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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.