Jilly: Heroine (and Hero) Makeovers

makeoversIf the heroine of the book you’re reading gets a makeover part-way through the story, do you cheer her on or sigh and roll your eyes?

You won’t be surprised to learn that the heroine of my current WIP, a young woman who’s spent her whole life passing as a monk, eventually gets found out. Shortly afterward, Reasons require her to dress and act like a lady for the first time ever. In different circumstances she’d have enjoyed it, but the stakes are high and she’s way out of her comfort zone, so she finds the experience highly stressful.

I’m having fun torturing her, though, and working on Alexis’s transformation reminded me how much I enjoy a good fictional makeover. It’s a very popular trope, so it didn’t take me long to put together a list of some favorites.

Pawn in Frankincense (Dorothy Dunnett)

I have to give Pawn in Frankincense, book four in Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, top billing for sheer chutzpah. The heroine, Philippa, a clever and brave but physically unremarkable young English woman, voluntarily enters the harem of the Sultan of Turkey because Reasons. The women and eunechs of the harem work tirelessly to make her presentable in case the Sultan should decide to honor her with his attentions, and by the time she emerges, unsullied, she’s a triumph of hair, makeup, perfume, and wardrobe plus a few other unexpected skills. The improved Philippa is a joy to read, and (of course) the perfect match for Francis Crawford of Lymond, the brilliant, attractive, trouble-magnet hero.

Bet Me (Jenny Crusie)

One of the many wonderful things about Bet Me is that Cal, the hero, already knows that Min, the heroine, is sexy. His battle is to get Min to see past her own negative self-image, reinforced over her entire life by her weight-obsessed mother and pencil-thin sister. Cal’s a keeper, from the moment he tells Min she dresses as though she hates her body to the scene where he charms a boutique assistant into finding Min a dress to wear for her sister’s wedding rehearsal – instead of the horror chosen by her mother she wears a draped, sexy blue number that positively flaunts her assets. Love Min, love Cal, love Jenny Crusie, love Bet Me.

See Jane Score (Rachel Gibson)

This hockey romance is my all-time favorite Rachel Gibson book, and I know fellow 8L Elizabeth is also a fan. The hero is a hot hockey player (of course), and the heroine is a journalist who’s smart and funny but whose clothing choices, like Min in Bet Me, are downright unflattering. Jane tells herself it’s because there’s more life than clothes, but really – in this and other areas of her life – she’s afraid to try and fall short. When she changes her mind and enlists the help of her clotheshorse best friend (every girl should have one), the results are stellar and there’s a fabulous example of one of those classic scenes where the dowdy girl dresses up, turns heads, and knocks the hero’s socks off.

The Charm School (Susan Wiggs)

I read this book last year and had to include it here for the sheer crazysauce nature of the makeover. Plain, awkward, shy bluestocking heroine, the ugly duckling in a wealthy, accomplished Boston socialite family, runs away to sea, where she blossoms. Her transformation is effected by the boat’s motley but lovable crew who oversee her triumphant return into society, where she dazzles her spoiled, worthless former crush before rejecting him for the hot, heroic but lonely boat captain. Hair, makeup and wardrobe courtesy of matchmaking salty sea-dogs – who could resist??

There must be a million movie makeovers too. Famous ones like Pretty Woman (not that Julia Roberts was exactly ugly to begin with), and my all-time favorite, Julien Temple’s hilarious musical fantasy Earth Girls are Easy, which simultaneously celebrates and sends up the trope by sending three primary-colored hairy ape-like aliens to a California beauty salon where they are miraculously transformed into Jeff Goldblum, Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans.

What about you? Love ’em or hate ’em?

Do you have any favorites to add to my list?

10 thoughts on “Jilly: Heroine (and Hero) Makeovers

  1. I do like a good makeover. One that I love (but I feel a little guilty about) is in the movie/play Grease, where good girl Sandy is transformed into a hot slut at the end. I love it because it’s obvious that in her new form, she has a lot more power about her chosen destiny. But on the other hand . . . why should a girl have to wear very uncomfortable clothes in order to get her power? She could break an ankle in those heels.

    I love it when they mess with a makeover trope, too. I can’t remember where I saw it, but I know I’ve seen it multiple times, but: the girl gets her makeover and then falls down because her high heels don’t work (or she rips her skirt) — and she tosses the whole thing into the trash and starts from a different tack.

    Makeovers work for me because like or not, presentation counts. I love the power a makeover gives a character. And it’s really a symbol for the transformation that’s supposed to happen in a story. Ugly duckling to beautiful swan . . . .

    • Yep, a great makeover is an important signal that the outer heroine is becoming her true self (her identity and her essence are merging, to borrow Michael Hauge’s terminology). For that reason I’m never convinced by the movie version of Grease, because Olivia Newton-John seems as though her essence is 100% good girl, and at the end her identity is 100% hot slut. John Travolta’s attempt to clean up doesn’t really work either, though, and the story’s heart is clearly with the downmarket crew, so transforming Olivia is the most logical and funny ending.

  2. I’m a total sucker for this trope. I think one of the first ones I ever encountered was in a Barbara Cartland romance. As a teenager, I consumed those things like peanuts. I think the heroine was very overweight and wound up doing something–working in a stable, maybe?–that changed her lifestyle enough to change her body. And I’m thinking one of Georgette Heyer’s was a makeover trope–ah, These Old Shades. Wow, looking at the list Google gave me, there are some Heyer’s I’ve never read. I’ll have to correct that!

    And now I’ve added “write a makeover trope” to my list.That could be a very fun paranormal.

    • Oh, yes, I remember a glossy 1970s bonkbuster one of a mousy, spotty, overweight heroine who went to live with her aunt(?) in Paris and emerged as the epitome of glamor. Wish I could remember the name, it probably got made into a TV miniseries.

      You could totally sneak in a bit of hero makeover to your current paranormal WIP. That would be cool and hilarious.

      • I read a makeover story that I still remember, it was so unbelievable, and yet, so memorable! The overweight, plain, shy, etc., heroine, who is a … something…translator? secretary? paid companion? gets hired to assist—get this—a blind billionaire who lives in Italy! So she goes and every day she swims and takes long walks, and she gradually loses all the weight but never notices it because every night the staff, who love her, sneak into her room and remove her clothes, gradually taking them in, so she never sees that her clothes get roomier. And all the fresh air clears up her complexion, and because the staff love her, she acquires all this confidence. And then! A Miracle Cure is found! And the blind billionaire undergoes a risky but potentially life-changing operation, and hallelujah! His vision is restored. And the first person he sees is our beautiful, sparkling, healthy, confident, outgoing heroine.

        What a hoot! But I remember it. Just not who wrote it. 🙂

        So I guess it goes without saying that I also like a makeover story. Cinderella, anyone?

        • Ohhh, that sounds amazing. Even better than a pirate-sponsored makeover. Are you sure you can’t remember the title? I’d LOVE to read that book 😀 .

      • OH, I am sure my mom had that and I read it in high school. It was by one of the really big names, and the makeover was just the beginning of the book, IIRC. She became a fashion designer or something. And she lost the weight because the Parisians were so snooty about weight loss. That one was a memorable one! Danielle Steele? One of those sisters with big black hair, and the one sister was on Dynasty while the other wrote books? JACKIE COLLINS! I think that was her.

        No, a little more searching, and I think it might have been Judith Krantz’s Scruples. This certainly sounds like the book: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scruples_(novel)

        • Scruples!! Exactly!! I knew it wasn’t Jacqueline Susann or Jackie Collins, but how could I have forgotten Judith Krantz?

          I read the wikilink and it took me right back to the 1970s. I remember being dazzled by the book and the TV series. The bright-lights, big hair, diamond-encrusted glamour of it all :-D.

        • (-: My mom had ALL the Judith Krantz, I think. And I think it was right next to Princess Daisy, although I don’t remember Princess Daisy from the plot description, so I may not have read that . . . . I forgot about her, too, until you mentioned her.

        • My mum didn’t read so much, and they wouldn’t have had it at the library, so I guess I’d have found it via the mother of one of my schoolfriends (that’s definitely how I read Jacqueline Susann). I don’t remember Princess Daisy either, but Mistral’s Daughter for sure. From (very long-ago) memory that book did a good job of balancing romance and glamour with some powerful and important themes.

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