In Hans Christian Andersen's tale The Ugly Duckling a boy duck finally realizes he's a swan. Grateful for having had his trials, his sudden self-recognition results in a happiness he had never known. Like the swan in the allegory, the women of The Swan experience an interminable happiness by the end of the show, and the happiness begins before they even see their reflection. The program "experts," like life coach Nely Galan, assure us that these women transform from the inside out. This direction of transformation seems to be the show's overarching message; however, what has troubled many viewers, including myself, is the predominance of plastic surgery to reach these ends. Troubled and inspiring, the program removes women from their native habitats and places them in a three-month surgical, therapeutic, and fitness boot camp. By the end of the program, the women appear to be genuinely elated, their wings fluttering open for the first time in awhile. At this point, each woman competes against another woman to see if they have earned a spot in the Swan Pageant. The selection process, based on poise, beauty, and overall transformation, determines whether one of these two women will ultimately be crowned the Swan. This article is the fourth in a series of The Swan recaps, laced with my own observations. Troubled and inspired, I don't pretend to be unbiased. For a blow-by-blow recap, visit the program's website.
What you will read and see in this recap is a writer struggling with the premise of this show. I don't know what to think of this show. I will detail the goings-on of each episode and offer my tentative stances and mixed opinions. I will also provide before-and-after shots of the women, as taken
whole-hogin their entirety from the FOX website. I write this recap for you as a plea: Help me figure out what to think of this show. Following this recap and within this forum, I entreat you to discuss the show's premise, players, and philosophies, and your own philosophies. In my own life, when I discuss the show with friends, I receive pat answers and extreme positions. That is all well and good, but I invite you to discuss the whys and hows of your position, with the aim of stretching our thinking.
Beauty Is Bone-deep
We begin the show with our host Amanda Byram, wearing the same outfit she wore last week, and causing us to wonder about the taping schedule. She walks through the double doors into the mansion's foyer and tells us that two more women will undergo the "most radical transformations ever attempted." However, only one woman will earn a pageant spot. Video arcade music graces the opening and we see the contestants spinning around a blue screen. They're dressed in tasteless grey prison-grade undergarments. Around them are white markers and blurred clips of surgeons and words saying "rhinoplasty," "tummy tuck," and "liposuction." The women are indeed like characters in the computer game The Sims. They spin around on character-creation screens as experts give them faces and clothes and attitudes. Unlike the game, these women are not simulations.
The first featured woman is Beth L., 25, from Milton, Washington. She is a customer service representative. We see a clip of her on the playground with her son, whom she gave birth to at age 19. She jokes with her son on the swings. He retrieves a pretend-fish for his mom, and Beth makes urf nurf munch sounds as she scarfs down the gift. Beth is a lanky, gangly woman with glasses and gummy teeth. She has shining eyes and an "open" face. She confesses that her husband Dan once kissed a woman at a bar and may even have done more than kiss the woman--she's not sure. Dan, with remorse, tells us that Beth has experienced much disappointment in her life and that he's been a part of these disappointments. He expresses anxiety that, after Beth's changes, she may not want to continue the relationship with him. Lastly, Beth says she wants to walk into a room and watch the heads turn. The experts watch the video clip and, in their board room, field questions from Amanda. The plastic surgeon contends that "beauty is in the bones" and that Beth sports a fine bone structure. Dr. Sheri Worth, the dental reconstructionist, utters plans to recreate Beth's smile and reduce it. Here is a picture of pre-operative Beth:
The second woman is Kathy R., 27, from Lake Villa, Illinois. She works part-time selling vacuum cleaners. As a child, Kathy experienced classic schoolyard teasing. One time a classmate urged the other children to wear plastic noses, specifically mocking Kathy. Kathy expresses her sadness over her now-departed stepdad, whom she would go to for advice and consoling. Kathy has a round, cute face with appley cheekbones, but a hooked nose. She says she looks in the mirror and still sees an "awkward 16-year-old." In the board room, the team watches Kathy's video clip and share their observations. Dr. Lynn Ianni, the contestants' therapist, says that Kathy still has grieving to do. The surgeons discuss their respective plans. A "before" shot of Kathy:
Gold Miners, Feminization, Deflated
BreastsEgos, and Cankles
When we return from commercial, it is the first day of the program. Ritualistically, the women tear open their envelopes in their bedrooms and smile at the letters which say, "The program begins now." The women start with their surgical consultations. Dr. Randall Haworth says about Kathy that she is a beautiful woman: "I'm here as a miner trying to excavate that." Kathy will have a nose job, fullness added to her upper lip, endoscopic brow surgery, a fat transfer beneath her eyes, laser hair removal, breast augmentation, and liposuction in six places. At the doctor's office, Randall mentions he will remove several bones around her hip area. Did I hear that correctly?
Beth visits the surgeon, Dr. Terry Dubrow, who fiddles with the stretched skin on her belly, suggests a tummy tuck. He also remarks about her "deflated" breasts. Beth will have an endobrow lift, a nose job, fat transfer to her upper lip, breast augmentation, liposuction of her calves and ankles, and lasik eye surgery. Terry mentions that Randall will perform surgery on Beth's face, since he is an expert in lip surgeries.
Kathy visits the nutritionist who weighs her. Kathy weighs 148 pounds and her goal weight is 120. Kathy reveals that she is the type of person who puts her goals to the side and has never really finished anything, except high school. When Kathy enters the operating room, she expresses the fear of "what if?"and worries about the dangerous aspects of surgery. Randall reduces the hump in Kathy's nose, refines the tip of it. He also removes the rolls around Kathy's hip. I'm relieved the doctor is merely sucking out fat and not bone. Randall performs his breast augmentation, brow lift, and lip augmentation.
Sheri hopes to raise the gum tissue in Beth's mouth, so as to make her teeth look bigger. Amanda narrates that the doctors will "feminize" Beth's face. Here is an issue worthy of discussion: what does it mean when the team expresses hopes to "feminize" a woman? Does it speak to classic standards for female beauty? Some individuals prefer feminine men and masculine women, or even androgynous beauty. Is it problematic that the artistry is given over to two surgeons, without collaboration from the contestants?
At any rate, we see Beth's video clip again. Beth tells us about her husband having cheated on her and that she was once the type of person who would've left a partner who did that. She says, "I didn't leave him because I'm afraid that nobody else will love me." Prior to surgery, Beth calls her mom. Her mom foists onto her daughter some troubling news: Beth's dad was fired, and Beth's mom didn't get the position she applied for. Shocked and upset, Beth enters the operating room, purple marker lining her face like a set of crosshairs. In these procedures, the doctors choose to work together, Randall the lip master and Terry focused on the breast and lipo procedures. Terry cheekily says that Beth's calves continue down to her ankles, without definition. He calls this anamolous body structure "cankles."
Leaving the Machine World
The orange sun emerges through grey clouds, and the scene is like the machine-world sky of the third Matrix. Dark clouds give way to orange give way to blue skies. Kathy wants to go home. Beth says she feels like crap. Randall expresses concern that Beth won't heal in time. Her eyes are red. Her face is bandaged in spots. Her upper lip is the size of a small European nation. "I feel like someone took a baseball bat and whacked me in the face," Beth says. She looks like this, too. Kathy continues calling David, her boyfriend, on the phone, and she looks for a reason to leave. She tells David that she prayed for death this week. Beth attends her therapy sessions, expresses extreme resentment toward her husband. Lynn tells Beth, "You're mad and you're hurt." Lynn adds that, if Beth doesn't say this outright, she won't get past it. Lynn remarks that Beth has a choice to make: to forgive her husband or move on.
At week 10 Kathy has gained a few pounds since she started the program. Nely, the life coach, says that Kathy is wont to make excuses for herself, but now she has a goal. In Kathy's closet, Nely selects the black dress that Kathy aims to fit into. "You love this dress," Nely says. "Crank it up."
After 15 years of wearing glasses, Beth is about to undergo lasik eye surgery. She doesn't know what it's like, she says, to see the alarm clock in the morning. Soon after surgery, Beth discards the glasses and can see each object crystally-clear. The show encourages us to think that glasses cover Beth's beauty, and given the type of beauty the show aims for, they're headed for the feminine look not the smart-girl look.
Amanda awkwardly ambles down the mansion's steps. Whether its the heels or having to talk and walk at the same time, Amanda doesn't ever seem to gracefully glide in her stair descent. Perhaps the shooting schedule is such that she must walk down the same steps ten times in one evening. Perhaps she is an
arachnophobe, agoraphobe...I forget the word! Is it acrophobic? Or is that the fear of circus performers? In any case, as she carefully trundles down the stairs, Amanda says that Beth and Kathy are undergoing their final preparations before the Big Reveal. She reminds us that we haven't seen them in a month and that they haven't seen themselves in three months.
Amanda nears the experts, who are splayed out in two diagonal lines, in flock formation. Amanda asks Lynn about Beth. Lynn responds that Beth first had to let go of her resentment. Now Beth is an "improved wife and mother and an empowered young woman." To Randall, Amanda asks about his special lip surgery. Apparently the swelling has decreased and now her lips match each other.
The double doors open, and Beth walks through them. She wears a below-the-shoulder blond feathered haircut, with bangs and layers. In a shocking twist, Beth wears a maroon dress, not the classic black. And her neckline plunges down to her waist. Her glasses are gone and she kind of reminds me of our FoRT's admin Sher, but Sher is a natural beauty, of course. Beth tells Amanda that she has learned to love herself. Ecstatically, Beth says that, with this love of herself, she now has a new love for her husband. She can't wait to see him. Beth walks up to the red curtains, which part when she says she's ready. An "after" shot of Beth:
Beth shrieks and pronounces the now-predictable "Oh my God!" She looks at her teeth and shows enjoyment, which makes Sheri smile. "I've got boobs!" she exclaims. Beth finally says, "I look so beautiful." Amanda tells Beth that she looks amazing. The two surgeons, who worked in tandem, claim 100% success. As the team surrounds Beth and applauds, Randall and Terry each lift up one of Beth's arms, her hands high above her head, and Beth happily spins around. Terry and Randall then place Beth into a Sim House, in which she must relieve her bladder every 10 minutes, accept chocolates from her Sim neighbors, fall in love with a man named Bob Newbie, and show her affection by sprouting pluses above her head.
Tell Me Sweet Little Lies
Next, Amanda asks the experts questions about Kathy. Randall says he performed a classic rhinoplasty on her. We are again told of Kathy's propensity to quit what she starts. Greg, the fitness trainer, retorts that Kathy went "beyond the call of duty," and now she is a "very sexy, beautiful woman."
Kathy enters the mansion. She wears her hair in long layers with chunky red and caramel highlights. Also uniquely different from the classic black evening gown displays, Kathy comes out looking like she could be the lead singer of Fleetwood Mac, a toned-down brunette version of Stevie Nicks. Her patent leather pointy-toed boots extend up past her knees. Her black dress billows in fluttery strips along her thighs. Atop her dress she wears a cropped black leather jacket with shiny zippers and buttons. She tells Amanda that she feels absolutely beautiful. Here is an "after" shot of Kathy:
Amanda questions Kathy about her initially professed "awkward 16-year-old" claim. Is that what you think you'll see? Kathy answers that she expects to see a beautiful woman. She walks toward the red curtains and says, "I'm very ready."
"Oh my God," Kathy says. "It's me." Kathy then thanks the team, and they walk toward Kathy's spot near the large golden-framed mirror. Amanda asks Kathy what about her has changed the most. "I feel comfortable in my skin," she says. Kathy hugs Randall, who calls her a "glamorous rock star." Greg adds that Kathy had "all the right curves." We see cutaway shots of Kathy in a blue bikini, a contented smile brightening her features.
Pageantry and a Camera's Coyness
Back from commercial, the two women hold hands near Amanda, who is prepared to reveal the one who has transformed the most, in the eyes of the experts. Amanda reminds us that Kathy has transformed from an awkward teen into a gorgeous woman and that Beth fought through marital problems and is now a confident beauty.
Amanda reveals that Beth will move on to compete in the pageant. Kathy offers her a "Congratulations." Lynn describes Beth's transformation, in that she "rose to every challenge with everything she had." Beth steps aside as Amanda says goodbye to Kathy.
Kathy does not seem disappointed. She clues us into the conditions of the program, in that all the women work together side-by-side in the mansion, not just two at a time. Kathy says that she has met so many great people: "All 16 of us are beautiful women."
David, Kathy's boyfriend, walks through the double doors and he wears a dapper black suit. He says that his first reaction, upon seeing Kathy, was just a "Wow." As Kathy spins to show off herself to David, he oohs and ahs. Like many of the contestants' partners, he is shocked, breathless, and wide-eyed. Kathy's mom and her friends walk through the doors. Her mom credits the program for helping Kathy blossom into "someone she's always dreamed of." Kathy adds that she may not be the "ultimate Swan," but that she feels like a swan.
As Amanda expresses pride toward Beth and as they close out the show, we see Kathy still surrounded by friends and cries of "You're gorgeous!" Beth and Amanda do their balanced high-heeled walk across the foyer to join Kathy's love-fest and meet her entourage. The camera pans up to the ceiling, as if to say, I'm too sexy for this foyer, too sexy for this mansion, too sexy for this song.
The camera does its little turn.
As always, thank you for joining me as we review and recap The Swan. Send all questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org -- and help me figure out what to think of this show by posting your thoughts below!