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What Not to Wear, the popular wardrobe makeover show watched by teenagers and housewives alike, presents the audience with the interpellation of a familiar consumer society. This “consumer attitude” dictates patterns of behavior, which provide consumerism as the solution to life’s problems. In our class discussion, I was reminded of an experience I shared with the TV show in question.

As a new sales associate for an Upper East Side boutique, I was informed one day by the shop owners that the store maintained a relationship with What Not to Wear and the show would be bringing in a participant to be filmed shopping the store. I was to help her find sizes, etc. An issue arose when the crew walked in and the participant happened to be a larger size than the store generally carried. Instead of acknowledging this in advance and choosing a more appropriate store, the crew decided to have the participant go through and try to find something that would suit her regardless. For the next hour, this woman brought garment after garment up to the register to ask if I could find her size and, try as I did, the store failed to supply anything that would work. I became increasingly discouraged and embarrassed that I couldn’t help but each time the search yielded no results, the cameras came closer to the participants face and the eventual tears that fell when she ran out of options.

By the end, the participant was in the dressing room, sobbing, and the crew was commenting on how tears make great TV and that they need more shots of her being upset. It was then that I realized, not only is the “consumer attitude” perpetuated by shows such as this one, placing on display a dispossessed figure who attempts to problem solve through purchasing, but also the audience themselves are consuming the attitude. The show is advertised as the feel-good, makeover story of a lucky woman but behind the scenes, the goal is very simply to perform for television and garner the most financial success. Consuming the attitude implies the step beyond just occupying the attitude; it means that, no matter if the consumer item is based on truth or falsities, the underlying attitude of consumerism remains the deeply rooted answer.

Celia Lury explains, in her book entitled Consumer Culture, that “television can thus be seen as an alternative or complementary medium of education for this generation.” She goes on to describe the “development of lifestyle as a self-conscious project” that has resulted from a society so entrenched in media, which is a clear example of the effect a show like What Not to Wear may have. Instead of providing the rags to riches story of a forlorn woman looking to break out of a rut, the audience receives a commentary on the lifestyle shown in the show as well as subliminally negative reinforcement to follow in the consumption of the consumer attitude. 

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