The premier of Jessica Simpson's, The Price of Beauty, debuted on Monday night. Jessica and two friends travel the world investigating the definition of beauty and the lengths people, particularly women, will go to obtain it.
The underlying premise is fantastic. In a nutshell, beauty is culturally defined. We can easily forget this when we page through the same magazines and see the same media day after day. Jessica, unfortunately, has learned firsthand the price of beauty to her career and self esteem. Her weight as it does or does not fit the cultural definition of beauty is a constant headline. It's no surprise why she took on this project.
Seeing the cultural practices firsthand helps to bring home the idea that we chase an ideal that is created rather than an absolute truth. In each country, Jessica consults a native "beauty ambassador" to explain how people in that culture define beauty. Granted, this would be a tricky job. Who would you hire to be the beauty ambassador for the United States? Even within a state, town, and segment of the population, beauty ideals can vary.
The first stop for Jessica and her entourage is in Thailand. They began with a clear example of the way attractiveness can starkly contrast from culture to culture. In America, our definition of beauty is tanned skin. We seem to turn our noses up at pasty, pale, white skin. In Thailand, it is the exact opposite. Forget bronzers and spray on tans. Foundations contain whiteners. Tan skin suggests that you work in the sun. So, one prefers to look pale.
Just as tanning can cause severe skin damage, even cancer, skin whitening comes with its risks as well. They meet a woman whose skin was burned by these whiteners. She lost her job and her husband due to the pursuit of perfect skin.
The next stop in Thailand was to a tribe where women lengthen their necks with gold rings. Long necks are considered beautiful and attract a husband. The rings weigh up to twenty pounds. Again, necks aren't the first thing we see emphasized in popular magazine photo shoots.
Some of the beauty traditions struck Jessica and her crew as quite funny. For example, they gagged and giggled as they tried to choke down fried worms and crickets that were reputed to speed up metabolism. Jessica also got a case of the giggles as she participated in a Buddhist meditation ceremony. In part, Buddhist emphasize that beauty comes from within and through inner peace.
It's true that when you take a step back you see that the price people pay for beauty can go to absurd almost humorous lengths. I'm sure the women of Thailand got a good giggle themselves seeing Jessica hobbling in on towering, spike high heeled shoes (presumably from her shoe line) as she hopped up onto an elephant. Pointy, 2 inch, high heeled shoes: sexy or torture device? You decide.
Hopefully, this show will help remind all of us to think carefully about how we define beauty and to reconsider how we "judge" attractiveness in ourselves and others.
Tune in next week as she heads to Paris...
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