Thumbs Down on Jessica Simpson’s “Beauty”

By now, many have heard of (or seen) Jessica Simpson’s new Vh1 reality series The Price of Beauty.  The premise of the show: Simpson and her best friends Ken and CaCee visit various countries to discover what each considers beautiful, finding out in the process the extreme lengths that women, in particular, will go to achieve that prized image.

In each episode, Simpson meets with a “beauty ambassador” who serves as her guide, sharing beauty techniques, rituals and traditions. In some cases, Simpson and her friends try some of the rituals and techniques themselves. And as a staple of each episode, the group meets with a “cautionary tale”–a woman who has experienced severe physical/mental trauma as a result of trying to live up to her culture’s beauty standard.

The premiere this week, shot in Thailand, showed Jessica and pals meeting with a former singer who began to use whitening creams to achieve the pale or white skin tone that is considered the pinnacle of Thai beauty. Chemicals in the cream burned her face and she is now disfigured.

I had felt a bit optimistic about this show’s potential, although the network’s track history in its reality shows–and in its treatment of women, particularly women of color–made this wishful thinking. In fact, Jessica and pals were immature at best and offensive at worst. They laughed through a Buddhist monk’s illustration of meditative practices in Thailand. They gagged as their beauty ambassador showed them a few Thai delicacies,  and Jessica remarked that she was disappointed she didn’t get a “happy ending” at the end of her Thai massage.

Why waste such an opportunity to engage folks in thoughtful programming about the impossible beauty standards that torture women worldwide?

Although the premise of the series involves going around the world, why not just start in the U.S.?  Consider these possibilities to explore in U.S. episodes:

What we really need is a show about the reality of how girls and women are castigated about their bodies and overall attractiveness on a daily basis. The Price of Beauty may seem to embrace the diversity of beauty and the multiplicity of ways it can be measured/experienced/viewed, but ultimately we’re left wanting a deeper perspective than someone as invested in the beauty-industrial complex as Jessica Simpson can bring.

ABOVE: Jessica Simpson; photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/jvh33/ / CC BY 2.0.

Comments

  1. I had hopes for this show, too. It looks like a wasted opportunity. See my post from 3/5: http://feministfatale.com/2010/03/jessica-simpsons-fall-from-grace-and-the-price-of-beauty/ I’ll link your piece to my blog. Thanks for reporting.

  2. Courtney, so far everything you’ve written I’ve loved!!! Your analysis is always so great. And I really appreciate how you cover things that are really significant and visible in the mainstream from a super-smart feminist perspective. I think that it’s really important for there to be strong and clear feminist voices that appeal to a large and diverse audience, and you have one. I also like how you incorporate so much research and content into your arguments. I always look forward to reading your posts!!

    PS: gee, i might be coming on a little strong!! not trying to be a creepster or a kiss ass, lol!! just really do like your posts:)

  3. But racist ethnocentrism is just too funny NOT to make these kinds of trite, brainless jokes.

  4. Thanks for this review. I haven’t seen the show but I must admit the previews had me intrigued. They suggested Jessica had matured but from the sounds of your post she has steeled into the ditzy blonde we have come to know so well over the past decade. And I think that ditz is absolutely cultivated.

    To me, she is an example of the privilege of beauty (in its conventional western definition) because not every woman could get paid to galavant so dimwittily on TV. I want to feel sorry for her but I don’t. She made a calculated decision to walk through the world this way. She collapsed herself into dumb blondeness, which has vaulted her singing, acting, reality career, if never very high.

  5. i’m really disappointed in vh1. the show sounds like it could have had great potential. maybe they should hire you as a consultant, courtney! i’m always disheartened that some of the biggest pushes for change (hiv/aids, starving children, etc.) begin abroad and not at home as if the u.s. simply doesn’t have those problems like “other” people do.

  6. There are a lot of pictures of Jessica Simpson that i have compiled and made them my wall paper on the computer. It makes my day as she is my inspiration.

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