Why Transformation Seems So Appealing

(I invited someone else here to write about what I always thought was a cool program. Say hello to Eliza Stone who was just really enthused about this show she’s followed for awhile and what it meant about “shedding your skin” and new starts.)

By Eliza Stone

If you were to watch Face Off, you’d notice a few minor format changes over the years. Judges have come and gone, and the grand prize vehicle has become progressively higher end, going from a Toyota Camry Hybrid at season two’s ending to a mouthwatering Fiat 500 at the close of season four.

One thing has remained constant: This show is like no other on television. Yes, it’s essentially a makeup/makeover show, but the freaky sci-fi and prosthetic special effects dynamic makes Face Off a transformation show of a whole other sort. Still, the seed of this show’s appeal is the fact it concerns transformations — otherworldly and bizarre and the better for their absurdity and originality.

The show’s host and judges are all industry experts with tons of collective experience in prostheses and freakish makeup. The contestants are also highly skilled, each with his/her own strengths and weaknesses.

Getting a ringside seat to the behind-the-scenes aspect of movie makeup and prostheses simultaneously demystifies the process while arousing more questions with each new layer peeled back or put on. This is abundantly clear when you watch Face Off online.

For the viewer, watching people and things transform so dramatically and so quickly is another part of the fascination. The theme of transformation, whether embryo to newborn, man to werewolf, ugly duckling to swan, or poor geek girl to rich hot actress, is a compelling theme woven into nearly every part of Western and Eastern culture.

Indeed, the popularity of transformation via surgery is on the rise. According to an infographic posted on the website of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, cosmetic procedures were up by 5% last year, totaling $14.6 million. Streamlined noses, Barbie silhouettes, and perfectly straight and white teeth are becoming the new (desired) norm.

But there are everyday transformations that are equally compelling: Each night we go to bed, surrendering to the transformational power of sleep. We go to the salon and to the mall, hoping to find new inspiration for the changes we’d like to manifest in our lives. We closely follow the various transformations of our favorite celebrities, marking their weight loss, their new haircuts, or their successful graduation from rehab.

R. Buckminster Fuller once said, “There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.” Fuller, an inventor, designer and theorist, was well aware of the mechanics and inner workings of objects, energy and concepts. The hope of betterment and transcendence a caterpillar represents might have seemed to Fuller a metaphor for all the unlocked potential hidden within each atom, indeed within us all.

Also, that the butterfly resembles no part of its previous incarnation suggests that evolution and material/spiritual rebirth have nothing to do with fancy beginnings. It is the undertaking of any transformation that unleashes individual agency into the world, the mark of authentic power and, ultimately, sublime beauty.

Perhaps this is why so many people are fascinated by transformation, both as an idea and as the premise for a reality show competition? To watch Face Off online allows us to witness how profound it is to create a wholly new outward, and inward, reality. Each week, contestants do more than merely create grotesque makeup effects, they are also inadvertently creating new professional avenues for themselves.

Just competing on the show gives contestants tons of exposure. Winning is more than the sweet $100 grand; it grants the winner entree into the world of pro makeup artists. The networking and financial opportunities are quite respectable. More than faces, contestants transform their lives and careers, making Face Off a riveting, quintessential example of transformation.