From the very beginning of The Swan, I felt a pang of comfortable familiarity, and it actually took me a little while to figure out why. Then I recognized that tell-tale mole and a wave of disengaged contentment rushed over me at the realization that Amanda Byram had come back into my life. The former (and very European) host of Paradise Hotel is back at it. She is the quintessential Hostess With a Heart, just the lady to make these former Ugly Ducklings feel at home in their new augmented skin.
I wasn’t going to write about the first episode of The Swan because I wanted to watch a few episodes first, to get a sense of the overarching themes and problems that might be used to provide a more detailed analysis. However, after reading Heather Havrilesky’s appalling review, I felt the need to provide a response to more than just the first three minutes of the episode, even if my response is short because I am only slightly less lazy than she who couldn’t even watch the whole episode before writing her whiny, self-righteous review.
I would like to discuss my emotions, which ranged from horrified, to amused, to overjoyed, and back to horrified. It turned my stomach to
listen to the doctors discussing the women pre-operation. She needs some definition to her face. We’ll suck that fat right out of her cheeks. Her nostrils are going to be really difficult; I don’t know if we’ll be able to fix them completely, but we can certainly improve them. And on and on and on. I especially liked it when Swan Coach/Freak Show Nely Galan spoke, because she has trouble enunciating through her collagen-enhanced lips.
The surgery scenes were as gruesome as the analyses were troubling, especially when Kelly (the more insecure of the two) had pre-operation jitters and started crying, and cried again during her visit to the cosmetic dentist (who bears a startling resemblance to horse-faced hatemonger Ann Coulter). Poor Kelly, if only she were born beautiful, she wouldn’t have all of these terrible personality flaws. And that’s where the therapist comes in. She helps the two girls love themselves, and become confident enough to take life by the horns and face even the most difficult challenges, such as beauty pageants. And she teaches them how to stand up straight as well.
After three months of healing, exercise, therapy, and dieting, the girls emerged with hair extensions and tons of makeup, dressed in elegant ballgowns for their big reveal. It’s at this point that they saw themselves in the mirror for the first time in three months after having a very heartwarming conversation with sensitive hostess Amanda Byram. Rachel and Kelly each cried during their turn at the mirror, their seemingly brittle faces contorting into hideous masks of emotion as they croaked over and over again “I’m beautiful! I’m really beautiful!” After they both saw themselves, they were walking tall, laughing, and feeling more confident than they had in maybe their whole lives. Then they were judged.
Rachel is going on to the pageant, but her husband doesn’t love her. Kelly’s boyfriend and whole family came to see her and she accepted her loss graciously, claiming that her life is going to be different from now on. I think it’s possible, and I hope it will be for her sake, even if it only means she’ll be a little happier. These girls were basket cases at the beginning. As unethical and screwed up as the concept of the show may be, at least outwardly it seems that these girls’ lives have been improved. And whose values are we using anyway? As Ms. Havrilesky astutely points out, the show was conceived in L.A., where plastic surgeons are as numerous as French nail salons, but it goes deeper than that. People in L.A. are having plastic surgery while people like Kelly and Rachel only dream about having it. By giving them something they could never have otherwise, are the creators of The Swan spreading insidious ideas of beauty and body image or are they just making a few women happier with themselves? I haven’t decided yet, but let’s talk about it again after next week’s episode.