ugly," but once they underwent their makeovers, only one of them would advance to the pageant. Throughout the entire process, which generally took months, they weren't even allowed to look at themselves in the mirror.
If the show taught us anything, it's that plastic surgery isn't the answer to solving one's insecurities. Just look at Lorrie Arias
. The former contestant underwent more procedures than any other on the show, and 10 years later told HuffPost she lives with depression, is bipolar, struggles with agoraphobia and believes she has body dysmorphic disorder.
"Bridalplasty" was a makeover competition hybrid in which brides-to-be and some already-married brides competed to win a dream wedding and
a full body makeover for their trip down the aisle. All of the women had a wish list of plastic surgery procedures they desired, and each week, they would compete in wedding-themed challenges. The winner of each challenge won one of the procedures on her list, and the winner of the entire show had her whole list fulfilled. As Daniel O'Brien at Cracked
wrote in 2010, "It's Nip/Tuck meets 'Survivor' meets nightmares."
"Extreme Makeover" (2002-2007)
Like "The Swan," "Extreme Makeover" featured individuals who underwent, well, extreme makeovers,often involving plastic surgery. However, the show also provided contestants with a fitness regimen and updated their hair and wardrobe, which made it a little less one-dimensional.
"Snog, Marry, Avoid" (2008)
"Snog, Marry, Avoid" is a British makeunder show that subjects its contestants to footage of members of the public telling them how terrible they look. It's pretty brutal. In this particular episode, the show's talking computer and the episode's make-under subject also implied that being a drag queen is a bad thing. (It's not.)
Australian reality show "Unveiled" followed brides-to-be (and their fiances) as they undergo various cosmetic procedures, both surgical and nonsurgical, to achieve their "perfect" wedding face and body. The show features no snarky or catty hosts and it actually sometimes encourages the couples to adopt a healthy lifestyle, including exercise, to achieve their goals.
Its main redeeming factor is the fact that the majority of husbands endearingly assure their partners that they're beautiful as they are, but still support their decisions to make a few changes. When all is said and done, the transformations are too drastic, though one woman (in the video above) endured a painful hairline adjustment surgery that didn't really make a huge difference.
"10 Years Younger" (2004-2009)
"10 Years Younger" was another show that made its subjects face the public's oft-harsh opinions of them. This time, however, the public was asked to guess the featured individual's age to prove they looked older than they were.
The worst part of this show was watching the individual subjects stand in a glass box while others pointed out all their wrinkles and made quips about their clothing. By the end, though, the contestants were transformed and generally seemed happy with their results.
"Love, Lust or Run" (2015-2016)
TLC's "Love, Lust or Run" is an update on "Snog, Marry, Avoid," but host Stacy London is way more endearing. Sure, the subjects have to watch people judge their looks, and yes, London still picks apart their initial style choices, but she also manages to instill some confidence in the individuals featured and lovingly assures them they are all beautiful.
"What Not To Wear" (2003-2013)
"What Not To Wear" was pretty tame in comparison to shows like "The Swan" or "100% Hotter," but hosts Clinton Kelly and Stacy London could be a bit snarky at times. Still, the general message of the show was to encourage some self-confidence in the men and women who were featured, and overall, it was fun to watch without being too over-the-top. Plus, it lasted for 12 seasons
, so that's saying something.
"Queer Eye For The Straight Guy" (2003-2007)
The premise for "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" was pretty simple: five gay men march into a straight guy's home and revamp his life, focusing on style, grooming, culture, food and design. In 2003, when the show premiered on Bravo, there really wasn't anything like it on TV. In that way, it was truly groundbreaking.
"We were five very different gay guys who were having a lot of fun together and helping this one straight guy," Thom Filicia, the show's interior design expert, recently told HuffPost
. "And I think that that really struck a chord at that time."
"Queer Eye" (2018)
Netflix's "Queer Eye" reboot has all the fun and campiness of the original, infused with a hearty dose of love and acceptance (which style expert Tan France even states in the Season 1 trailer).The makeovers on this iteration of the show are beyond skin deep. Not only do the makeover subjects get some new clothes and haircuts, they also do some serious self reflection. By the end of each episode, everyone is crying and it's all just so beautiful. In an era of constant reboots and remakes, "Queer Eye" is the only one we need.