What to Say about What Not to Wear: Makeover Messages for Kids

By: Guest Blogger, Tenessa Gemelke  

Our friend, Tenessa Gemelke, is a silly mom with a goofy sense of style. When she was recently cast on TLC's reality show, What Not to Wear, and made over into a silly mom with fancy style, she seized the opportunity to address a few often-hard-to-talk-about issues like body image and integrity with her seven and four-year-old sons and teenage nieces. Read Tenessa's account of her experience on What Not To Wear. Read more >

I recently had the shock of a lifetime when I was cast on an episode of the TLC reality show, What Not to Wear. The show stars Stacy London and Clinton Kelly, two style experts who surprise an unfashionable person with a $5,000 shopping spree. Adventures like this don't usually happen to me, so I accepted eagerly.

Some people who end up on the show feel hurt or offended, but I had never taken my wardrobe very seriously. I don’t place a high value on physical appearance. I’ve always chosen clothing that is fun and comfortable while capturing my goofy personality. Although I make fashion a low priority, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to explore this uncharted territory and possibly learn something about myself. In my opinion, that’s the healthiest way to approach any kind of "makeover."

But when you’re a parent (and an auntie), you have somebody else’s feelings to consider. How do you prepare the kids in your life for this kind of transformation? I didn’t want to send them the wrong message. Here’s how I handled the situation:

Talk about it. I have two young boys (ages 7 and 4), and their mommy was about to come home—after a whole week!—looking awfully different. Before I left, we talked a lot about how you can be the same person on the inside even when you change your outer looks. We discussed how fun it is to try on new costumes. I told them I was feeling curious and excited. I assured them, “I might come home with fancy clothes, fancy hair, and fancy makeup, but I’ll still be your same old silly mama!”

Say what you value. It was important to me that my children understood why I was making the choice to participate on the show. I told them this was an opportunity to travel, to meet interesting people, and to learn about a different way of looking at things. I explained that I always try to keep an open mind about trying new things, but we also talked about integrity and staying true to yourself.

Learn more about raising kids with integrity >

Stay positive. I’m not immune to feeling badly about my aging skin or fluctuations in my weight. Every woman who goes through childbirth has to come to grips with dramatic changes to her appearance. But I have teenage nieces, and the last thing they need is one more voice saying negative things about body image. I make an effort toward nutrition and physical fitness, but I try to avoid saying shaming things about myself or other people. I don’t read beauty magazines, and I try to love my body for its best features rather than dwelling on the natural changes other people might call flaws.

Tell what you learned. Since taping the show, I’ve talked with my sons and my nieces about the most important lessons the experience taught me. This wasn’t a time to hide or change who I am. Instead, I worked to find new ways of expressing my personality. I also discussed how positive peer pressure can help you make different choices, but sometimes those choices are surprisingly satisfying. When all was said and done, I was very happy with my decision to go on the show. It was great fun, and it was definitely a big-time “teachable moment” in our family.

Tenessa’s episode is scheduled to air Tuesday night, December 13, at 9:00 EST/8:00 CST. Catch a sneak-peek of her show below:

Tell us—How do you talk to your kids about issues of appearance or body image?


I’ll be watching! Congrats, Tennessa, for taking what Stacy and Clinton do for women and running with it! I’m so tired of the pouty cry-babies that are embarrassment to 100% of their friends and family but want to still hang onto their “Material Girl” look….at 50+ years of age! I got an email to watch the show from a fellow Minnesota friend; I’ll be cheering for you and thanks for writing about such a positive experience.


Thanks for sharing!!

You are Supermom.

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