About a year ago, one picture set ablaze a firestorm of criticism against Jessica Simpson for what have now famously been dubbed her “mom jeans.” The onslaught of ridicule and insults that the media hurled at Simpson were overwhelming and, if you ask me, completely unjustified but not all together surprising.
To be beautiful in Hollywood means to be thin and one unflattering photo of Simpson declared that she was fat. The jeans in question, however, were a size 4.
The image followed Simpson throughout the year as the tabloids incessantly debated her weight and critiqued her body, but instead of dropping the pounds and offering up the gym regime and diet that got her there, this celeb chose to do something totally different.
Enter Simpson’s latest project – The Price of Beauty – a new VH1 reality show that aims to show how women define beauty around the world. I have to say that the commercials for the show intrigued me so I sat down last night to watch the premiere and was both pleased and disappointed.
Let’s start with the positives.
Simpson’s beginning monologue left me feeling hopeful:
“There is a lot of pressure to feel beautiful,” says Simpson. “It’s one thing to have insecurities but when you have the whole world watching and people are criticizing you on top of it, it just can get to the point of being too much.”
She continued, “People put so much pressure on women to be beautiful. There is always a new diet to follow, a new beauty product to use, but is that really what defines beauty?”
Simpson has a unique understanding of the pressure to be thin in Hollywood and the consequences of not fitting the ultra-thin ideal. It seemed that the premise of the show would be to try to answer the question of what defines beauty and, as it was my hope, to challenge the unhealthy behaviors women endure to be beautiful, but was Simpson capable of delivering?
Yes and no.
In the first episode Simpson and her travel companions (BFFs CaCee Cobb and Ken Paves) travel to Thailand with Simpson where they learn that fairer skin is beautiful. Being tan is considered lower case, so women strive to appear as fair as possible. Women in Thailand use whitening creams to bleach their skin and at times the products destroy their skin.
The group meets Panya Bunjan, a Thai woman whose skin has been burned by whitening products, leaving patches of discolored skin on her face and arms. The woman was formerly a singer but now is too embarrassed to go out in public and her husband has abandoned her.
I found this segment of the show the most powerful. You see the price of beauty women in Thailand pay in their pursuits to be beautiful. I was hoping the rest of the show would be similar but that was not the case.
Later in the episode, Simpson and friends travel to Chiangrai Provence in the northern part of Thailand to visit the Karen Tribe – a group of women who wear gold rings around their necks to elongate them. In the Karen Tribe a elongated neck is a sign of beauty and wealth that will help attract a better husband.
The rings the women wear push down on the their shoulders to elongate their necks over time. Some girls begin wearing the rings, which can weigh as much as 20 lbs, when they are as young as 5 or 6 years old. In fact, a young girl of 6 gets her rings put on while Simpson and her friends visit the tribe.
During their entire visit with the tribe Simpson, Cobb, and Pavens comment again and again on how beautiful the women are, but there is no mention of the medical risks and pain associated with this beauty custom. Having heaving rings circle your neck, pushing your shoulders down from the age of 5 or 6 years old is an incredibly restrictive and painful process to endure in the name of beauty.
Is enduring this pain much different than starving yourself or bleaching your skin?
All in all I’d say Simpson should be commended for her efforts with this show. She may not have done everything I’d have hoped for, but she is raising awareness of the extremes women around the world will go to be beautiful and I can’t say many other celebrities have done so.
She is after all, Jessica Simpson, though and the clueless quirks (is tuna chicken?) that made us laugh in Newlyweds are not so funny in her travels around the world. Gagging and spitting out food in a Thai market and giggling your way through a mediation session with a Buddhist monk will do nothing to give the show credit. I hope she keeps these mishaps in check, although I fear that may not be in the case. Only time will tell.
What do you think? Watch The Price of Beauty at VH1.com.
Photo Credit: VH1
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