It's the beauty contest which worried millions of parents. It's the beauty contest which culminated after three million dollars of plastic surgery. It's the beauty contest which began with women who hated themselves who wanted to love themselves. As viewers, we wondered together: Can silicone leak? Where do the lipids get lipoed to? Could we, too, become professional therapists through mail-order certificates?
After four months of radical transforming, nine women have taken to the stage in the first ever, totally overrated, completely overblown--like a bulbous upper lip from a fat injection--conference of image-conscious ornithologists: the Swan Pageant.
Somewhere within the Los Angeles night skyline is a gigantic performance hall, within which a booming disembodied voice tells us that 16 women were given a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Spotlights swirl over the now empty stage, and the voice says that nine ordinary women will now compete as extraordinary beauty queens.
We're treated to the so-called media frenzy, which mainly consists of clips from Inside Edition and Regis and Kathy Lee. We're told that the search for the sixteen women began with 200,000 hopefuls. After many sessions of cosmetic surgery and dentistry, after 200 hours of fitness training, after many cries of "You're not going to make it to the Pageant if you eat this tub of ice cream," after completely confidential therapy visits which were aired on national TV, nine women will shake their plastic groove thing, but mostly they will walk in high heels and wear expensive dresses and smile at Amanda Byram who will also wear many expensive dresses. And then it will all be over.
Amanda Byram wears a long white satin dress. She looks just like a swan, minus the webbed feet and the beak and the large plumage. She introduces us to the judges: Susie Castillo (not to be confused with the really cool former Oregon state senator and now-superintendent of public instruction), Miss USA 2003; Valerie Trott, who helped launch Tyra Banks's career and manages many models; Judith Regan, author of The Zone and L.A. Shape; Tara Craft, editor of Star magazine; and Mike Ruiz, a fashion photographer. Amanda tells us, also, of the prizes the winner will receive. First, the winner will receive a modeling contract with Champaign/Trott, which is also what happens after a night of cheap champagne and bean burritos. In addition, she'll win a wardrobe of Tadashi dresses, a week's stay in Hawaii, a scholarship at Archie Bunker's daughter's correspondence school (but only after she proves she can draw a happy turtle), a scholarship to an Anthony Robbins workshop, for more "life-coaching," a 2004 Jaguar, and a misunderstood tiger and his pet magician.
All Your Ducks in a Row (All Your Base Are Belong to Us)
Before we see the women in bikinis, we must first witness how far they've come. They were self-professed ugly ducklings, most of them insecure and unhappy with their looks. The first rule of the Swan Program, Amanda tells us, is you do not talk about the Swan Program. The second rule of the Swan Program is, no mirrors. Dr. Randal Haworth explains that having no mirrors eased the women's respective recoveries. Also, the producers hired what they called the Mirror Police, who ordered several mirrors to cease and desist, including reflective stainless steel cookware and a CD case. The Mirror Police covered up mirrors in the doctors' offices, the fitness room, and the women's apartments, so that they wouldn't be able to see themselves before the Big Reveal, which we all know is when, three months A.S. or After Scalpel, a woman sees herself for the first time and her fat lip declares itself a nation-state.
And, so, this is how we will proceed. We'll see a clip of a woman crying and being self-pitying, and then we'll see her transformed, post-operation and post-therapy, and wearing a gorgeous dress. The judges whom we've never heard of will give the women a score, up to 10.0.
First, we see Beth, the gangly toothy blond whose husband kissed someone else at a bar. As part of her internal makeover, she has overcome her doubts about her husband. Both plastic surgeons worked together on Beth, because Dr. Haworth is famous for his lip surgery, in which he injects globs of fat from some other part of the body, say, the ass, into the lip. This surgery gives the lip a buttock of fullness. Ass-kissing is forever.
The screen which displayed Beth's "before" video clip also shields the new Beth from view. We see her silhouette behind the translucent egg-shaped screen. The egg lifts and Beth is in give-me-five stance. She sashays out in her black dress with a slit up the side. I like Beth's soft feathered hair and her "open" facial features. The judges give Beth an average of 9.6.
Next up is Cindy, whom we remember as the witch from the school play. In the program, most notably, Cindy received a nose job, to tone down her hooked witch nose, and laser hair removal, so that she wouldn't have to shave her face every morning. The egg lifts and Cindy proudly takes to the catwalk. She wears a silver-blue dress with cobwebby glittered lines, and she looks like she's having a great time. The judges give Cindy an average of 9.4.
We see Kelly, the wild card choice from last week, who grew up without any friends. The kids at grade school picked on her, a time in which, Kelly mentions, she lost her soul. Her emotional nature caused the doctors concern for her post-op healing, but Kelly kept her sense of humor most of the time. We see a clip of her being weighed and not being able to see her feet. She jokes of her newly enlarged breasts: "Those are some boobies!" Kelly emerges in a red and black evening dress and a perhaps too cutesy smile. She keeps one hand on her hip while posing in different locations. Averaged out, the judges give her 8.5.
As with the computer-generated flames peaking behind AI's Kimberly Locke, this stage boasts a close-up of swan feathers, which move and rustle around us, as if we were a flea. Next is Rachel's video. She says, "Sometimes you feel like, 'Why do I bother?'" She mentions that her dad once told her schoolteacher not to expect much out of her. Her husband said that she's "a little average." Rachel's transformation began with a commitment to herself, even when her husband didn't support her. When the egg-screen ascends, Rachel is revealed in a black dress with silver-spiderweb designs. Her husband, in the audience, claps resoundingly for her. The judges give her an average of 9.8.
Cristina, if you remember, was the woman whose skin on her stomach stretched from pregnancy and then contracted like an accordion. She wanted to be able to belly dance for her husband, but she expressed such concern for her physical attractiveness that she didn't even want to be intimate with him. During her time in Swan boot camp, Nely Galan, the life coach and co-producer, visited her apartment and critiqued her food intake. In a dramatic scene, Cristina threw away gallon after gallon of ice cream. When she takes to the stage, Cristina wears a low-cut dress and walks smoothly toward the judges. She looks back over her shoulder, keeping a dancer's focus. However, the judges aren't excited, and Cristina receives an average of 7.9.
Sarina's story, if you remember, involves putting everyone before herself. She considered herself a Plain Jane. When her husband started to see someone else, she filed for divorce, but she continued to call him and try to work it out, actions which kept her on the proverbial fence. Finally, Nely asked her, "How badly does someone have to hurt you before you put yourself first?" Her transformation began by committing to put herself first. When the screen pulls up, Sarina is revealed in a black dress, a plunging neckline covered by sheer black fabric. In the audience a relative holds up a t-shirt: "Plain Jane has left the building." Sarina is tall and her curly brown tresses fall around her shoulders. She looks beautiful but preoccupied. The judges give her an average of 8.6.
Merline grew up translating for her deaf parents, and she continued being a caretaker for her family. She saved up for braces, for which she had the money on and off for ten years. Each time she had the money, she would spent it on bills or something for the kids. Between work and family, she would only have time in the evening to shower and go to sleep. Merline's transformation begins with her cosmetic dentistry and the chance to do something just for herself. When the screen ascends, Merline glides forward in a red dress with glittery bits. She wears her hair curly and she wears her teeth big. The judges give her an average of 8.0.
Belinda was the former model who wanted to recapture her looks. After relationships with abusive men, many of whom were drug users, Belinda became obese. She wanted to know she deserved someone to treat her well, and so she participated in the Swan Program with full gusto, even taping her former boyfriends photos to a punching bag and going to town. Throughout the program, and even the day after surgery, Belinda maintained a jovial, happy-go-lucky attitude. On the stage, Belinda is still somewhat heavy, but gorgeous--she could perhaps model larger women's fashions. Her cute devoted son holds up a sign saying "My Mommy #1 Swan." The judges give her an average of 7.8.
Marnie's story is that, in her 30s, she felt 10 years older. After her husband left her and their kids, she sank into a depression and found each day to be draining. Early in the program, she hadn't left her room for three days, and the video tells us that Marnie finally seized her own destiny: "It's time now." She entered the Swan Program so as to restore her youth, and I have to admit that, with her new looks, she is a definite femme fatale. After not dating anyone for ten years, I know that the suitors will come a-knocking. But something is still amiss, and I can't place it. Her energy still seems low, as if she's stowing away anger or worry. The judges give her an 8.9.
Finally, all nine women, in a choreagraphed number, which I can only call a Walk Dance, take to the catwalk in threes, so as to show us their evening wear one last time. The audience gives them a standing ovation, screams included. Amanda closes out this part of the competition with "Let's face it: they are smokin'." That's obviously because after the evening gown competition, they performed a song from Grease and puffed on Camel Lights.
Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Bikini
Amanda greets us after the commercial. I like her hair up in a ponytail, but it seems as if her hair is longer in the ponytail than down, and we know the hairdressers are liberal with their extensions. Amanda wears a spaghetti-strapped gown which seems made of bathing suit material. It is striped diagonally in aquatic colors. Before bringing out the women for the bathing suit competition, Amanda chirps that the women spent three hours each day in the gym and that they collectively lost 200 pounds. We see the women with a choreographer and the problems they had walking in high heels. We also see the women preparing for a photo spread in People magazine.
And, in a pre-taped pre-pageant event, the women meet on stage to receive last-minute advice from Miss USA 2003, Susie Castillo. They all wear flowery sun dresses, and I'm ready for the sun hats, the tea party, and the re-enactment of a Jane Austen novel, but they just sit and smile. Susie tells them to "just have fun with it," and "it's your time to shine."
We're back to present-time for the bathing suit competition. After this, the six women with the highest scores from both the evening wear and bathing suit competitions will move on to the semi-finals. This competition is quick and flurried, and so I'll offer this portion in brief, bikini brief if you will. The women do the Walk Dance in bikinis to a song with this refrain: "Everybody looks the same." The judges, as before, give the women each their own score, and I will give you their average score, or so--the numbers do come out fast. Merline receives a 7.8. Beth proudly walks out in a little black bikini: 9.6. Sarina wears a bikini with a sarong, though the sarong appears to be falling off: 8.7. Kelly in token red: 8.5. Rachel, bouncy and alive: 9.8. Belinda, in a one-piece: 7.7. Cristina: 7.9. Marnie, in a blue tropical bikini: 9.1. Cindy, happy in a bikini with a bandeau top: 9.4.
Randal, the surgeon in the audience, laughs, the veins popping out of his head. Envelope, please. Amanda readies them, and she calls out the semi-finalists in random order, complete with dramatic pauses. The semi-finalists are Cindy, Beth, Rachel, Marnie, Serena, and Kelly. Amanda tells the other women, Merline, Belinda, and Cristina, that they are beautiful and have much to be proud of.
Who Are You Today? Gee...
The women wear designer gowns, custom-made for them. Of the designers featured are such names as Claire's Collection, Tadashi, and Peter Cohen. In this competition, the semi-finalists will choose from one of six envelopes, each containing the name of a judge, with Amanda being one of the questioners. That judge (or Amanda) will offer her or his question, and the semi-finalist will have 20 seconds to answer it with eloquence and poise.
Cindy wears a white gown with pink hues--the pink could be the lighting or my TV--designed by Claire's Collection. She chooses the Valerie Trott card, and Valerie asks her what she feels about her decision to be in the program, given that she was away from her family for three months. Cindy responds that, in being in the program, she has become happier, which will then make her a happier wife and mother than she was before. She receives an average of 9.0 on her response.
To Mike Ruiz's question (and forgive me if I didn't notetake his question--the man seemed so in awe of Beth that all I noticed was his beaming smile), Beth responds that, in being in the program, she has worked through her emotional issues, especially with all the tools Dr. Ianni, the team's therapist, gave her. I have to mention that the judges' scores for the question/answer competition are all over the map. With the modeling scores, the numbers were often within one decimal point of each other. With Beth's question/answer score, for example, Susie Castillo gave her a 10.0, while Valerie Trott gave her an 8.2. I wonder that, with Valerie Trott in effect determining who does and does not get her modeling contract, she would have a clear interest in skewing the score. In any case, Beth receives an average of 9.2.
Rachel takes the stage in a dark blue velvety Tadashi gown. Judith asks Rachel if she has exceeded her expectations. Rachel answers that, in fact, she didn't place many expectations on the program, but what she got out of it is that she matters, and that she has a lot to give the world. For that, she says, she has to have confidence. Her score averages to 9.6.
Marnie wears a silver sleeveless gown by Peter Cohen. Tara asks Marnie what she has learned about her self-esteem. Marnie seems stunned, and she gives some sort of sports interview response, like she can only do the best she can. To her credit, she says she learned that a person can only limit themselves. She receives an 8.4.
Susie asks Sarina, "Who is Sarina today?" Sarina responds that she still loves to do for other people, but she now knows she must put herself first. 9.0. Kelly selects the last card; Amanda is the last questioner. Kelly responds that she could not look in the mirror prior to the program and now she's willing to wear a bathing suit on national TV. The crowd claps and laughs, and I forget to write down her score.
Silk Chemise, Remix
Amanda now wears her hair down and a light blue low-cut dress. She tells us that none of these women have ever modeled lingerie before, and I wonder how many women really do have the opportunity to model lingerie. Would they have to be a Victoria's Secret model, or would they work in one of those all-night establishments, merely a buzzy neon sign that says "Adult Shop" in the window? Anyway, in this competition we will first see clips of each woman working with fashion photographer Mike Ruiz. Then they will each take to the catwalk. Their score will be based on their work with the fashion photographer and on their walk.
Cindy is first and she wears a polka-dotted get-up. She leans back on a white couch and Mike Ruiz takes her picture. Cindy comments on her excitement and on how she got into a groove with the photographer: she would just know when the photo would be just right. She comes out on stage in a black bra with a little pink skirt and a sheer scarf. The judges give her a 9.3. Beth is next and she seems to greatly enjoy her photo shoot. She wears a poofy hat and a short baby-doll dress. With her back arched and her stance firm, she shows off her long beautiful legs. During the shoot she says, "I feel really sexy right now." She walks out onto the stage in a blue silk chemise. Again the judges give her nines, while Valerie Trott gives her an 8.2. On average Beth receives a 9.1.
Rachel's photo shoot is complete with "tiger" poses, arched eyes, and on-the-floor acrobatics. Mike tells her she looks like Raquel Welch. Rachel says she has a good attitude and is ready to show the world what she's accomplished. On stage she wears a teddy with stocking clips and thigh-high stockings. The judges give her a 9.7. Marnie, in her photo shoot wears her hair piled high with chopsticks and, like the others, she comments on how sexy she feels. She walks in small geisha footsteps onto the stage and wears a bra with a pink silk and black lace slip. As she promenades down to the judges table, she looks visibly uncomfortable, as the slip restrains her movements.
In Sarena's photography session, she seems to be wearing lots of clothing, black shiny pants, a big shirt, a big hat. Coming out on the stage in lingerie, she says, is a celebration of "I am woman--hear me roar." She wears a bra and underwear set with a black sheer scarf. The judges give her about an 8.4. When Mike photographs Kelly, she says that she likes to play dress-up. She wears her hair big, blond, and poofy on her head, like a motorcycle chick from the '80s. Kelly's lingerie outfit is a black silk chemise and white wrap. The judges give her an 8.9.
Toward the end of this competition, all the women come out on stage, bouncing to a club-beat dance remix. Cindy finds it amusing, Beth and Rachel seem confident, and Marnie's slip doesn't allow her to sashay.
The Plucky Swan Is Picked
Amanda reminds us that these women were judged, not just on beauty and poise, but on their overall transformation. Valerie Trott, the person who will manage the winner's modeling career, thinks to herself, "Yeah, right." At this point, the final three women are chosen, and these women are Rachel, Beth, and Cindy. Amanda tells us that these women are truly an inspiration to us. They will each get a brief chance to tell the judges why they deserve to be the Swan.
Rachel is first. She says that she now has self-esteem and a sense of who she is. She'd now like to give that back, so that people know that they matter and that they all have a place in this world. She says she's proof that dreams come true.
Beth is deeply moved during her talk, and she cries. She says she started out the program with low self-esteem and found her heart and soul. She says she loves her husband dearly and that if she can impact one person's life, her goals will have been accomplished.
Cindy says that any of these three women could be a Swan, for they've all worked so hard. She also speaks of going for one's dreams, and that it would be her honor to be the Swan.
When we return from commercial, Amanda says that they are about to crown the Swan, "in celebration of all whose lives were transformed." She tells the women that the diamond necklace they now wear, with the little vertical string of diamonds representing past, present, and future, is theirs to keep. She reminds us of what the Swan will win and that Nely Galan, life-coach and executive producer, will crown the Swan. Amanda calls Nely the "motivating force" behind the program. First, Amanda will announce the runners-up.
Cindy is the second runner-up. She smiles brightly, takes her bouquet, hugs Nely and walks off. Amanda tells Beth and Rachel that, in the event the Swan can not fulfill her duties, the first runner-up will step in. That first runner-up is Beth. Amanda tells Rachel that she is the first-ever Swan. She receives a standing ovation, and silver squares of slick confetti fall from the ceiling. Nely hugs her and places a banner over her. Her son in the audience claps and seems to have that "Wow! That's my mom--I can't believe it" goggly-eyed expression.
Rachel asks Nely if her nose is running. Her husband screams out "I love you." When Rachel steps forward, newly crowned and with rose bouquet in hand, she says "I love you" to her husband and son. Amid all the fanfare, Amanda says that the Swan represents all the women who have the courage to change their lives. Then she says a few unintelligible, strange things, obviously read from cue cards--you can tell she's thinking, "Who made up this crap?" She says this: "Ladies, always remember where you come from. Celebrate how you got here. And, remember to live happily ever after." I have no idea what these statements have to do with anything, but I'm content to just say, "Yeah, okay, you wacky people."
Amanda kisses her husband and more wacky people seem to interfere with the people in charge of sound, and we hear more unintelligible statements and chatter and screams and music. Ladies, always remember that, when things get tough, to anesthetize yourselves and inject your faces until your lip touches the sun.
Thank you, dear readers, for keeping me company through this program. I'm interested to see the aftermath, since not much attention was placed on the possible dangers of plastic surgery. But, until we meet again, this is Shayla signing off for this season and saying: Women are neither ducks nor swans, and you are all beautiful to me.
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