Thumbs Down on “The Price of Beauty” from Jessica Simpson

By now, many have heard of (or seen) a new Vh1 reality series The Price of Beauty from Jessica Simpson.  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:

  • Visit the Miss California Pageant, which funded infamous contestant Carrie Prejean’s boob job in order to “put her in the best possible confidence in order to present herself in the best possible light on a national stage”.
  • Visit a plastic surgeon.  Two-thirds of them say that their patients have asked for surgery to “remain competitive in the workplace.”.
  • Visit a psychologist and sociologist and ask why 20 percent of U.S. women (and 10 percent of U.S. men) today describe themselves as unattractive whereas 12 years ago only one percent of both groups were so self-disparaging.
  • Visit Heidi Montag to discuss her outrageous transformation at the beginning of this year, when she underwent more than nine surgeries at the mere age of 23. (But don’t expect illuminating answers.)

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.

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Courtney Young is the Founder and Chief Creative Officer at Think Young Media, a technology and social media firm located in New York that specializes in social media consulting. She blogs at The Thirty Mile Woman. Follow her on twitter @cocacy @thinkyoungmedia