Debra J. Saunders

 But then, as Bruin so aptly observed, there is no understatement in "The Swan." The "before" photos of contestants are as unflattering as possible. The "after" versions are all big hair and too much makeup. If the show started with Michelle Pfeiffer and Cameron Diaz, the "before" photos would look dowdy, while the "transformed" contestants would look like two Dolly Partons.

 Bruin resents the message that women should look perfect and that if they have surgery, their lives will be better.

 As the Web site notes, "'The Swan' is one more way women and girls will get the message that they are not good enough unless they go to extremes to fit into an increasingly narrow ideal (and even then ... not everyone will win this beauty pageant!). It's alarming that cosmetic surgery is becoming 'normal' through media messages, and 'The Swan' is the worst perpetrator yet."

 Some message: The key to inner harmony is in outer packaging.

 "When you think of 100 years ago," Bruin noted, "the way women bettered themselves was to learn piano, learn to sketch," maybe cross-stitch. Women bettered themselves, that is, by improving their minds.

 But in today's skin-deep, no-wait world, self-improvement means seeing a plastic surgeon. Nip and tuck.

 The storybook swan is meant to assure awkward children that a beautiful being dwells inside them and that they will grow into that person. TV's "The Swan" is the shortcut, and it only applies to people with a ticket to a plastic surgeon. Girls don't grow into beautiful women; doctors make them beautiful.

 To support the illusion that the producers care about their contestants' mental well-being, "The Swan" provides a therapist to assist the women in "their inner transformation."

 If the therapist is any good, pageant contestants will revolt in the final episode. They'll say, "So long!" to the competition, arm themselves with the markers used to outline the imperfections on their bodies, then round up their re-makers and order them to take a long look in the show's big mirror. In the end, all the contestants would be winners, while the "panel of experts" would see themselves for the ugly ducklings they truly are. Quacks.

Debra J. Saunders

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