Q&A: Stacy London | October 15, 2012

Ten years of cohosting TLC’s What Not To Wear have made Stacy London a household name. Her quick wit and great shoes make London fun to watch, but her quieter, more emotional moments with women on the show suggest there is much more beneath the surface. Indeed, like many of her guests, London has struggled with her weight and body image. In The Truth About Style she tells her own story and allows readers to see the more personal side of her TV personality.

In this book you give women “start-overs.” How is this different than a makeover?
I think the whole idea is more about “Yes…and?” Makeovers are something we associate solely with style, and start-overs tell a little bit more about what this book aims to do, which is to show that we all tell each other a story about who we are. When I sent out the call on Twitter and Facebook to have women be in this book, I didn’t say, “Tell me your biggest fashion problem.” I said, “Tell me your story.” Because fashion is sort of beside the point, but a style problem is a symptom of perhaps being in a rut or being disconnected from yourself, or you’re not revising your story because you’re stuck in the story you’re telling yourself, like, “Oh, I have big hips, so I can never wear skinny jeans.” Sometimes, it’s a bigger story than that. Whatever it is, this is a psychology of ourselves. Start-overs, to me, really imply this pivot…and sort of recognizing you have more control over things than you think you do. Resignation is not always necessary.

What made the stories of the women you included in this book stand out?
They are very representative of what I experienced doing What Not To Wear for ten years. I was looking for things that felt personal and individual. These are modern-day issues that women face, and the way that they express themselves in terms of style is one tool; it’s not meant to be, “This is only way to talk about these things.” But it’s the way that I know how to talk about them. There were things that I related to very personally. One of the things I felt strongly about doing was telling my story, and being able to tell my story through lots of other women’s stories as well.

How is this book different from Dress Your Best, which you coauthored with your What Not To Wear co-host, Clinton Kelly?
It was totally different. That book was very hard because it was our first book, and we left everything to the last minute. [laughs] In retrospect, though, it feels like it was a walk in the park. It was really bullet point information about color forms…it was very direct, very specific, very instructional, very how-to. This book was infinitely more personal, and much harder for me, in ways, to talk about a lot of this stuff but something that I think is incredibly important. I can’t tell you how many women I meet who start off—you know, they don’t walk up to me and say, “I can’t find the right color sweater.” They say to me, “I just survived cancer.” There’s just a bigger sort of story that needs to be told about the way women treat themselves, and that was hard for me to talk about because, to be completely honest, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with style my whole life. I’ve had my issues with self-esteem. I think I wrote it to feel a little less alone. I hope when people read it, they’ll feel a little less alone.

What was it like to look at the psychology behind each woman’s struggle with style, and why do you feel it’s so important?
It was important to talk about the psychology because I run up against it so often. One of the frustrating things for me about style is that there’s this misconception that it’s fashion; style is not about fashion. I feel like a lot of women get very intimidated by the idea of fashion, and rightly so: it’s expensive, it’s exclusive, it’s not for everybody. But style is really about more of who you are, not of what you wished you looked like, but being more accepting of your circumstances—what your budget is, how old you are, whatever it is. The idea was to say, “Hey, you can revise your story, you can reframe your perspective.” The fastest and most effective way to do that is to change what you see. To me, that’s a really important message.

I can only talk about it in my own experience, and what I experienced talking to these women, and what I’ve seen working with so many women on What Not To Wear. It’s a phenomenon to me. I talk about the alchemy of style. I can’t tell you why it works, but I can tell you that it does. I think, if nothing else, that it’s just about empowerment and wanting people to feel that they have options even when we tell ourselves that we don’t.

You’re very open about your past, including your fluctuating weight, eating disorder, and psoriasis. What made you decide to make the book a mix of memoir and style guide?
It was my struggle with self-esteem that drew me to style. For me, it was very important to mix the two. It all started with a speech I gave about a year and a half ago at the 92nd Street Y where I talked about it in depth, about the struggle that I’ve had with wanting to feel comfortable in my skin. That’s when publishers started calling me, and originally everybody wanted an autobiography. I’m 43, I feel like I got a little more to do before I write my memoir. But this seemed like a nice segue to be able to do these start-overs and put it in the context of, or at least in an arc of, my storyline.

What is it like to tell your personal story to an audience who feels like they “know” you from television?
It’s funny that you say that because I get frustrated with the idea that people think they do know me—simply because reality television is reality television. It’s a part of me, but it’s a format show. You don’t know that I like Darth Vader or dinosaurs. There’s so much more to me than what you see on television, even though it’s an unscripted show. I don’t want people to think I’m just this one person who totally criticizes you and then builds you back up. There’s a lot more to me than that. This [book] felt like a nice, interesting, dimensional way to talk about myself, but keep it in the context of what I know best, which is style—really, the only thing I know.—Kathleen Quinlan, Library Journal