Is there a rude roadside lecher lurking inside Trinny and Susannah?

A woman is walking on a street when two other women walk up to her. They exchange names and then, the two tell the first woman that she dresses like a “tart”. To prove their point, the two women make her bend to pick something up in the middle of the street. When she obliges, the duo triumphantly announce that they can see parts of her anatomy that really should be under cover.

Since this was on television and Indian cable channels diligently bleep potentially-offensive words, I've no idea precisely which body parts were mentioned. It could have been the beep-worthy "ass" or it could have been “vagina”. Arguably, neither is meant to be flashed in public spaces, but when you deceive a woman into doing so, whether in public or private, you're humiliating her and, to quote a phrase that appears in a few Indian laws, outraging her modesty.

But wait a minute. Where’s my sense of humour? It’s Trinny and Susannah! The British makeover madams have become famous because audiences all over the world are fascinated by how posh but potty-mouthed they are, by how they’re unruffled by the fact that Trinny is easily typoed to read ‘tranny’ (and really, considering her proportions and makeup, it would be more Freudian slip than typo) and that their own fashion sense is far from flattering. (Susannah wore a bindi with a white cocktail dress. I rest my case.)

 Is there a rude roadside lecher lurking inside Trinny and Susannah?

Image courtesy Facebook.

Trinny and Susannah have trotted around different parts of the Western world, delighting in stripping victims down to their underwear, clutching different body parts of said victims and shocking viewers by using words like “boobs” and “clitty”. And now, they’ve come to India. In deference to local taste perhaps, there’s no clutching or stripping in Trinny and Susannah Makeover Mission India (so far). Being judgmental and giving godawful fashion advice, on the other hand, is perfectly acceptable.

Makeover shows give feminists the heebie-jeebies not only because they feed stupid insecurities, reduce the subjects – usually women – to their body parts and contort said body parts into deeply-flawed stereotypes of beauty, but because these shows can be great fun. What makes them dangerous is that makeover shows can be so entertaining as they tear down normal looking people and then raise their self-esteem using make-up, expensive clothes and camera angles. Trinny and Susannah’s career is based on this premise – that they’re being cruel to be kind, that they care and they’re not ashamed to grab your one breast in the hope that it will make you value both breasts and the rest of the jiggly bits that make up the ‘real’ you.

Perhaps it’s because the Indian partners, Sol Entertainment, told Trinny and Susannah that Indians like seeing mean presenters on TV, last night’s episode of Trinny and Susannah Makeover Mission India was appalling. It’s one thing to be critical and another to be judgmental. And, unlike the other avatars of Trinny and Susannah’s travelling circus, there’s no attempt at creating any facade of friendship with their victims.

Telling a woman she’s dressed like a tart is rude. When the woman – her name is Anisha – has chosen to wear a very tight, short skirt and stripper shoes, perhaps it’s even understandable. (That said, here’s an exercise for all of you who clapped delightedly at Trinny and Susannah being ‘honest’ – imagine how you’d react if instead of Trinny, a man said what she did to Anisha.) But that’s not all. Anisha is made to bend down and pick up a phone that she has hypothetically dropped so that she, in a public place and on television, can expose herself. How’s that for one person looking out for another’s dignity?

Later, when Susannah is ostensibly getting to know Anisha better, the British woman repeatedly suggests Anisha is a prostitute and that she is a liar. Trinny’s not much better. During her interview with the other participant, Anita, Trinny asks Anita of her ambitions. When Anita says she’d like to be recognised, Trinny observes that Anita sounds rather vacuous. This, coming from a woman who has made a career out of telling women what clothes they should wear.

And then there’s the fashion. Neither Trinny nor Susannah’s wardrobes suggest they should advise anyone on what to wear, but the real nail in the fashion coffin is their selection for the candidates. Trinny suggests to voice artist Anita that she wear a white shirt with a transparent, sparkly blouse on top when going for an audition. Knowing Anita also sings for a indie band – their music is fusion and metal, Anita tells Trinny – Anita is dropped into a dress that apparently makes her “India’s Rihanna”. How wonderful to know Trinny and Susannah were paying close attention when Anita was talking about her taste in music.

It’s better than Anisha’s lot. She gets a boxy, peach dress with a black belt, and an off-white dupatta with red rhinestone and zardozi border, fashioned like a sari anchal. It’s strikingly similar to how I styled myself using my mum’s dupattas when I was about five, and dear reader, at no age could you call me a fashionista (unless you’re very drunk and/or very sarcastic).

My friend and Firstpost columnist Rajyasree Sen has enjoyed Trinny and Susannah Makeover Mission India, particularly because their victims seemed like regular people and the British hosts are mean, sorry, honest. Not being well-versed in the ways of either television or makeovers, I’ve seen little of Trinny and Susannah’s past adventures and only the second episode of their Indian odyssey. However, having witnessed what passes as club wear in England personally, I find the idea of two British women making character assessments on the basis of hemlines hilarious. But more irksome are the personal insults in the show and how the hosts encourage us to judge people entirely by their wardrobe choices.

Both Trinny and Susannah were fixated on the idea that Anisha – who was also put down for talking too much – is slutty, all because of her skirt. And they repeated it again and again so that everyone who saw Anisha was persuaded to see her in the same light. It was as though inside their white bodies were the desi roadside lechers who make weird squelchy noises when they see a woman. Coming from an Indian man, it’s enough to make our hackles rise. When it’s a white person doing the same, however, they get a round of applause.

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Updated Date: Aug 14, 2013 18:11:21 IST