Post-feminism is a very complicated term in the sense that it encompasses contradictory and pluralistic discourse within our modern society. Both authors Portwood-Stacer and Arthurs focus on the relationship between feminism and consuming behaviors that are depicted through television. Portwood-Stacer argues reality makeover television both reflects and perpetuates the ideology that individualist consumption is an important means of feminine empowerment. (Portwood-Stacer 196) Both authors also agree on the fact that the physical appearances are often emphasized as an empowering device for women in the television shows and for audience viewing the show. According to The Oxford English Dictionary, Post Feminism is defined as “coming after the feminism of the 1960s and subsequent decades, in particular, moving beyond or rejecting some of the ideas of feminism as out of date.”
“Broadly defined, “post-feminism” encompasses a set of assumptions that feminism has accomplished its goals and is now a thing of the past. It presumes that women are unsatisfied with their (taken for granted) legal and social equality and can find fulfilment only through practices of transformation and empowerment. Post-feminism is defined by class, age, and racial exclusions; it is youth-obsessed and white and middle-class by default. Anchored in consumption as a strategy and leisure as a site for the production of the self, postfeminist mass media assumes that the pleasures and lifestyles with which it is associated are somehow universally shared and, perhaps more significantly, universally accessible,”(Interrogating Post-feminism)
Therefore, is post-feminism reinforced in such American reality television series as Extreme Makeover, The Swan, The Bachelorette and Millionaire Matchmaker, or can women overcome media hype and be empowered by the simple feeling that they are beautiful; thus, building a positive psychological view of one’s self as a device to overcome any physical defect that may make one otherwise feel inferior?
One example can be found in the television series Extreme Makeover, which follows contestants who desire weight loss, facial and teeth reconstruction and better personal habits through a complete and total, sometimes unrecognizable, physical and mental transformation.
This reality series followed contestants in a ‘before and after’ phase of their experience with
the “Extreme Team.” The team was compromised of America’s top plastic surgeons and cosmetic dentists. Once contestants met the team and undergo many surgeries they were then transformed, yet again, by top hair and makeup artists, fashion stylists and personal trainers. Extreme makeover was the first series to objectify the idea that beauty can be bought, and any one woman could empower themselves if they had the money or were lucky enough to land a spot on the show. Nevertheless, did reality television then take the post-feminist movement of reality television to a whole new level with The Swan by incorporating a ‘drill sergeant’ style into its beauty makeovers, thus promoting the sense of ‘individualist consumption’?
“When Extreme Makeover began, there was still the sense on that show that cosmetic surgery was about the correction of radical defects-the kinds of things you got teased about as a child,” says Susan Bordo, a professor of women’s studies at the University of Kentucky and author of Unbearable Weight, which explores women’s body-image issues. (Her area of expertise: TV makeover shows.) “Now we’ve moved to reasonable-looking people seeking surgery to be transformed into totally new selves. That’s a whole different kettle of fish” (People Weekly).
The Swan followed sixteen ‘ugly duckling’ like women on their road to becoming ‘beautiful’. The reality series aired the shocking life therapy sessions with life coach Nely Galan after each of these women underwent extensive cosmetic surgery that included liposuction, breast implants, and surgeries to alter jaw lines and gums, brow lifts, nose jobs and so on. Nely Galan, life coach and host of The Swan, claims “The same way money is power for a guy, and men get crazy with money. Beauty is power for women.” But is beauty power, or is the sense of power a psychological one?
The Swan, after weeks of coaching, held a beauty pageant to find out which ‘duckling’ had the most swan-like transformation. However, not every woman made it to the
pageant. Often, these women failed in losing a mere fifteen pounds and were denied pageant entry. When the show reached popularity People magazine reported, “Critics called the show “ghastly” and dubbed the contestants ‘Brides of Frankenstein’; feminist labeled The Swan misogynistic, and plastic surgeons worried over the image it lent their profession. Many viewers couldn’t help wondering if these would-be Swans couldn’t look just as good with a few trips to the gym, a makeup lesson and a nice set of highlights.”
The Swan indeed promoted individualist consumption with the ideals and themes pushed by life coach Nealy Galan. Coach Galan was constantly seen in season one of the reality series telling women some very psychologically damaging things that would promote consumption within the individual. From relationship advice to weight loss, a lot of the women had a sense of ‘broken’ confidence; thus, this would either push them to drop unnecessary weight and severe relationships in order to ‘better’ themselves. For instance, with contestant Andrea, Nely Galan confronted Andrea in terms of her diet claiming,
“You’ve lost one pound.” The two argued over the original weight loss, “Andrea claimed she weighed 145 pounds when starting the show.” Galan claimed she weighed in at 139 and showed a digital scale as the contestant stood on it, but was this a reality television ‘trick’ to enhance the series and promote consumption within the contestant? The contestant became so agitated with Galan’s claims that she wanted to ‘quit’. The sacrifices these women were making were borderline psychological, so can you be beautiful with just a positive attitude or have these series given women the idea that beauty is only achieved through cosmetic surgery?
Another contestant, Dawn, continued gaining weight. Coach Nely Galan was appalled by her grocery order, “If you don’t change you’re eating habits, you’re going to be a tub when you get home.” Galan then claimed, “Dawn has fifteen pounds to lose if she wants to make it to the pageant.” Then it was revealed that, “Dawn didn’t make it to the pageant because, although her external transformation is magnificent, she still has a lot of work to do on the inside.” So, did Dawn miss the pageant because she had internal things to deal with or did Swan Coach, Nely Galan think she was simply, ‘just too fat’? The consumption was further backed by an episode where Coach Nely Galan berated a contestant named Marnie for not wearing her ‘chin strap or girdle’ saying, “You gotta take this more seriously.” She was actually going off Doctor’s orders and possibly not reaping the most benefits of the plastic surgery.
In lieu of grotesque makeovers, can women simply find empowerment of beauty by regular exercise, diet change or a pick me up at the hair salon?
“Makeup artist Bobbi Brown believes that, in many cases, a swipe of blush and a flick of mascara could have done almost as much for the contestants. “This show is sending such a bad message to women – that something is wrong with what they look like and
they need to go under the knife,” she says. “Hey, if you don’t like your body, what’s
wrong with exercising and eating right? If I could have gotten my hands on any of the girls, I would have said, ‘Give me 12 weeks – let’s go exercise, change your diet, do beautiful makeup and work on your self-esteem.” (People Weekly).
Or does the empowerment lie in actually transforming one’s self into an ideal of what is ‘beautiful’ to society’s standard? Each society has this problem amongst women due to imaging. They are constantly bombarded with ‘sexy’ in the media. Forms include magazines, commercials, advertisements, even music lyrics like, ‘I’m sexy and I know it” by artists LMFAO. Does reality television then encompass a contradictory and pluralistic discourse within our modern society? What each society deems beautiful is what each individual desires to achieve in their transformation. For instance, when people in Eastern cultures are constantly shown photographs, images and advertising with Western Culture they desire to be beautified in a ‘Western’ way:
“While Westerners spend cash topping up their tans to appear attractive, many Asians are slathering on lotions to reduce skin colouring as they embrace a different concept of beauty that for them says white is right. Studies by market research company Synovate say sales of skin whitening products in Asia are soaring as the region’s beauty conscious try to lose the pigmentation they consider unattractive. Nearly half
of Hong Kong women surveyed by the company last year bought such treatments, up
The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reported 1.6 million procedures in 2011 alone. The Press center for The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery also
reports, “Surgical procedures accounted for 18% of the total numbers of procedure performed representing 63% of total expenditures. The top five surgical procedures were: Liposuction (325,332), Breast augmentation (316,848), Abdominoplasty (149,410), Eyelid surgery (147,540) and Breast Lift (127,054).” In February of 2004, The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reported 11.9 million procedures. ASAPS President Peter Fodor, MD, of Los Angeles said, “I believe at least some of this upward trend may be attributable to increased media coverage of plastic surgery in 2004. People have had many more opportunities to see, first hand, what plastic surgery is like and what it can do for others. That can be a strong incentive for them to seek the same benefits by having cosmetic procedures themselves.”
Yet, is the sense that American television encompasses contradictory and pluralistic discourse within our modern society only represented in reality ‘makeover’ series, or can it be found in trending reality series within the theme of ‘dating’? Dating television series actually have a rather odd effect on women within the way it promotes post-feminist beauty being power, and gives a definite sense of encompassing contradictory and pluralistic discourse within our modern society. The book Reality Bites Back, by Jennifer Ponzer, gives us a better look into proof of how reality dating series give us a sense of false hope within relationships, thus promoting a woman’s individual desire to transform. Reality ‘dating’ television series promote the idea that love is simple, there are no arguments or ‘bad times’, your boyfriend takes you on elaborate dates, and gifts you with multi-million dollar trinkets and you ride off into the sunset with your prince charming, wind whipping through the air on a white stallion; otherwise, your relationship has failed.
Researchers have found that those who watch higher amounts of this relationship-specific TV programming have more unrealistic expectations about love, and these
expectations can harm real-life relationships (Segrin). Therefore, women have a sense to become beautiful like the women on The Bachelorette and Millionaire Matchmaker in order to achieve what they view on television as real love; real love that’s packed with a giant engagement ring after only six weeks of dating. Even reality dating series geared toward the male demographic encompasses post-feminist beauty as power. Take for instance, Average Joe a television series about nerdy, non-attractive men, who are quite intelligent and backward socially landing the love of a ‘super’ beautiful woman. This series objectifies the person of power who is choosing her dream ‘date’ as beautiful and attractive in nature.
When, one examines Millionaire Matchmaker, you can find the same sense of beauty is power. Millionaire Matchmaker follows the matchmaking agency of Patti Stanger in her quest to set up millionaires with the mate of their dreams. In episode one alone, of Millionaire Matchmaker, the Millionaire Derrick chose the younger, more youthful beauty Colby to go on a full length date. Colby, when chose, “I was surprised, but it makes me feel good. He could have picked anyone in there and he picked me, so it definitely is a little ego boost.” Patti encouraged Millionaire Derrick to choose the older date, Brice, while very attractive, yet he still chose the younger, youthful woman. Patti Stanger in trying to convince him to choose the older woman explained Colby was not the ‘marrying type’. Patti Stanger even went so far as to say, “I’m really not happy about the first mixer in N.Y. Derrick picked the wrong girl.” The evidence that he chose the wrong girl was in the actual date, and this series promotes an ideology that individualist consumption empowers women.
Tasker and Negra, authors of Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture, claim that due to media women now “brazenly enjoy their sexuality without fear of the sexual double standardthey are more than capable of earning their own living,
and the degree of suffering or shame they anticipate in the absence of finding a husband is countered by sexual self-confidence.” Does this mean that the type of entertainment women are viewing, such as reality makeover and dating series, reinforce this belief of being a free sexual being; thus, women are more apt to become more sexual and in being sexual they must ‘beautify’ themselves in order to empower themselves?
In this day and age can we safely encourage women to walk away from the imaging aspect of reality television, convince them that ‘inner’ beauty is power, and build a more positive psychological view of one’s self as a device to overcome any physical defect that may make one otherwise feel inferior? Audrey Hepburn, one of Hollywood’s most revered
Beauties said, “The beauty of a woman is not in a facial mole, but true beauty in a woman is
reflected in her soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she knows.” Why then would we be more apt to have cosmetic surgery in order to build power? Some of this need to fix things quickly can be attributed to people being lazy and not having a sense of the reward that hard work can bring. The television obsessed viewers of our culture are often seen as ‘lazy’. Thus, it would be simple to say the reason women who watch reality dating and makeover television series are more apt to have cosmetic surgery; it’s ‘easier’ to have liposuction than dedicate three days a week to physical activity at a gym, at your local track or doing household chores.
In conclusion, reality television promotes a sense of narcissism that enhances one’s ability to be lazy and can actually make one more prone to taking on this personality disorder. Post-feminism is, indeed, a very complex word in the sense that it encompasses contradictory and mixed dialogue within the current society. Portwood-Stacer and Arthurs were correct in their belief that reality makeover and dating television series mostly reinforce the ideological
belief that individualist consumption is an important means of achieving feminine empowerment. Physical beauty is amplified in media outlets and reality television as a means of gaining control and supports the ideas of post-feminism.
Many see this as a woman’s way of overcoming the objectification of women amongst the media world, and promote the behavior as ‘women taking charge of their sexuality’; and, with today’s society constantly focused on beauty tips and tricks, it is no wonder modern women see this as a way to upstage a man like a female peacock to its male partner. The evidence lies in the post-feminism promoted in American reality television series like Extreme Makeover, The Swan, The Bachelorette and Millionaire Matchmaker. Women can be empowered by the simple feeling that they are beautiful, thus building a positive psychological view of one’s self as a device to overcome any physical defect that may make her otherwise feel inferior, but only if she chooses this means over the lure of cosmetic surgery we see as being an ‘easy’ way to achieve beauty goals and power.
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