“The Price of Beauty” needs a makeover

The concept of Jessica’s Simpson reality show “The Price of Beauty” has great potential: an A-list celebrity—famous for being overly-scrutinized in the judgmental tabloids—travels the world, learns about what’s beautiful in other cultures and the lengths people go to attain this so-called beauty, and shares those findings with American girls who need some self-esteem boosting.

Jessica Simpson & friends meditate on VH1's new show "The Price of Beauty"

But after the premiere on VH1, I’m not impressed. The show’s trailer looks promising, but the first episode missed the mark.

In the show’s first episode, Simpson and her two friends, both of whom are in the music and fashion industry, travel to Thailand where they are led round Bangkok by their “Beauty Ambassador” (an obviously-westernized Thai model who fits all the American molds of beauty) and learn about what’s considered beautiful in Thailand.

They learn about ideals of inner beauty from Buddhist monks, get intense Thai massages, and go to a rural village in the north where women elongate their necks as a sign of beauty. The trio also learns that beauty comes at a price—they meet a woman whose skin was permanently burned and deformed thanks to skin lightening creams. Fair skin is treasured in Thailand—a contrast to the dark skin-seeking Americans—because it represents upper class. This part of the episode is the only touching and teachable moment of the show, and it is very poignant.

“The Price of Beauty” has all the ingredients of being a powerful program, but aside from the couple of remarks Simpson made about dangerous lightening creams, it doesn’t fully connect the dots. Simpson doesn’t say, “Wow, I bet fake tanning is just as bad for my skin,” or “Wow, beauty is really in the eye of the beholder because in our country no one cares about neck-length.” The lessons aren’t emphasized enough.

If the rest of the season is like this first episode, “The Price of Beauty” will be more about three famous friends and their escapades in foreign places than about beauty. Simpson and her cohorts represent the typical, ignorant American tourists. She wanders around Bangkok in short shorts, cracks up uncontrollably during Buddhist mediation, and gags loudly at the food served at a local market. While I want to applaud Simpson for all the soul-searching she’s doing to enlighten self-conscious girls in the U.S., she is embarrassing herself and offending other cultures.

I do hope this show inspires young people to realize what’s considered beautiful in one culture isn’t in another, and I also hope Simpson herself grows and I hope this show enlightens HER. Even though she has slight moments of clarity where she realizes her own dangerous and ridiculous obsession with beauty, she still wears impossibly high heels all over the country (even though she says they’re uncomfortable) and still remarks on how much she wants a boyfriend.

The show has the potential to represent a refreshing take on Hollywood beauty standards and hopefully young viewers will at the very least realize that one of the most seemingly perfect women in the world feels insecurities. I just hope in the next episodes, the show connects the dots and connects to its viewers. We all need to become more conscious of society’s beauty standards and really question why we consider beautiful things beautiful.


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