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.
How to Be Popular by Meg Cabot
Steph is a witty, financially savvy, and slightly clumsy girl who, ever since spilling a Big Red Super Big Gulp on the white designer skirt of the most popular girl in school, has been the butt of the local expression, "Don't pull a Steph Landry." Ouch. While helping her longtime best friend Jason clean out his grandmother's attic, she finds an old guide on - you guessed it - how to be popular. Steph decides to follow the advice, from wardrobe to attitude, to make her junior year the one where being a Steph Landry is a good thing.
Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick
It's a fairytale of modern proportions. Nineteen-year-old Becky Randle's mother has just passed away. While mourning her mother's death, Becky is led by a mysterious ringtone to a velvet box containing a phone number. It connects her with Tom Kelly, a famous fashion designer who claims that with just three dresses, he can turn her into the hottest girl in the world. And so the insanely gorgeous, instantly famous Rebecca is born. But when the jet-setting beauty falls hard for a real-life prince, she realizes the disconnect between her inner Becky and her outer Rebecca might cost her the one thing she wants most.
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
From the moment Stargirl (yes, that is her name) arrives at Mica High school, her fellow students don't know how to react. At first, they are stunned by her eccentric wardrobe and habit of singing "Happy Birthday" to each student on their special day while strumming a ukulele. Then they start to embrace her. Eventually, Stargirl's oddities - including her habit of cheering for both the home team and the opposing team - become too much for the conformist crowd, and she is shunned. So her boyfriend asks the worst question with the best of intentions: what if you turned yourself into a "normal" girl?
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Imagine a world where, from the ages of 12 to 16, everyone is deemed an Ugly. But on each citizen's Sweet 16, they're given an operation that turns them into a Pretty. Wouldn't this be a great place to live? Tally, just months away from her big day, thinks so. That is, until she meets Shay, who introduces her to other possibilities. But by the time Tally has changed her mind, it might be too late to change her fate. This book is for those who loved the reality-TV-gone-wrong nature of The Hunger Games.
What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen
When life gets complicated, sometimes becoming someone else seems like the best option. After Mclean's parents' messy divorce, she chooses to live with her dad, who has taken a job as a restaurant consultant. The job requires frequent moves, and with each one, Mclean takes on a new identity. In the first town, she's Eliza, the popular girl. In the next, she's Lizbet the artsy drama queen. After that, she's Beth, the student-council secretary. Suddenly, when she lands in Lakeview, Mclean can't seem to escape... being Mclean. It turns out finding herself may be the most difficult -- and most important -- makeover of her life.