It’s simple, yet one of the most powerful pieces of advice from fashion guru and TV celebrity Jeannie Mai. She was recently at Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore to meet the region’s lifestyle press and promote Season 2 of “How Do I Look? Asia” (HDILA).
The style makeover TV series, which originated in the US with Jeannie hosting all its eight seasons, will air new episodes in the Philippines on cable TV’s DIVA channel every Monday starting Aug. 29.
Taking on executive producer duties as well this time around, the loquacious Jeannie, an American with Vietnamese-Chinese roots, charmed media guests with her candor and had them laughing with her self-deprecating humor.
Being raised by a stylish though typical Asian mom in a household of modest means helped shape her advocacy of empowering women through fashion.
“I grew up with what everyone in school called chicken legs—but these are my legs, baby,” said the 37-year-old of her slender limbs, which that day were accentuated by black silk shorts and gold-dipped stilettos. “Guess what, I ran faster than every kid in school and I was able to fit in any jeans, and I put them proudly on display now and you’re not gonna take that from me.”
It’s a mindset she now hopes to impart to viewers at home and especially among the eight women—including two Filipinos—the HDILA team chose for a style makeover for Season 2.
“We actually have a warped idea of what our bodies really look like,” said Jeannie, who, early in her career, styled celebrities like Christina Aguilera, Rosario Dawson, Alicia Keys and Sarah Jessica Parker.
“Your mind can’t even appreciate what you look like because it’s already starting to kick you down.”
The show is not about fashion, Jeannie pointed out. “There’s a difference between fashion and style. Fashion is a business, it’s something you buy. Style is a personal love letter to your individuality. When I see women who don’t care about the way they look, it’s actually a symptom of what’s going on inside.”
It has nothing to do with being clueless about matching shoes and clothes or putting an outfit together, Jeannie added. “It only means she’s concerned about other things instead of herself.”
Pointing to the audience, she explained, “There are mothers here, employers, entrepreneurs, you all have a purpose in life. Sometimes that purpose—your kids, family, husband, job, career—it goes ahead of who you are and who you need to be. And that can quickly turn into a very depressing, burdened, unhappy life, though you deserve to be happy.”
Despite her busy work schedule in the US during the planning stages with network producer NBCUniversal, Jeannie was adamant about the series focusing on “the story,” about individuals who needed the transformation and who needed to recognize their worth, as well as to “be representative of who’s sitting on that couch watching the show.”
Selected from the Philippines was a 21-year-old aspiring vlogger who has long been bullied for her weight, and a 32-year-old doctor whose petite frame and childlike features prevent her from getting the respect she deserves as an adult professional.
“I love Filipinas,” Jeannie told us when asked what she thought of the women she chose from the Philippines. “Pinays are amazing because they’re more outspoken. They’re easy to communicate with. You can tease them because they have such a good sense of humor.”
Jeannie has also chosen the chic Filipino celebrity stylist and L’Officiel Manila editor in chief Pam Quiñones to be among the show’s four guest fashion experts, who each get featured in two episodes. Rounding out the HDILA style team are Malaysian fashion entrepreneur-TV personality Marion Caunter; social media style darling Andrea Chong from Singapore; and Diaz Diaz, Indonesian fashion creative director, illustrator, and professor of communication and digital design.
Andrea and Diaz Diaz joined Jeannie in touring media guests at the HDILA production set in Resorts World Sentosa.
Unlike in the US version of the show, where they change sets for each stage of the transformation (which would interrupt the flow of emotions as the makeover progressed), only one spacious venue contains all the “How Do I Look? Asia” trademark elements. These include the full-length two-way mirror (through which a guest is made to examine herself and her sense of style) and the Eww-tube, a vacuum that sucks all the unsuitable, ill-fitting or hideous clothing items removed from the guest’s wardrobe by her friends, relatives and the HDILA stylist.
Of course, the centerpiece would be the platform of dress forms, shelves and rails laden with clothes, shoes and accessories from Zalora, this season’s fashion sponsor.
Despite the retail machine represented by the covetable pieces, the show’s host says there’s more than what meets the eye.
“Women love to talk,” said Jeannie, who describes herself as an open book. “We just need somebody to listen—somebody who’ll care.”
She explained that the women’s experiences reveal the style transformation’s actual goal, or the proverbial carrot at the end of a stick—which, for most women, isn’t about being on the cover of Vogue.
“It’s being better to your family. It’s getting that job you want. Starting to date. Start really looking at your body after the 40-kg weight loss—then you begin to connect that it’s about personal style, not fashion.”
“How Do I Look? Asia” Season 2 will air on Philippine cable TV’s DIVA channel every Monday, 8 p.m., starting Aug. 29. Check out DIVA TV Asia on Facebook.