Skinny Daily Post

Invincible.

I watched The Swan.

(Shaking my head.)

(Shaking my head some more, now with my hand over my mouth, eyes closed. Which makes it very hard to type, by the way.)

You remember when you were a kid in the 7th grade and watching the films about the concentration camps? And you were blown out of your little socks? And you couldn’t understand how people could possibly go along with it? How could it happen? How could people let it happen? What sort of fear and wanting could make people suspend their humanity and sense so completely for so long? I remember well that walk home from school after seeing the films. The sun was shining, and I was shaking, clammy and afraid.

And it’s fair to blow the whistle on me, to say that no one should ever compare the events leading up to genocide with the airing of a surgically influenced beauty pageant. Even if the effect is devastating and debilitating for generations of young women. And you’d be in the right. It’s bad writing on my part, faulty thinking and completely unfair commentary. Absolutely.

But I can’t help noticing that I had much the same physical response to watching “The Swan” as I did to watching those concentration camp films. Why? I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, couldn’t stop looking, was repulsed by what I saw, sat shaking and cold, and wanted so badly to rescue these women from this situation. To rewrite history. To make it not true. I want this show never to have happened.

In the end, it’s much the same phenomenon that amazes and frightens me, causes cold sweat to drip between my “deflated” breasts. It’s the reality behind the “reality” show. The mob behavior. The group think. Teams of people were required to conceive of this accident, budget it, organize it, staff it, stage and film it. There were testing audiences, pilot tapes, sponsors to woo — and secure. Money changing hands, episodes to review and review before putting them on the air. Did no one raise a hand to say this is a bad idea?

The idea behind the show? A bunch of women who are unhappy with the way they look, and even more unhappy about their lives and personal histories (the premise of the show, that achieving a particular standard of beauty will fix everything) send in their tapes. Those who make good clay are invited to the “pageant.”

We see a video interview of each woman’s pain over her appearance and life. These women have many reasons to lack confidence, generally owing to their histories, but certainly not their looks. The fact that these women are not at all unattractive before they submit to their overhaul is never called into question here.

No one is given the option of receiving a little counseling and a kicky new haircut. Oh no. Now a team of people who make their livings performing human alterations are given the ultimate billboard for their services and reign over these women’s bodies. It appears the women are not consulted at all about the changes that will be made. A surgeon teaches us what is acceptable in a hairline, the arch of a brow, the fullness of a cheek, angle of chin. Of course there are gallons of adipose to be sucked away and breasts to be lifted and implanted. No one gets out of this without a boob job. The cosmetic dentist will choose her method and preference and design for fixing a new smile on the contestant’s face.

The contestant hasn’t seen a mirror for months while she diets, is trained at a gym, recovers from her extensive surgeries. Then she is made up and coiffed, puffed and dusted, poured into a skillion-dollar dress and exhibited. When she’s allowed to see a mirror, she’s so happy about her transformation, she’s in tears. The mirror is draped in curtains the color of dried blood, appropriately enough.

In each episode, there is a “winner” and a “loser.” I suppose this is the game part. How are they selected? No idea. On their sportsmanship? The fact that there is a contest at all heaps absurdity on absurdity. Half of these broken-hearted women who tripped into this experience with little to no self-confidence at all, who endured many surgical procedures, beauty boot camp, to land in the smaller dress and the bigger hair and the tippy little shoes, will be told they still aren’t quite “it” enough to make it to the season finale pageant.

Oh, but did I mention that a trained psychologist is there to help counsel the women during their stay at Rancho Moreau? Not sure if they get discount coupons for their therapy over the next three years, but I hope so. I expect, however, that the consent and waiver forms these women signed to gain access to the show were pretty complete. There will be no complaints.

Does this show make you sweat and tremble too? Are you shocked by the mob brain that allows this kind of programming to flow into our daughters’ hearts and minds? Do you want to make it stop? It’s not as hard as you might think. We can each make a stand against people who would dictate standards of human acceptability and profit from other people’s pain. Now is the time to not watch this show. Better yet, write to the show’s producers (askfox@foxinc.com) to tell them why you are not watching the show. Change channels. Stop using the sponsors’ products. Voyeurism still sells soap, folks. We vote, we makeover our television when we use our remote controls.

All the ways you can protest, about-face.org

Compare and contrast, msnbc.com

11 thoughts on “Stop the Swan

  1. Susan Ramsey says:

    Jewel — Haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but Neil Gaiman’s site recommends and provides a link to this article in the Guardian:

    Interesting article on fatness and fitness and health and pseudo-science at
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/weekend/
    story/0,3605,1200549,00.html — it’s an unabashed polemic,
    and a fascinating one, of which my favourite line is “The single most noxious line of argument in
    the literature about obesity is that black and Hispanic girls and women need to be “sensitised” to
    the “fact” that they have inappropriately positive feelings about their bodies.” — Susan

  2. Tory K says:

    Okay I am NOT the only sane person in this world! I had the SAME feelings about The Swan. How DARE they make a premise of telling women they aren’t “good enough” the way they are. This is exploitation at its finest. I happen to love reality shows, but this one just made me ill.

    Love your blog, by the way. I’m a big loser too…lost 106 pounds on Weight Watchers. If you’re interested my “Flabulous to Fabulous” site is http://www.msteechur.com.

  3. Quinn says:

    Don’t have a tv, so didn’t see The Swan — doesn’t sound as though I missed much.

    From the obit for Estee Lauder on A.P.:
    “Beauty is an attitude. There’s no secret … There are no ugly women – only women who don’t care or who don’t believe they’re attractive.”

    Her own words. Kinda guess she would know, wouldn’t she? 😉

  4. Gwen says:

    The Swan feels like watching a car wreck – it’s a terrifically tragic spectacle. Thanks for writing about it – I feel the same way.

  5. StarPrincess says:

    Ok, don’t beat me up here. I was outraged when I heard about this show. The superficial premise of what makes a woman beautiful and then to turn that into a pagent? My inner feminist screamed.

    And then I saw the show.

    I still hate the pagent. I still hate the premise. But I have never know that there are women out there who have never once in their lives felt pretty or beautiful. I have never seen that kind of pain.

    Yes, there’s tons of therapy and work to be done. But I still watch the damn show. And I still cry everytime they do a reveal at the end of it.

    Pretty isn’t what we’re all about, but we still all want it, don’t we? Isn’t that part of why we work so hard to lose the weight and get in shape?

    So I say, go ahead and be angry at forces that dictate what beauty should be. But don’t pretend that feeling beautiful doesn’t matter.

  6. Amy says:

    I had the misfortune to see this show for the first and only time while I was out of town last week. It was like watching a train wreck; horrific but riveting. I was appalled to find myself finding fault with the end results! How disgusting is that???

  7. mayrie says:

    Ok. I didn’t see the show. BUT, I thought a lot about the previews… My goodness, this is getting bigger and bigger I said to myself, about plastic surgery. We don’t know what is beautiful anymore. Some people say its this, some say its that. It’s like this thing with diets, no one can ever come up with a diet that is great for everyone.That’s because we are all different, DUHH! All have their limitations, but also, all have their strengths. The thing here is to know yourself. See what is good for YOU, not anybody else. Besides, what ever happened with “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”? I feel soooo bad and inadecuate And self-conscious watching TV lately…, and magazines…MEDIA is really ruining our perceptions and messing with our minds. “I am beautiful, no matter what they say…” Singing that in my head is how I am surviving this fase…

  8. theresa says:

    The show is appalling, however, the media have Always influnenced society’s perception of beauty. I was a child during the 70’s, when Farrah and Chrissy Snow were the sex symbols. All women’s magazines had advice like- brush your hair upside down to make it fuller, and that eyeshawdow diagram w/ the darkest color in the crease. That didn’t work for my curly black (oh horrors, not blond!)hair, which becme a q-tip, or my deep-set eyes, which looked even squintier. Things are better now. Many more standards of beauty are recognized- check out Queen Latifah on the COVER of Glamour magazine. We are making it happen.

  9. Beverly says:

    Let’s not forget the role that personal responsibility plays. Eleanor Roosevelt noted that others do to us only what we allow. No contestant on The Swan was duped into appearing or coerced into staying. Swarms of lawyers and mental health professionals ensured that everyone gave, and was capable of giving, informed consent. And no reasonable person can claim to be unaware of the realities of unscripted television; from “The People’s Court” and “The Jenny Jones Show” to “Cops” and “Extreme Makeover,” we’ve been provided with ample opportunity to examine this process from an objective perspective. So if we can agree that contestants are on this show of their own free will, and have in fact made a sustained, concerted effort to be on this show, and moreover know exactly what to reasonably expect from their participation, then who are we to judge their decisions and pity their experiences? If we expect the producers of this show to concern themselves with the potential damage to the inner psyches of grown people, we can ask no less of those grown people themselves. Similarly, no law exists requiring us to meet the prevailing standard of beauty. These standards have existed since in our species and others since the beginning of time. Male peacocks with the brighter feathers get more action from their female counterparts; the female baboon with the most swollen butt gets her pick of suitors; and the human woman with the big breasts is going to attract men whether she wants to or not. Ancient cultures had standards of beauty despite the fact that they had no Glamour magazine or Miss America pageants. We could have a long and interesting discussion on the “art imitates life” vs. “life imitates art” debate but who cares, really? What matters is how we feel about ourselves regardless of what is going on around us. Even if you reject my argument on a philosophical basis, on a practical level it is hard to argue against as we cannot change what others think or do or produce, individually or collectively. We are, however, responsible for how we allow these thoughts and actions and tangible products of such thoughts and actions to affect our self-assessment. The fact that you do not meet in some way the prevailing standard of beauty should not destroy you. Ideally it should not even concern you. But that’s entirely up to you. And I think Eleanor Roosevelt would agree with me.

  10. kristi says:

    I think what apalls us is not the fact that these people have wanted to do this on their own free will, but the fact that we now live in a society where exploiting their pain and suffering is considered acceptable entertainment. These people are in pain and we feel it’s allright to put them on national television and stare at it like an old carnival side show. I can’t imagine what it must do to someone to have thousands of dollars of painful surgery and then still be told they are not good enough while millions of people watch. I don’t allow any reality tv to be viewed in my home. Love is not a game we play for money. I don’t want my children ever to think it’s ok to eat raw intestines or endanger their lives to win a million bucks. I don’t want them to learn to lie and cheat against their friends (alliances) to win the almighty dollar. My final what I don’t want them to learn is that it’s exceptable to watch others demean themselves for money and call it our entertainment.I would never allow them to stare at the physically disabled, the mentally challenged, the disfigured, the homeless, etc. I teach them to smile, to say good morning, to hold the door, to treat these people like we would our neighbor. The world is apalled at how some of our soldiers have been caught treating prisoners of war. Well, our media and our societies exceptance of these types of shows have taught many of our young people that humiliating and hurting people is an exceptable form of entertainment. I encourage us all to change the chanel on all of these exploitive episodes.

  11. Happy AsIs says:

    Everyone wants to be “beautiful”, whatever that means…I’m sure it means different things to different people. If someone is unhappy with the gentic card that they were dealt, who are we to tell them not to do something about it.

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