The Pretty Price Check: Your Friday roundup of how much we paid for beauty this week.
Okay, not to sound like a martyr, but I think we can all agree: I’m already doing a lot for this whole “investigate the price we pay for pretty” quest. But forget no Klean Kanteens. Forget gaining ten pounds and constantly running short on sleep. That was nothing. That was cake.
So let me tell you about the biggest sacrifice I’ve made for this project thus far: Sitting through all twenty minutes of VH1’s season premiere of Jessica Simpson’s The Price of Beauty.
I mean. Give me ten arbitrary rules to follow and another ten pounds of Dunkin Donuts weight any day of the week. Because this show is one hot mess.
Okay, so the premise sounded promising: Jessica wants to understand the true meaning of beauty and is traveling to far-off lands to understand what beauty means in places where her golden extensions and five-inch heels are not the bar by which all is measured. Nevertheless, the opening credits circle around blond, gorgeous Jessica wearing all white before morphing into elaborately costumed women of color.
Then we tag along with Jess and best friends CaCee and Kevin as they explore Beauty in Thailand. Read: Thai massage and awkward jokes about happy endings, meditating with a Buddhist monk until Jessica gets the giggles, and eating street market vendor bugs, which makes them puke, just like the obnoxious American girls on spring break that I’m sure most Thai folks presume them to be.
VH1 raises the dramatic tension when Jessica meets a Thai singer who has become horribly disfigured using skin lightening creams. “All around America, we just want to be tanner, but here they actually lighten their skin,” says Jessica in wonder. Except: That happens in America too, Jess. Um, a lot.
And the episode culminates in a trip to see the women of the Karen-Padaung Hill Tribe, who elongate their necks by constantly wearing stacks of brass rings from the age of six on, distorting the growth of their collar bones and vertebrae. Jessica and friends watch a six-year-old have her first brass ring put on and talk about how beautiful it is for them to witness this special tradition. “She’s such a brave little soldier!” Jessica coos. No mention is made of the fact that the United Nations called for a tourist boycott in 2008 amid allegations that the Karen, who are Burmese refugees, were actually being kept in human zoos — fake villages set up so tourists would pay to gawk at the women in their brass rings — and weren’t permitted to leave the country.
That’s pretty much where she lost me. I want to agree with James Poniewozik over on Time’s Tuned In blog, who concludes, “it’s not Frontline, but it’s a refreshing change from VH1’s dating shows.” But after our whole COVERGIRL debacle this week, I am just kind of over examples of media claiming to offer a thoughtful exploration of beauty but really just trying to sell me a celebrity shoe line — and feeling less and less inclined to cut them the “at least they’re trying to be more open-minded” slack.
Still, if you’ve been looking to spend 20 minutes that you’ll never get back because you’ve otherwise used your time just so wisely this week — by all means, go catch the whole episode here.