The Makeover

Reality Television and Reflexive Audiences

259 pages

October, 2012

ISBN: 9780814740705



Also available in


Part of the Critical Cultural Communication series


Katherine Sender is Associate Professor at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of the book Business, Not Politics: The Making of the Gay Market (2004) and is co-editor of The Politics of Reality TV: Global Perspectives (2011).

All books by Katherine Sender

Watch this show, buy this product, you can be a whole new you!
Makeover television shows repeatedly promise self-renewal and the opportunity for reinvention, but what do we know about the people who watch them? As it turns out, surprisingly little.
The Makeover is the first book to consider the rapid rise of makeover shows from the perspectives of their viewers. Katherine Sender argues that this genre of reality television continues a long history of self-improvement, shaped through contemporary media, technological, and economic contexts. Most people think that reality television viewers are ideological dupes and obliging consumers. Sender, however, finds that they have a much more nuanced and reflexive approach to the shows they watch. They are critical of the instruction, the consumer plugs, and the manipulative editing in the shows. At the same time, they buy into the shows’ imperative to construct a reflexive self: an inner self that can be seen as if from the outside, and must be explored and expressed to others. The Makeover intervenes in debates about both reality television and audience research, offering the concept of the reflexive self to move these debates forward.


  • “With its central focus on audience practices, Sender’s lucidly-written book is unique among the growing body of scholarship on reality TV. While offering a smart and provocative analysis of the complex appeal of specific ‘makeover’ shows, she also makes a major contribution to active audience theory. In particular, she problematizes the issue of reflexivity, in the context both of viewers’ relationships with the shows and in their roles as research participants. In doing so she challenges all audience scholars to examine more carefully the very nature of the research encounter.”

    —S. Elizabeth Bird, author of The Audience in Everyday Life

  • “Like all ground-breaking studies of culture, The Makeover, appropriately, tells us not just about its object, narrowly construed, but about ourselves, the society we have created, and the contradictions that permeate both. Sender combines detailed empirical research with thoughtful and nuanced interpretation to provide us with a timely meditation on the limits—and potentials—of reflexivity. The result is a smart and original contribution to the way we think about popular culture and its relation to broader questions of self-hood, identity, and power.”

    —Mark Andrejevic, University of Queensland