Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Did we mention the mirrors?

On my way home from work today, I passed a group of kids playing in a yard. Their game was suspended for a moment when their ball rolled into the street, and two of them waited for the traffic to pass before retrieving it. As I walked by, one girl, maybe 10 or 11, ran up to me. "Hey! You're so big now!"
Thoroughly puzzled, I stopped and said, "Oh yeah? How big was I before?"
She put her arm down and held her hand at about her waist. "This big."
"We were all that big once," I smiled. "When did you see me?"
"A red car... your mom drives a red car?"
"Nope, I'm sorry. I don't think I'm the person you remember."
"Oh." She went back to playing and I continued walking. "That girl..." I heard her say to one of her friends, and then she waved. "Bye!"
"Bye," I waved back.

Kids are so funny that way. My senior year of high school, I was walking home one day and a couple of kids were sitting on their front porch across the street. One called out to me. "Hey lady! How old are you?"
"How old do you think I am?"
He thought a second. "Thirty-two."
"That's it," I laughed, "I'm thirty-two."
I remember being twelve, and not knowing if I should refer to female college students as girls or women.
Heck, I still don't know.

Well, curiosity got the better of me tonight, and I decided I wanted to watch at least one episode of The Swan.

Sigh.... I guess I've got time for a rant.

Now, I've seen some of those quasi-documentaries on MTV that follow people who have cosmetic surgery, and I've been mildly entertained and somewhat intrigued by the process and the motivations of those who have it done. What I appreciate is that they show these people in their natural environments, interacting with their friends and family, and they don't draw the viewer away from the nominal subjects. Not so in The Swan, which touts itself the "most unusual pagent ever created." You, the viewer, spend too much time watching the show's hostess talk to the people who are going to be doing the makeovers: cosmetic surgeon, dietician, personal trainer, dentist, even a psychotherapist (gag me). Then you spend even more time listening to these professionals talk about the contestants and how well they think they're going to do. And before each commercial break they spend two minutes telling what's coming up later, and after every commercial break they give a two-minute recap of what's already happened in the show. Like, shut up and get on with it.

What's left is, Now they're excited about being a participant. Now they're at their new apartments, physically isolated from friends and family. See how the mirrors are all taped up? That's so they won't know how they look for the three months they're here. Now they're weeping over their "terrible" looks. Now they're at the doctor, and he's drawn all over their bodies with a purple Sharpie. Now they're nervous about surgery. Now they're in serious post-operative pain. They can't see themselves cos we covered up the mirrors. Now this one's really motivated to lose weight, but the other one's cheating on her diet. This one's unhappy with her marriage, and the other one has low self-esteem. And they still don't know how they look, cos they haven't seen a mirror in three months. Oh, and here they are, with nice make-up and fancy dresses, and we're going to make them super nervous about looking into a mirror for the first time in three months--remember how they haven't had any mirrors? Now they're crying with happiness. One wins, th'other loses, but really they both win because they're both beautiful.
And it's all about as interesting as my synopsis.

They interview the contestants before they enter "the program" and get them all teary about why they want to have these physical alterations done: "I don't go out to some places because I don't like the way I look;" "I want a divorce because my husband deserves better." Both of these things are, in their own way, genuinely saddening, but cosmetic surgery will not help that! There are greater issues of self-respect that need dealing with--and I suppose that's why the psychotherapist is there, but her presence is clearly a token gesture, and hardly the focus of the show. What little they air of the therapy sessions sounds more like gabbing girlfriends.

What might seem to validate the program's existence is that these women do, in fact, look better after their "transformation." You could watch and say, "They don't need cosmetic surgery," and at the end say, "Wow, they look a lot prettier." Like, everybody needs a little fixing up, right? All the world needs is a nip and tuck. And a gum reduction. And silicone breasts. See? So much better now.

At least the MTV program let you see if or how people's lives were changed as a result of their cosmetic surgery. Quite often it made little difference.

And I'm not even going to get in to the misogynistic theme inherent in this kind of circus show. Early twentieth-century feminists must be turning over in their graves.

No comments: