Girlfriend Intervention is a new makeover show airing on Lifetime, and it’s been the source of some controversy since it started airing this summer. Flavorwire called Girlfriend Intervention “a racist mess” and “Queer Eye but with black women." The four hosts of Girlfriend Intervention are Tracy, Nikki, Tiffiny, and Tanisha, who specialize in beauty, home, style and fashion, and soul. They play up archetypal (bordering on stereotypical) versions of the “sassy black girlfriend” often seen in romantic comedies or television series that feature a white female lead.
The experts generalize along racial and cultural lines when they speak directly to the camera (“My white girlfriends, if they’re anything other than a size 2, they are nervous and scared… As a black woman, we definitely embrace our size for what it is”), but that was also true of Queer Eye. On the one hand, it’s nice to see a show with a multitude of African-American women in lead roles. It happens on occasion (see: the excellent Girlfriends; the, err, very popular The Real Housewives of Atlanta), but not often enough.
Archetypes that border on stereotypes aren’t Girlfriend Intervention’s biggest problem. It’s the fact that, as a makeover show, it’s pushing a brand instead of treating participants like individuals.
TLC’s What Not To Wear, hosted by Stacy London and Clinton Kelly presented very specific fashion rules, and then applied them to individuals. Girlfriend Intervention and Queer Eye have a brand, look, and show philosophy, and they fit individuals into that branding. WNTW, which aired from 2003-2013, has passed on to the great reality TV playground in the sky, but I still think about it all the time. And that’s mostly because of the great shift that took place when the show switched up its hairdressers in the seventh season. Originally, WNTW’s hairdresser was Nick Arrojo, a kind of sarcastic, resting-meh-face dude who gave the same, pixie/mom haircut to any and all of the show’s contributors that sat in his chair. And then came Ted Gibson.