A good makeover story is hard to resist. That's what I thought after watching the new live-action "Cinderella," not long after seeing the silver-screen version of "The Duff," in which a makeover had been added in the transition from print to film. Makeover stories are seemingly timeless. The first published version of "Cinderella" -- complete with a fairy-driven makeover -- appeared in 1634. "Pygmalion," the play by George Bernard Shaw that spawned "My Fair Lady" and a number of other makeover-centric spinoffs, debuted on stage in 1913. Pop culture has long affirmed what I like to call "the Barbie philosophy": change your looks, change your life.
My own fascination with makeovers dates back to the late 90s/early 2000s; I was obsessed the teen movies of the time. "Clueless," "She's All That" (one of those "Pygmalion" adaptations), "The Princess Diaries," "Mean Girls"... makeovers were a plot staple. The most memorable scenes were often the makeover reveals: Rachel Leigh Cook's character walking down the stairs in her new red dress, the bad school photos being pulled aside to reveal Princess Mia Thermopolis's new haircut, both protagonists newly sans glasses. Who wouldn't want a moment like that, to be revealed brand-new?
I certainly did, and on numerous occasions, I tried to create one for myself. Not through a full-blown makeover, admittedly; those are time-consuming, not to mention expensive, and I never had the patience or the allowance for it. Instead, I got really into hair dye. On more than a few occasions, I dyed my naturally blonde hair dark brown, and the decision to do so was based on the internal impact as well as the outward message. "I'm not the girl I was last year." "You'll regret not picking me, I'm cooler/sexier/more spontaneous than you thought." "Something's wrong, and I don't know what it is, but maybe if I look like a new person, I'll feel better."
To be honest, I never got what I originally wanted -- be that a rekindled romance or a new life -- but the makeover held me over until I was ready to gain the insight on myself that I needed more. Ultimately, that's what the best (or at least, my personal favorite) makeover stories are really about: finding yourself. In the process of attempting to mold themselves into someone else, protagonists often find out that they're not who they thought they were, nor who they were trying to become. The "real" them is some other, more knowledgeable, refined self, one that they never would have found had they not succumbed to the supposed power of the makeover. And that's the message I love most in a good makeover story: sometimes, our most misguided endeavors turn into our greatest lessons learned.
So, in honor of "Cinderella, Shaw," hair dye, and the transformative genre of YA, here are my five favorite makeover novels where inner beauty ultimately prevails.