So we’ve all been there, lost confidence in our looks or bodies, felt uncomfortable about the person we are, and lonely because we don’t know how to share who we are… Or we’re frightened we’re a little too off beat to meet someone. Well I was all those things and worse. I lost my father to cancer; the one man in my life that accepted me, shared some of my interests, and thought I was beautiful no matter how I dressed or acted. He never judged me for the fact I liked rock music or pints in the pub; that I liked action movies and comic books; and that, from Star Trek to Anime, I was all geek. Well, as anyone who has lost a loved one knows, your world changes, and as a daddy’s girl, mine hit rock bottom. I was suddenly lonelier than ever before and I was tired of being single with no one to share my passions. I was in bereavement counselling and was dealing with PTSD. I have social anxiety, low self-esteem, body dismorphia and a general drive to not eat and hate myself. My only comfort was my world of fandom.
I am an epic geek, to the point that I cosplay and make my own clothes to wear. Being flamboyant and creative was a great outlet and geeking out to various TV shows made me happy. But I had a hole in my heart because I no longer had anyone to share things with and I felt lonely. I tried dating sites but never got past the first date. It was always the usual story of men only wanting one thing and I pride myself on not giving it away. That, or men who thought because I was geeky and enjoyed cosplay, anime, and TV shows like Supernatural, I would be some kinky pervert. So, one day I was checking my various TV sites when I came across an advert reading:
“Are you a single female, the last of your friends to find love? Have you tried dating and just don’t know what you’ve doing wrong. Well a new show is in production to take women and help improve their confidence and give them a makeover and a romantic date.”
Well, extreme times call for extreme measures. Why not do something so scary, so public, so different from hiding in my room with Doctor Who DVDs? Why not do something that would kick me into feeling like a woman again? I thought I’d apply for the show… plus, a free makeover sounded lovely. I filled in my application about Daddy, my lifestyle, and the fact that I had been living in South Korea teaching. In Korea I was a plump 13.5st girl and they are not forgiving of weight! Plus, with my short hair and punky look, I was a bit of an oddity. For 12 months I heard such things as, “why you so fat, is it because you so fat you no boyfriend”. I came back with a severe weight complex and dieted and exercised my heart out. I went from an 18 to a 12 and was happy. Then Daddy died and the dieting took a dark turn to eating as a control issue. I was already Vegan but I also quit carbs, and eventually solids. I lived on cuppa soup and 10 cal jelly pots. I needed a shakeup.
The show loved me and my interviewers said I was a natural on camera, so I got chosen for the pilot. Then the very exciting news of who was going to host the show came, one Mr Gok Wan. Now I watch his shows, and if someone could help with fashion and make me feel sexy, he would. They made me dress in my own outfits to get an idea of my crazy fashion sense, this included the famous Rockabilly Tardis dress I had made to meet John Barrowman (which he loved and so did Tenant and Smith when I met them). I thought at the least Gok would appreciate the fact that I design some of my outfits myself. My concern was the complete lack of confidence.
The journey I went on was very different from the one that aired. I went through challenges such as having all my makeup removed and my picture showed to people in Soho to see what they thought of me. I have a secret fear that people are psychic and will know I’m weird and laugh at me. It was an amazing experience to see these random people on the street saying I looked young, interesting, that they couldn’t believe that was un-made up face, or that I didn’t have confidence in my looks. Was this on the show, though? No! Then my fear that men will hate and judge me because I’m too fat to date was addressed next. I was taken to Plymouth and told I was going to spend the day sailing with 4 guys. I panicked a lot but I had to get on with it and the experience was priceless. I talked openly with them, I cried with them, and they were totally surprised that I hated myself so much; that I thought I was weird and fat and didn’t fit in. They thought I was a fun, open person that fitted into the group nicely, joined in, and was a good laugh. My looks and weight meant nothing to them. They judged me on my personality and ability to relax and be myself. Was this on the show? No!!!!!
So, what did make the show? Well, an edited “fashion show” that turned me into a stereotype and mocked my lifestyle. So much was changed for the final edit: things were taken out of context and Gok seemed to really not like me at all. Which show was it? Gok’s Style Secrets and I’m Zoe Burgess.
As the episode said, I was living a lonely life, hanging out in my bedroom. Why? Because my dad was dead and I had stayed at home in my Mother’s house so she wouldn’t be lonely. I also had social anxiety. Not once did they mention these things. Instead, they spun it like I needed to come back down to planet earth. I also needed a “make under” as my style was “too extreme”. I have no problem with my style. I wanted to feel like a woman and not have to keep buying bigger sizes than I needed to achieve my look.
So what was the first stage? I was shown a 10 min video of my friends and family talking about how much they loved me and how they were worried about me, about my eating, and my escapism. It was a shame the episode cut it down so much because it was a beautiful video that made me feel so very sad that I was scaring people. It was actually a very good experience and Gok seemed to get me. He didn’t judge my style and he seemed interested in the underlying problems. He even talked about “former fatty syndrome” and he said that he understood what I was going through.
The next challenge that was aired in great detail was a surprise practice date. I was not very happy about this and I nearly totally panicked, but there was no turning back. This is where it became obvious that my pain and my lifestyle was being manipulated purely for entertainment. Watching the episode back, they totally edited the date to make me look bad. This is what I found out after my date with Ali. He had turned up all in black with a leather jacket, boots, and “out of bed” look. The producers took one look at him and said, “oh god, you’re so her type… we need to change you”. Ali told me about how they bought him a new outfit, shaved and restyled him, and then told him he couldn’t talk about rock music or movies on the date because, like me, he liked classic rock. I had thought the date went well, and after filming we were allowed to just talk naturally, which is where the “nom, nom fish” line came from. Once filming was done, Ali said he’d had such a great time and he asked to have my number so we could go out on a real date because he liked my style. The producer jumped in and said that he couldn’t as he hadn’t had a CRB check and they had a “responsibility” to keep me safe. Of course, I’m not stupid. I know that they didn’t want me going on a date before the end of the show and that it wouldn’t look good if I got a date without Gok’s help. The date shown on screen was one of the most awkward and difficult things to watch, even more so knowing that Gok told me I was a natural flirt and doing the right things. Gok’s opinion of me didn’t make the edit however and he filmed a separate one saying the opposite.
Gok went on to say that I was in a scare-mongering outfit for the date, as it had slashes in the top. I said it had slits to show a hint of boob. He also commented that I had “all of my tattoos on”. Well no shit Sherlock, they’re real tattoos, years of love and creativity. All from manga, designed by myself and artists in Korea and Japan, and beautiful reflections of the idea that my body is a canvas and should be painted as I see fit. So no, I couldn’t just wipe them off for this date. The guy has to like tattoos or I’m not for him! Better he finds out at the beginning before he notices the full back piece!
The next piece of Gok’s “advice” was actually a criticism because “all I talk about is movies”; I’m a film student, I have a film MA and I’m doing a 2nd Ma on Japanese culture, working towards an Anime PhD. I’m proud of this stuff and when I panic I will always be able to talk about that area. Asking a film academic not talk about films is a tall ask! He then went on to complain about the fact that I like death, skulls and vampires. Yes, I like these things. I think there is beauty in imperfection, the dark erotic, the alternate aesthetic view. Beauty doesn’t have to be flowers and sunshines. The moon reflecting at night, the drop of blood on pale skin, are all vibrant images and as for vampires, you name me a girl who doesn’t like them. I may not like Twilight but I was a Buffy fan and I love Interview with a Vampire. In truth, I’m much more into the Fey but never mind, Gok had decided that my dark vampire world is uninviting. So much for Goth and Alternate culture, there Gok. That’s some great fashion and culture knowledge you have of England! Do you think Gok walks through Camden and believes he has been transported into the mind of a depressed girl and runs screaming back to Soho?
At last we came to makeover day, the moment I was waiting for. I wanted to look like a sexy woman, I wanted to still be me and feel great. After all Gok’s talk of leaving the darkness behind me, I was worried I’d end up in colourful outfits that I’d hate. Oh dear. Honestly, while I did end up liking the outfits, I didn’t like the time trip back to the dark ages where women were nothing but pretty things to look at. To attract a man one must, according to Gok, show that you are a real woman, not “an androgynous Goth”. Now, I don’t identify purely as Goth; I’m alternative and I definitely don’t think I look androgynous. But apparently I need to put my tits and waist on display when I walk into a bar, to catch those elusive guys. Feminism just got set back 100 years, there Gok. I don’t want to attract guys based on my boobs; I want them to like my interests and aesthetics. I am more than tits on legs, but alas, I was in his hands now.
The first outfit was a wonderful pinup dress and I loved it. I always dreamed of having that kind of figure and to find out I had a pinup waist was a dream come true. But here is where more contradictions come in. Gok said showing off my tattoos was off-putting, only to pick a dress that he himself said would show off my tattoos. Also, he suggested that my choker was aggressive but a knuckle duster handbag isn’t?! My next outfit was great and I dubbed it “1950’s Catwoman”. Gok was not pleased that I named my outfit but he put it on me. Again, according to Gok, a top with a slash above my boob was aggressive but I could show “a bit of bra”; not at all a problem for Gok. I reiterate, I am more than Boobs on Legs, and I happen to really like my legs!!! It wasn’t all bad: I did feel like a very sexy lady and having discovered I have a shape, I have tailored my clothes more. I have been raiding Camden for Rockabilly and pinup inspiration.
Now for the craziness that was my bedroom: I’m a geek collector and a fangirl, so I have a lot of stuff. When Gok walked into my room on the episode, I loved that they played the X-File theme as it’s my favourite all-time TV show. The first thing he said was, “it’s an 11 year old boy’s paradise”. I thought that was harsh, I kinda knew that a lot of the stuff I was buying was to compensate for depression and I was trying to fill the gaps in my life. I also knew that the posters of actors I liked were because I didn’t think anyone would love me and they would always look at me and not judge me. But then Gok insulted John Barrowman and that is a no no. John Barrowman is an icon to me, he portrayed the first ever openly omnisexual character on TV, and in a family no less! He has done great work for gay campaigns and anti-bullying campaigns, he has such a positive outlook and zest for life; it’s inspiring. When he smiles it makes you happy, when he performs you know it’s for you, and his performances are clearly because he loves to make people laugh and be happy. He is also naughty and dirty! ;p When I met him, he was so complementary and naughty, I love him. So yeah, you don’t insult a JB fangirl!
Again, I have to admit that it wasn’t all bad. I did get rid of clothes that were too big for me and I organised the clutter.
As for the section on flirting, what a farce. I went along with it, but couldn’t walk in my shoes, so picked the guy nearest to me so I wouldn’t have to walk far. I am never in a million years gonna trawl a bar for guys. I would go to a bar to have drinks with mates, not fish for dates. I would chat up guys at conventions and festivals. At this point in the show, me and some mates stayed for a drink at the pub after filming and I found out that a casting call had been placed for guys who were alternative, liked movies, or rock music. If they came to this bar, they got a free pint, and all they had to do was wait to see if the girl walking around would choose to talk to them. It was a giant stage, a total farce! Who cares how I pick up guys? It was great to feel confident in myself and get makeovers but I was not happy about being forced to pick up men in bars. I felt pushed into talking to this guy, I didn’t want to at all. Also at the time of filming, I had met a guy at an anime convention and was actually eager to see if that was going to go somewhere. The whole thing felt so unnatural.
Then came the line of dialogue that killed the whole experience for me: “Who would have thought that Zoë, the depressed emo Goth, would be in a bar chatting to a table of people”. What the hell?! At conventions I’m a wild thing—try and stop me partying—but regular bars? Not so much because I don’t have common ground with most people. I was depressed because of loss, an eating disorder, and anxiety issues. I am 30, certainly not emo. I was so offended by this line and so were my friends who texted to let me know what they thought of Gok’s statement. I spent my youth between Electric Ballroom and GAY, I’m not a wallflower and not innocent, I just had a traumatic event that changed my life and I was deeply lonely and insecure.
The last hurdle in all this was “The Date”, which I so didn’t want to go on! They were flying me to Venice though, so I was pretty excited about that. My date was found (without my knowledge) by drawing a profile on a dating site. I had been repeatedly told throughout the show that it was my geek passions and alternative dress that put guys off, so I didn’t know what kind of guy awaited me in Venice. (Apparently my profile attracted a lot of people interested in sci-fi, which obviously contradicted what I’d been told).
I finally got my full makeover and I did look amazing, but oh god the preparation. Venice was hot, like 40 degrees hot. I woke at 5am and was taken to the mansion without breakfast for hair and makeup. At that point, I got an apple and a croissant, and then in the non-air conditioned mansion, had my hair blow dried. I was put into a corset and able to eat a bit of salad. By 3pm, I was ready to pass out; I was hungry, tired, hot and in pain, but “the show must go on”.
I have to say, the makeover was amazing! I looked like a sexy star of Spartacus, a gladiatress turned queen. I had never looked so beautiful before and it was so me. I finally felt like I was attractive and amazing… but then I met my date.
I was so disappointed; he was so not my type. We were able to geek out, but they kept stopping filming to ask us not to talk about geeky things. Why set up two geeks and ask them not to talk about it? Instead, we swapped funny stories and he told me a delightful tale about shaving his balls and cutting one but still going out and bleeding into his boxers. Oh, the romance. The crew said it was like watching Beauty and the Beast.
The me you saw on that date is the true me, so I did get my confidence back, which was amazing, but my journey was not what was shown on screen.
So what did I do after the show?
Well I bought very geeky fabric and started making more clothes for myself! Including a dress I hand drew panels from manga on to wear to conventions. I dress a little more accordingly to each situation, saving my more fantastical outfits for parties, festivals and conventions. I have day clothes and night clothes, but still all my style. I met the man of my dreams in a very me fashion. I was at an anime convention, I was running wild drinking and making friends when I saw him, and thought I want him. So I asked him to dance, then sat on his lap, and told him he was going to be mine. It wasn’t long until we were happy and dating, totally loved up. He likes comics, anime and movies. He loves my tattoos and my fashion sense, and collects figures and toys as well. He brought out my inner-Dom and taught me new ways to feel sexy and be a powerful woman. He helped me with the depression and anxiety, sitting with me through panic attacks, talking about my dad, holding me when social anxiety flares, and he tells me every day that I am beautiful, no matter what I’m wearing or doing. He loves me for all the reasons a person should love someone else. He says it’s because I am creative, artistic, intelligent, forward and funny… plus he thinks hips and tattoos are super sexy.
It’s such a shame that the things that really helped me in this show weren’t shown. I was just shown as a geeky Goth. I love being a geeky Goth, but that’s not why I was single. Gok said some harsh things about my character, particularly his last speech. His advice was that I should give up the manga, anime and John Barrowman, and that I needed to grow up. I have, in fact, not given any of those things up and don’t feel any less of a woman for it. I resent the fact that the episode focused on my geek and Goth characteristics and never challenged the real issues. When I confronted the producers, they said it was because it was too dark for the story they were telling. I was then banned from tweeting about the episode and not allowed to say anything negative in a public sphere.
Well, my story needs to be told. I don’t want women thinking they need to compromise their interests to find love. I hate that feminism is being set back. A girl can like things that have been traditionally characterised as “guys’ interests”, there’s nothing wrong with that. (My boyfriend loves that I’ll play computer games with him.) I did manage to do some video blogs addressing the issues that came up in my episode, but I’ve never told the full story.
So, there you have it. Gok seems to think women should stick their tits out, trawl bars, not talk about “masculine hobbies”, and basically change everything they are to get a man.
My name is Zoe Burgess, I’m a professional geek! Well that’s the dream. I am working towards my Anime PhD and do cosplayer and anime panels. You can find me as @lonedreamer on twitter and as Let Zoe Spoil You on various social networks, such as youtube and tumblr. My personal weblog is http://www.lzsy.co.uk/