nothing beautiful about the swan

The first time I heard about FOX’s new TV show The Swan it left a bad taste in my mouth, but I couldn’t figure out just what it was that I didn’t like. The idea of altering someone so much that their own mother wouldn’t recognize them and not even asking the individual what they want to change is weird, but is it wrong? I hadn’t thought much more about the issue until I read Robert Bianco’s opinion. That’s when I realized it wasn’t just about changing a person’s physical image, it was the effect it could have on a person’s mental image of themselves.

This (slightly trimmed) excerpt from the article sums up the unfortunate premise of the show.

Each week, two Swan-declared “ugly ducklings” hand themselves over to an array of doctor Frankensteins, who rearrange their faces, fix their teeth, suck out their fat and lead them to the promised land of TV-defined self-esteem. Until they reach the end of each hour, when one is sent packing ? having changed, but alas not enough. There you have the true, sick glory of the concept. We convince these women their self-worth is wrapped up in their physical appearance, alter them to meet some unspecified standard of beauty and then tell all but one, “Sorry, you’re still not worthy enough.”


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  1. I don’t understand an arguement against free makeovers…

    Comment by Amy on April 15, 2004 @ 12:03 pm
  2. This isn’t a makeover like changing your lipstick or hair color. This is changing the way God made you, rearranging your face, changing your body, telling you that you were born too ugly. I don’t agree w/ it either.

    Comment by katie on April 15, 2004 @ 12:31 pm
  3. Thanks again for bringing god into a posting. I do cherish on-line theological conversation so here goes. If there is a god then he designed man to have free will(Y). Why would god care if someone has a smaller ass. Attractiveness leads to breeding afterall? Further, the show isn’t telling people that they are ugly, their social lives are doing that…

    Comment by amy again on April 15, 2004 @ 1:05 pm
  4. Amy, why would God care if people use crack? Since you know, they have free will and all.

    That’s a rhetorical question in answer to your weak argument to support plastic surgery.

    There are people who think happiness is found in beauty and possessions. But they keep on looking once they have these things – because they are still unfulfilled.

    Personally, I don’t care if people do it or not. There’s a reality that looks do matter to a degree. It is the degree to which people are going which is in question. Hopefully, there’s a lot more counseling going on behind the scenes to explain to these folks that real change comes from within.

    If people are really out of the range of average looks then, yeah, I can see why they want the surgery. But if they are “normal” and maybe just plain, the surgery is just about pride. Again, they can do it. It’s just a question of their motivation.

    Comment by Renee on April 15, 2004 @ 2:22 pm
  5. I was going to post a comment and have written and re-written two of them. Finally I decided that nothing needs to be said. I think everyone knows the score, and more importantly I don’t think anyone is going to change anyone else’s opinion on the matter. The only thing more interesting that people with problems is pretty people with problems.
    Maybe that’s my comment.

    Comment by jason on April 15, 2004 @ 3:08 pm
  6. Amy: A makeover is defined as a changing of a person’s appearance as by the use of cosmetics or a different hairdo. They are changing a whole lot more than their makeup and hair. What’s wrong with that you ask? Nothing. Just look at all the people who have had successful makeovers and have gone on to lead normal lives:

    Michael Jackson
    Jocelyne Wildenstein
    And many more.

    How can you say the show is not telling them they’re ugly? The show is telling them they’re so ugly that they need an entirely new body. And if the winner is called the swan, what do you think the losers are called? Ugly ducklings perhaps?

    The show’s description says the contestants are being given a second chance at life and when do you need a second chance at something? When you failed the first time. So they’re saying if you’re ugly, you have failed at life, for no other reason than that you don’t fit within the ever-changing standard of good looks.

    What does that tell impressionable young people about where they should base their self-worth?

    Even models don’t look like their pictures, yet people still try to look like them, thinking that will solve their problems. The truth is, it won’t.

    My biggest issue with the show is that they’re trying to perpetuate the idea that good-looking people are happier than regular people and even deserve awards and recognition for something over which they had no control.

    Comment by dan on April 15, 2004 @ 5:35 pm
  7. Personally, I just find Fox insulting. It’s only a matter of time before they start running commercials that say “You’re stupid. Thanks for watching.”

    No class. No shame.

    Comment by mckay on April 15, 2004 @ 5:39 pm
  8. Thankfully, I haven’t seen any TV spots for this abomination of a show, but I’ve heard the radio ads plenty. I felt sick the first time I heard the ad, with its syrupy sweet music blended with the sounds of a respirator in an OR. has a good article on the show, and the reader responses to the article condemn the show as well.

    I looked through the show’s site for a bit, and it looks like they hook up the ‘swans’ with a Life Coach to help them to make positive changes in their lives. I’ll bet just the Life Coach, a strict diet and exercise program, and a good makeup artist would lead to similar, and in some cases far more natural-looking results.

    Comment by Levi on April 15, 2004 @ 10:59 pm
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  10. Renee, why would god care if someone used crack? God doesn’t believe in darwinism. I do. Weed out the weak. Crack sure serves that purpose. And, give it up to the ugly unbreedables who throw darwin the double fisted bird salute. Unlike crack users, the ugly ducklings seeking elective are proactive in keeping their genes going.
    To the people who think that beauty and fine goods don’t bring happiness…look at the smile on my face. EAR TO EAR BABY.
    To Jason,
    I agree, pretty people with problems are more interesting and that is why J. Roberts doesn’t sport a hump. Also, power of debate drew you in so grow some clankers and take a stand, maybe that’s my comment.
    To Mike and Josie,
    Kudos is my favorite snack…and congradulations on your #2 slot of VH1’s starlicious makeovers.
    Are you maybe re-hashing a bad prom experience???
    I think that add went bust. However, the producers of the add “Be cool, stay in school” are very happy to announce their continued success with attendance in high school voc classes.
    Thank you for presenting a sound alternative with appropriate empathy. Research and stats concerning exercise and healthy choices may be too detrimental to ratings.

    Comment by amy on April 16, 2004 @ 10:22 am
  11. Amy: There’s no need to resort to ad hominem attacks, they don’t become you.

    Regarding beauty and fine goods bringing you happiness, that’s where we disagree. However, I’m glad to hear you’re happy and hope it remains that way.

    Comment by dan on April 16, 2004 @ 11:15 am
  12. Good looks and fine things are certainly not detrimental to happiness in and of themselves, and I think that leads to the unfortunate linking of the two in a causal relationship. As they teach you in Stats 101, correlation does not imply causation. The Swan is a reflection of how fully our society has bought into this myth, but it’s not really surprising considering how well it meshes with capitalism.

    You can be happy buying things, but you can’t buy happiness.

    Comment by Levi on April 16, 2004 @ 11:34 am
  13. HAA! She said ‘clankers’. It sounds like Amy has the world in the palm of her hand. Beauty, fine goods, and happiness? And here I am mucking around with my ‘clankers’ problem.

    Stupid clankers.

    Comment by jason on April 16, 2004 @ 11:38 am
  14. Very interesting thread. My wife and I have watched the show since the beginning, a few weeks ago. To confirm what some posters have wondered about, the contestants do have a say in what gets done to them (one woman so far has opted for about half of what was recommended), and they do receive psychological counseling and advice (and training) as to exercise and diet.

    All of the contestants I’ve seen so far do seem genuinely happy with their makeovers (or surgery or whatever you want to call it). Admittedly, that by itself does not mean that what the show does is right, but it would make me hesitate to deny the contestants the option Fox is offering.

    I have had two hair transplant surgeries over the years because I didn’t want to go bald like my older brothers. Do I think I’m a better person because I “have hair”? Of course not. I just prefer to look this way. I’m thankful that I could afford to have it done and that I live in an age (and a country) where the necessary technology is available.

    If I could take a safe & effective pill to have a great male body, I would gladly take it. Why shouldn’t be allowed to take advantage of whatever I can to level the playing field, just as I have sought higher degrees in order to raise my salary?

    Comment by John P. on April 27, 2004 @ 7:21 am
  15. For years I have been over weight and I feel i am not the prettiest thing out there. In fact, i am very far from it. I would love to have this total makeover. Not for the world to look at me but so I could feel beautiful. I am a fun loving person and I love people. I don’t need to change my inside. It’s just my appearance that needs a few touch ups.

    Comment by Amanda on April 29, 2004 @ 1:38 pm
  16. Amanda: We all have things we would like to change about ourselves, but your outward appearance is only part of the package. I can understand you wanting to look nice, but if you were to focus on your other good qualities, maybe looks wouldn’t matter as much.

    Comment by dan on April 29, 2004 @ 10:40 pm
  17. I have been ugly and fat and buck teeth all my life, and because of this I settle for any man that would take me, I have been married three times i still am not happy. I went and had gastric surgery on Sept 2,2003 and have lost almost 80 lbs and I am still not happy. my skin sags and my teeth show more than ever now I look like a beaver waitting for a tree. If I had the chance for someone to change my looks I would be thrilled. So if people go on this show god be with them. Some of us do not have this kind of luck, thanks for listening……

    Comment by rhonda on May 10, 2004 @ 9:14 pm
  18. Rhonda…It’s not about YOU… It’s about what God will do with you if you’ll submit. If you’ll let Him do with you what He wants for your life.. You will indeed be happy.

    Read “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren.

    Bloom Where You’re

    Comment by on May 11, 2004 @ 4:25 am
  19. I think that all these reality shows, demonstrate just how far we have fallen…beauty if subjective, and more importantly, beauty is from within — if you feel ugly inside, then you will project how you feel. Contentment, joy, etc comes from WHO you are, not what you are.

    Comment by Swann on May 12, 2004 @ 2:50 pm
  20. Sh–, I would love a free total makeover!! Granted tv shows want you live…..and so frickin what!!! Any woman that can get a free total body makeover..than God bless ya’! Cause, by golly, I’ve been tryin’ the past few years and have had no luck….and my life story can be a frickin’ V.C. Andrews novel!!!!!

    Comment by kel on May 15, 2004 @ 6:26 pm
  21. This show is changing a lot about a person like changing the cover of
    a book but just because you change the cover does not change the book. I read an article about a woman who changed her appearance through plastic surgery. She was born ugly. After she changed her appearance, she found the man of her dreams and married him. Then
    they had their first baby her husband could not believe how ugly the
    baby was. He thought his wife had been cheating on him that’s how
    ugly this child was. He wife showed him pictures of herself before
    the plastic surgery was done. He divorced her soon after.

    Comment by VT on January 4, 2005 @ 6:14 pm

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