I love plastic surgery shows. Seriously. Extreme Makeover (ABC), I Want a Famous Face (MTV) and now The Swan (FOX) top my list of must-see TV programs each week. I know, I know -- I'm aware of the criticism -- nay, disgust -- that often greets these gregarious displays of physical transformation. I even agree, rationally, with the denunciations. The shows do indeed propagate the misconception that the key to happiness lies in changing one's appearance. They feed into society's absolute obsession with beauty while simultaneously minimizing the seriousness of major operative surgery. All of this I realize, but I remain nonetheless a captivated spectator, anxious to see the results. I confess, a bit shamefully but also sincerely: I am superficial.
For those of you unaware of this new trend in reality television, allow me to enlighten you. Presented as modern Cinderella stories, these shows place average-looking people under the knife in the name of beauty. Participants are treated to the whole nine yards: extensive cosmetic surgery, fitness training, wardrobe advice, hairstyling, makeup application, Lasik surgery and dental work. The Swan has even thrown therapy and a self-esteem instructor into the mix. The result: a caterpillar-turned-butterfly, bettered physically and [perhaps] emotionally as well.
Now, even I must admit, the 'respectability' of the genre has markedly decreased with each subsequent take-off. The prototype, Extreme Makeover, does at least a decent job of exploring the character of its participants and why they deserve the surgery. It is also, in my opinion, an informative and somewhat honest look at the potentials of plastic surgery. However, with I Want a Famous Face, MTV follows people who want to look like their favorite celebrities. This premise is ridiculous, but purposefully so. The premiere episode features twin brothers who receive multiple procedures in an attempt to emulate their idol, Brad Pitt. In truth, these guys could never, ever look like Brad Pitt -- not short of wearing Halloween masks. To MTV's credit, the show tries to impart on its teenage audience the reality of what is in essence brutal surgery by showing extremely graphic imagery. Gross, but effective.
The new brainchild of the genre, The Swan, is probably the most tasteless 60 minutes on the boob tube. Each episode pits two women against each other, like show dogs, in a contest to see who will turn out more beautiful after her respective makeover. The winner goes on to a 'pageant' to be held in the near future. In addition, the women are not allowed to see a mirror for the entirety of their recovery period. The climax of the episode, the "reveal," is pure cheese. In dramatic fashion, each woman enters a room through a door opened by tuxedo-clad men. Greeted by an obnoxious host, she then walks up to a curtain behind which lies ... a mirror! She waits five minutes in excruciating anticipation for the curtain to open and to see her new self. The requisite sobbing and hugs abound.
Classy television this is not. But riveting? Absolutely. Let's face it: looks matter. Plastic surgery shows may stress what's reflected in the mirror, but they succeed because they reflect the values inherent in viewers. Like superficiality.
I've come clean. Maybe you should, too.