Lifetime premiered a show called “Girlfriend Intervention” on Wednesday night. The premise? Four black women descend upon unsuspecting women and give them a makeover. According to Lifetime’s Web site, the goal of each episode is to “help restore one woman’s confidence and inner glow” as the four women tackle different aspects of their subject’s life, from their wardrobe and beauty routine to their home decor and “minds.”
As Variety noted in a review earlier this week, the show carries on in the tradition of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” Or tries to. TV columnist Brian Lowry explained:
What felt so sweet when “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” brought gay style to straight men becomes borderline offensive in “Girlfriend Intervention,” a Lifetime series that enlists a quartet of African-American fashionistas to make over a “basic” white woman.
Even before last night’s premiere, the show had been catching flak on social media for pandering to racial stereotypes. A trailer for the show’s first episode sent this tagline across the Internet: “Trapped inside every white woman is a strong black woman ready to bust out.”
I love how the image of black women are seen as characterization, and something to be slipped on and off for fun #GirlfriendIntervention
— ♌Jill Skellington♌ (@LeoKikiLady89) August 28, 2014
The hour long premiere (which was about 60 minutes too long) was titled “Joanie, get your groove back.” One of the most cringe-worthy aspects of the episode was the focus on Joanie’s body image issues, which were effectively dismissed as “a white woman’s problem” by one member of the makeover team, which is often referred to as “the sisterhood.”
Tanisha Thomas, who is billed as the show’s “soul coach,” explains that Joanie used to attend red carpet events with her dancer husand, but increasingly opts to stay home because the mother of two is uncomfortable with her body. Much ado is made of the fact that Joanie’s husband is black, a detail that leads to sweeping generalizations throughout the episode.
“There is not a sister on this planet that will miss out on a red carpet event because she felt like she was too fat,” Thomas says. “Honey, that is a white girl problem if I ever heard one.”
“As a Black woman, we definitely embrace our size for whatever it is.” Yes, Black women have NO body issues. #GirlfriendInterventions
— Awesomely Luvvie (@Luvvie) August 28, 2014
For the record, Thomas dismissed the criticsm in an interview with Bustle. “The message is really universal,” she told the Web site . “It’s about women empowerment, women everywhere, all colors of all shapes and sizes.”
Buzzfeed talked to an actress who said she had auditoned for the show. According to the actress, who spoke anonymously, the casting call sought “sassy African American women.”
That’s just one of the many tropes seen in the first episode of what Web site Madame Noir dubbed “Lifetime’s new Magical Negro show,” a reference to the much-maligned Hollywood tradition of black characters catering to white protaganists.
There’s plenty of offense to go around as cast members refer to their makeover subjects as “basic” and send their wardrobe staples down the “Catwalk of Shame.” Up next week: the team sends their subject to a studio so she can “write a rap.”
“I’m an Orange County white girl,” she tells the camera, looking nothing short of horrified. “I don’t rap.”