Makeovers in the Movies: Miss Congeniality

There’s a special genre of movie makeover: the Tomboy Makeover.

Smart, goofy, and somewhat grimy, the Tomboy has lived her early life free from the constraints of the girly-girls, and she likes it that way. No worries about scraping her knees or getting her dress dirty for this girl! Except for one thing: she’s starting to become a woman, and if she’s interested in boys, it’s hard to date them if you are one.

These stories always involve ambivalence – the girl is not so sure she wants to give up the freedom of getting dirty for things like pantyhose and heels. And there’s usually some emotional damage in her past as well – this girl has been fighting with boys her whole life…and now she’s supposed to date them?

Usually these stories revolve around young teenagers – after all, that’s when the physical signs (and feelings) of womanhood are developing into those frightening forces that must be reckoned with.

But occasionally that awkward, I-like-boys-I-hate-boys Tomboy phase lasts far longer than it should – well past legal drinking age:

Gracie Hart is one of the guys – she’s an FBI agent, with extensive training in hand-to-hand combat. Which she deftly shows off during a friendly battle with her partner, Eric Matthews. All of their cohorts know that they like each other, but they’ve been locked into a brother-sister bond for so long that they only know how to fight when those uncomfortable feelings arise.

So it’s only when there’s a need for a female agent to go undercover at the Miss United States Pageant that anyone even considers that Gracie is a woman – and they’re not sure she really counts as one, double x chromosones aside. But they have a specialist joining them – disgraced former pageant coach Victor Melling. And you know it’s a big case if you need a gay man, (especially one played by Michael Caine) to help with the transformation.

Because she’s such a mess, Gracie must undergo an extra battery of procedures to even approach womanhood. Victor and his team put her through the grind – the diet, the waxing, the pore scrubbing and eyebrow plucking, the hair pressing, and a final tip-to-toe paint job. That this makeover goes down in an airplane hangar isn’t just for secrecy – Gracie Hart needs a full overhaul. And when she gets her new undercover name – the guys have stuck her with Gracie Lou Freebush – it’s more than just a prank – it’s a Freudian summation.

And when she’s done? She’s oh-my-gawd hot! Except that she’s still her geeky self, which is, by Victor at least, an utter failure – try as he might, he can’t get her polished into a well-mannered contestant. Which ends up perfectly fine, as she befriends the girls and teaches them how to stand up for themselves, both verbally and physically. And she’s still beating up her buddy Eric – except now that she’s expressed her femininity, the two of them can begin to admit their mutual affection.

Sh’e had her makeover, but can she dance?

What’s so great about Gracie’s makeover is that we get to enjoy the best of both the Tomboy and the Lady. All of us who were even a little bit Tomboy loved the freedom of not caring about our looks. And beauty pageant standards are such a stifling example of feminine grace and beauty – they’re practically begging us to make fun of them. Yet sequins, gowns, tiaras, and flaming batons are fabulous, and even a Tomboy has to admit that pretty can be fun. Gracie keeps her strengths as she takes on what she can of the hyperfeminine archetype of the Pageant Girl, giving us hope that there’s room for all of our personality in adulthood. And that Gracie makes friends with the girls – who under their hairspray and makeup are still working their individual lives – shows that there’s room for both strength and fragility, for the Tomboy and the Lady, in modern female life.

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