Long Live the Mademoiselle Makeover!
March 23, 2011, by Prudence Baird
She waves her ink-filled wand and…poof! From frumpy to fabulous! Marvel at Prudence’s dedication to the magic of the makeover.
Like an annoying jingle that—with the right prompt—goes viral in a neural nanosecond, there’s a bit of pop culture ephemera skulking near the surface of my gray matter, ready to be triggered any time a certain visual cue crosses my line of sight.
And what, you might ask, is that cue? I’ll give you a hint: Drab to fab.
Yes, I’m talking about the legendary “Mademoiselle Makeover,” a regular installment of the now defunct Mademoiselle magazine, that glossy monthly that competed with Glamour and Seventeen magazines for smart young ladies’ attention for 66 years before it finally folded in 2001.
Maybe you can relate if you, like me, were a devotee of the column that featured normal-looking (okay, somewhat dowdy) young women, who, with the help of the Mademoiselle fashion and beauty editors (and products from the magazine’s advertisers) morphed into beauties from their former beastly selves. This monthly step-by-step narrative implied that behind every lumpy Plain Jane lurked a paint-by-numbers Anne Hathaway-like princess yearning to emerge from her cocoon and fly off to a new-and-improved life on gossamer wings.
The message: Magic can happen; all you need is the right makeover!
I once yearned to be among the chosen—the one lucky girl a month who was singled out to be made-over for the entire world (or at least the readership of Mademoiselle) to admire. But the magazine’s New York-based editorial staff simply wasn’t looking for a ragamuffin in frayed jeans, vintage Hawaiian shirts and huarache sandals, smoking in the student parking lot of a large public high school in Pasadena, California.
But that didn’t stop me from perseverating on the makeover ideal; the concept that changed looks could change lives.
Author Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers: The Story of Success, examines the factors that contribute to high levels of success. He found that individuals who have changed human history with their achievements, enriching both themselves and mankind, have been subject to what he dubs “the 10,000 hour rule” meaning they have invested at least 10,000 hours becoming experts in whatever field of endeavor in which they’ve made history.
Bill Gates, Robert Oppenheimer, even the Beatles, all put in their dues practicing their art, their science, their passion for the equivalent of 417 days. Nonstop.
Instead of programming computers, perfecting my performance of a musical instrument or developing the atomic bomb, I somewhat sheepishly admit that I have devoted at least 10,000 hours making over friends, relatives, classmates and the occasional complete stranger. Old yearbooks bear witness to my passion, with faces transformed with eyeliner, plunging necklines, upswept hair and lipstick, dutifully drawn in Bic pen blue.
This is a talent I cannot turn off.
Everywhere I go—and I mean everywhere— my makeover machinery grinds into gear with the sight of a woman who could use a little this and a little that.
Yesterday, for instance, at my son’s high school, I saw another mother, a 50ish woman in man-tailored pin-striped pants and high heels, long stringy hair and Sarah Palin’s old glasses. She reeled down the hall, the white buttons on her two rear pockets tracing invisible infinity symbols as her 42-inch wide hips swayed from side-to-side.
Instantly, I had her out of those pants, and into a tiered, earth-toned peasant skirt, cowboy boots and shoulder-length, blunt-cut, lightly waved hair. Squarish glasses were replaced with Annie Hall retros, a tapestry vest with brass buttons added polish to a dolman-sleeved blouse, and a warm Pashima was casually thrown over her shoulders against the 45-degree night air. Her Cruella D’Ville blood-red lipstick was switched out for a soft, pinky buff, and dangly brass earrings completed her Vermont mom ensemble; perfect for the woman with few wrinkles and a wide bottom.
Am I right or am I right?
When I studied for my master’s degree, I often sat in round-table seminars facing the other, mostly female students. While my classmates dutifully checked their Facebook accounts, pretending to attend to the lecture, I systematically—and in my mind’s eye, of course—made over each and every one of my fellow students, down to the last detail.
One day, a bushy haired woman in her mid-50s plopped down next to me and blurted out, “I wish I knew what to do with my hair.”
Kismet! I whipped out the class roster that featured horrid little black & white mug shots of each of us next to our names.
“Check this out,” I said, my pencil moving at lightning speed, taming the mass of wiry brown and grey locks into a neat bob, short in the back and with tapered long bangs that covered her crows feet. She stared at the photo as if seeing herself for the first time.
“Wow,” she marveled. “Can I take this to my salon?” she asked, laying a tentative hand on the page.
“Of course,” I chuckled indulgently. After all, with 10,000 hours under my belt, I qualify as a Mademoiselle Makeover Outlier, keeping a rich, albeit somewhat shallow, tradition alive. I can afford to be generous.
I wonder, what have you spent 10,000 hours doing?