Q&A: Carson Kressley of 'How to Look Good Naked' TV host and fashion expert wants to get you out of your clothes
By Bret Federigan, MSN TV
Fashion guru Carson Kressley seems dead-set on giving the world a makeover. The sharp-witted fashion expert reached reality TV icon status as one of the Fab Five on “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” Now, he's back for a second season of “How to Look Good Naked,” as he continues to get women to accept their bodies and to overcome many of their most difficult self-image issues. MSN TV sat down with Kressley to talk about his show's upcoming second season.
MSN TV: You became every straight man's best friend when you did “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” And because of the success of that show, you enjoy icon-status in the gay community. And now it seems you're winning over female audiences with your new show on Lifetime. Is there an audience you have yet to conquer?
Carson Kressley: Maybe babies. I'm going to work on them next because, you know, they're our future.
So we'll be seeing you in the next “High School Musical” movie?
I hope so. I think I'm almost as cute as Ashley Tisdale. And maybe with extensions I could be even cuter.
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What is it about you as a TV host and personality that allows you to get women to make the highly personal transformations they do on your show? Why are they willing to get naked for you?
You know, it's all because of the vat of margaritas; they make everything easier. No, I'm kidding. When people ask me about the show, I say, “Been there, done that.” And they say, “First of all, you're not a woman, and second of all, you don't have body issues.” But you know, this show is really like a coming-out process for these ladies. And it's really about learning to accept yourself for who you are and loving what you've got. And that's really similar to coming out as a gay man. You know, you live with this thing that you think is the worst thing in the world, and you're ashamed of it. Ultimately, for me, I was able to come out and accept who I was and then actually take it one step further and be proud of it and share it with the world. This is all really, really parallel, that these women have this thing that they think is awful — it could be their stomach, it could be their thighs, something with their body that they feel ashamed of — and I'm helping them come out and be proud of who they are. It's similar to my experience as a gay guy. That's part of it. I know what they're going through. All of my roles on TV have been just as me the person. It's not like I'm playing a part. I'm just being myself. When you're comfortable with who you are, it helps people become comfortable with who they are. It just boils down to a comfort level.
'How to Look Good Naked'/ABC
Carson Kressley helps Kelly to improve her body image on “How to Look Good Naked”
Throughout the first season you must have learned a great deal about the women you worked with and about women in general. What are some of the insights you've acquired about women that you'll be able to utilize for this second season?
You know, my experience on TV has been pretty limited. Working on “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” was really similar because it was helping guys by making them feel better by looking better, you know, by cleaning up their act. It's kind of similar, except that women take it to a whole new level. Society puts so much pressure on women to look a certain way and to be a certain weight. Women have a lot more pressure than guys do. I think it comes from the media, from advertising campaigns and from celebrities. I've learned that women's body issues run much deeper than guys'.
What's new and different this season that we didn't see last year on the show?
The first season was really an appetizer for what's to come in the second season. This season, the show is expanding to a full-hour format. The great thing is that we really get to learn these women's stories. Each one is so different. The real star of the show is each of these women going through these transformations. Each one has a really distinctive story. By being an hour long, the show gets to share those stories with viewers at home for whom, ultimately, we want it to be really relatable. Women at home can say, “I have those same issues. I want to see how Carson addresses them. I want to see how these women get past them.” And that's real take-away information. It's not just for women, too. Even guys can take that information away and say, “Hey, you know, maybe I can get through these same issues.” The show also is just better, “funner.” We have the whole hour to do some great things and have more informational shopping segments and do more really fun photo shoots. After the first season, people know that “the cat's out of the bag” that we ultimately get them to pose nude. But now, we take it one step further and get them to go out and fulfill their dreams. We have a woman who always wanted to learn how to ballroom dance. We allow her the opportunity to realize her dream, to take that pride in her body and her confidence to a whole new level, and do things she never thought she could do. We have a lot of “extreme” reveals. This season, everything is bigger and supercharged, new and improved.
I want to get back to the “guy” aspect of the show for a second because you know there'll be a lot of guys watching this show with their wives or girlfriends. What is the one quick lesson you can give to guys about women's bodies and women's body image? What is it that guys just don't get that they really should?
Any time you're somebody's partner, you need to tell them how you feel about them and tell them that they're beautiful. Women get so many messages from friends and even family members — which is surprising — telling them that they're not good enough. You just really need to tell women that they are good enough just the way they are and not to feel so much pressure from society and the media to look a certain way. When you get some positive reinforcement from your spouse and your family, I think that goes a long way in their feeling better about themselves.
We learned in Season 1 that jeans, at least for women, were the single hardest piece of clothing to shop for.
I think jeans are such a staple in the American wardrobe. It's something that everybody buys. But it's something that's really tricky. It's a garment that can make you feel incredibly confident and sexy, but it's the thing that women have the most trepidation about, when it comes to finding them. It is hard to go out and find something that's going to make you feel good and make you look amazing. I always tell people that if you find the perfect pair of jeans, go ahead and buy five of them. Jeans are something you live in every day, especially nowadays.
Are jeans the magic slipper? Should jeans be the one garment that women build out from, when it comes to assembling their wardrobe?
No, I think it's whatever makes you feel amazing. It might be a pair of jeans. It might be, you know, a little black dress. It might even be an amazing skirt that hugs your curves. The clothes are really secondary. I always tell women on the show that you're never really going to feel great in clothes, if you don't feel great about your body and who you are. And that's why this show is so different from every other makeover show. We're not saying, “Change your hair. Change your makeup. Change your outfit.” We're saying that those things can help as part of the fix. But we're saying that the real thing is changing the perception of yourself. And that's why the show is so satisfying. It's easy to change your outfit and easy to change your hairstyle. What's really hard — and what makes for an amazing transformation — is changing how you feel about yourself.
'How to Look Good Naked'/ABC
Carson Kressley and Kelly take a trip to the jewelry store on “How to Look Good Naked”
Carson, for women and even for men, where's Step 1?
I think Step 1 is to realize that we're not all as genetically lucky as supermodels. There's a great quote that Cindy Crawford has where she's like, “Even I don't look like Cindy Crawford in the mornings.” You know, Step 1 is being a little less hard on yourself. You don't have to be perfect to be beautiful. I think that's rule No. 1.
The role you play in getting these women over the hump is rather important. And so, women at home really need to find those individuals in their lives who'll get them over their own hump.
I think life is short. We all need to be each other's cheerleaders and be a little kinder to each other. I think that's a great step for everybody involved with women to start with. Be supportive.
How important is humor in this process, Carson, since you're, you know, a funny guy?
Humor's gotten me a long way. Humor just uses a lot of situations. If you're feeling lousy about yourself sometimes, you need someone to come in and help you have a little laugh. My big thing is being able to laugh at myself. I like to show people that life is short and that we need to have some fun and not be so freaked out by our bodies and by having to look a certain way. Humor's gotten me through a lot of rough periods in my own life. I'm literally these women's cheerleader to go out and have some fun. Another thing we've pumped up this second season is the fun factor.
There are definitely going to be a lot of viewers who are going to tune in just for you. You have a huge following. You're funny as hell. People loved you on “Queer Eye.” They love seeing you on the red carpet and as a judge on “Miss Universe.” You know, I bet there are some who may watch because you're a big horse person, too.
Right! Who knows? I just think it's a great show. First of all, we just want to entertain everybody. That's what we're doing; we're making a TV show here. We want it to be entertaining and inspiring. The really satisfying thing for me? I have a great job, I am so lucky, and I have so much fun with it. Even if the ratings aren't through the roof, I know that we're delivering a product that changes people's lives. Each woman that we make over each week is markedly different and much happier because of it. So, I know we're successful, at least on a one-to-one basis with the women we work with. And hopefully, we make people who are watching feel better about themselves, too. That's really a cool thing, when you can make people feel good about themselves. There's so much TV out there that's negative, and there are so many bad things going on in the world. If we can brighten someone's day and make them a little happier, that's an amazing gift to be able to share.
Now when are we going to see some celebrity transformations on this show?
You know, I don't know. I think that this is a show about everyday people who have really identifiable issues. I don't know if I want to go the celebrity route on this show because celebrities are so removed from our viewers. Now, certainly celebrities have some of the same issues, but we really want to deliver a show to viewers that will make them say, “Hey, I have those same issues, and I can get over them, too.” But, who knows? Maybe if Felicity Huffman doesn't like her arms, we'll have her on.
'How to Look Good Naked'/ABC
Kelly struts her stuff after her makeover, Carson Kressley-style, on “How to Look Good Naked”
We saw you recently on “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List,” when both you and Kathy were down in Australia for Mardi Gras. What was it like to sit down with Olivia Newton-John?
Um, she was amazing. She's like an idol of mine. She's one of those entertainment icons. The thing about celebrities and me, like when I do red-carpet events, specials, or something with Kathy Griffin, is that I'm as excited as the person watching at home. It's a dream for me to meet these people.
But, Carson, it sure seemed like you were BFFs with Olivia Newton-John and that Kathy was like the third wheel there.
Well, you know, Kathy's whole thing is to be shocking, and that's great. I'm good friends with Kathy. But I felt like Olivia was an icon. I felt like I needed to be a buffer for her because I have such respect for her talent and her longevity. I mean, come on! She's Sandra. Sandra Dee!
And she's aged well. She's …
… Beautiful. She's absolutely a great example of someone who can age gracefully and naturally. She's beautiful in a different way from when she was younger, but still equally beautiful.
And what about men? Men have body image issues, too. What do you say to them?
The first thing is accentuating the positive. Be happy with at least something with your body. Realize that we all have strengths that nobody else has. There's no one as good at being you as you are. Having that mind-set really takes the pressure off. There are kids in our society who feel pressure to look a certain way. I work with a lot of moms — and we're working with a bunch of moms and daughters in this second season — and if a mom has a body issue, it's going to have a trickle-down effect to the son or the daughter.
Anything we should look out for this season?
We have amazing stories this season. And you get to see me in a lot of cute outfits. But we do have some women who walk in swimwear fashion shows. Women are doing a lot of daunting things, but we have their confidence soaring. We have them walking down the catwalk. It may not sound that great, but for someone who doesn't like their body, that's amazing.
So there's a lot of Carson crying this season, huh?
Yeah, and there's a lot of hot man candy, too.
What was it like going on the True Colors Tour with Cyndi Lauper in support of the Human Rights Campaign this summer?
It was one of those moments where I was like, “I can't believe this is happening.” I got to share the stage with people I've idolized, like Cyndi Lauper and the B-52s. It's one of those blessings that came out of all this TV stuff that I was asked to do that. Aside from being fun and entertaining, it was a great blend of celebration and activism. We could entertain people — gay and straight — and still point out that there's a lot of inequality in the world, like, “We're not going to tell you who to vote for, but it is an election year. Please go out and get involved because you can't be included if you don't include yourself.” It's a great message. I really admire Cyndi Lauper, who was the inspiration behind the tour. She brought all these artists together. It's generated a lot of awareness and money for increasing equality for everybody.
Are we ever going to see a reunion of the guys from “Queer Eye”?
I don't know. I would love that. We all stay in touch. It was such an amazing experience for all five of us to go through together. People always ask if we're still in touch. Absolutely. That show was like a family bonding experience.
You all have done well. For example, Ted Allen is on every foodie show as the culinary expert.
I know! We all have had amazing opportunities. I think it all speaks volumes for putting yourself out there and being yourself. The show was such a great launching pad for all of us.
Well, we'd all love to see a reunion at some point.
We'd love to do it.
“How to Look Good Naked” airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on Lifetime.