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What Price for Beauty?

March 22, 2010

Last Sunday Jessica Simpson’s new show The Price of Beauty aired on VH1. It features Jessica and her two friends traveling around the world to learn about different cultural ideas of beauty. Considering most of us took anthropology, or womens studies, or sociology etc in college, the message of the show isn’t all that surprising.

Jessica however seems amazed to discover that skinny, blonde and tan isn’t the beauty norm everywhere (although this is the girl who wasn’t sure if buffalo wings came from actual buffalos). She as a host actually makes the show interesting. Ms Simpson has certainly had people beating down her self-esteem as of late. Magazines are constantly calling her fat, John Mayer just called her sexual napalm (although that could be construed as a positive) and when she dated Tony Romo she was labelled a jinx who negatively affected his football career. So despite the fact that she is blonde and beautiful, the public doesn’t always treat her that way. Her looks are under constant scrutiny and the results are rarely positive. This is a clear indication that our culture is messed up. But most of us, who don’t look like Jessica Simpson in those fat jeans even on a good day, are already aware of this. 

For her first journey, Jessica went to Thailand, where she learnt pale is beautiful, ate some bugs and went to a village where women’s necks are extended with rings. The thing that makes the show interesting is her genuineness and interest in what is happening. Her famed ditziness, in this instance, allows her to ask questions that may seem obvious, but the answers that come from it can be heart warming. 

I was pretty jaded going into this show. Honestly, watching it I can’t say I learnt anything new about different cultures images and the often warped way we view ourselves. There are enough feminist manifestos out there without me contributing one. But the moment where a former Thai singer showed Jessica the effects of her skin bleaching, leaving her with blotted, patchy skin, and explaining that she has since lost her job, and her husband left her, I felt profoundly moved. If I dare to admit, there were even some tears involved. It’s the human element rather than making it a cause that makes this show appeal to me. Often as women we get wrapped up in the cause, and what society tries to make us be, that we forget the people behind it.

I don’t know if this show sustains enough of that to continue. In it’s second week when Jessica travelled to France, ratings dropped sharply (down to 800,000) so that even Hoarders on A&E beat it out. But it’s a sweet, good-natured show. Even if the message is old, it doesn’t mean it is any less important and is one more people should be aware of. The difference that will be made is in all likelihood minimal, but awareness is a start.

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