Skipping through the TV program, I just came across a series called “Schönheitsalarm!” (“beauty alarm”) on the German private TV channel Sat1. I caught myself thinking “This simply HAS to be bizarre” – and, finally, I watched the show. I did not find a permanent link yet, but the episodes can be watched online free and legally for a certain time on the channel’s homepage:
The series and the episode
“Schönheitsalarm”, as I found out during this respective evening, is one of the typical depictions of scripted reality plastic surgery documentations. Episode 2 of the series presents two mother-daughter-pairs in which mother and daughter share the wish for plastic surgery, focussing each time on breast surgery. More precisely, the surgeries presented in the course of the episode are the following:
In the first half, the spectator gets to know Ruth (50) and Ingke (28), who are both unhappy with their small breasts and are planning on getting bigger ones. Mother and daughter also use the opportunity to have some facial corrections realised: Whereas Ruth has her eye-lids and some facial parts lifted, Ingke wants the doctors to do a nose correction on her, explaining that the nose was broken by her ex-boyfriend during a violent argument. Their problem, however, is that they are both heavy smokers, and so the smoking prohibition stated by the doctor is presented as a real challenge, especially for the mother. After a few days, both Ruth and Ingke are shown as being very happy with their new breasts.
In the second part, “Schönheitsalarm” presents Conny (50) and Maria (21), who also want to have their breasts done, but are only willing to undertake this project together. Whereas Maria wants to have implants to become bigger and more youthful breasts, her mother wants hers to be downsized. The problem here is that Conny weighs about 128 kg, which is why her doctor refuses to start any kind of surgery and tells her to lose at least 30-35 kilograms before coming to him again.There’s a leap in time, one year later: Conny has lost about 40kg, that means mother and daughter are getting the surgery done, and again, both are completely happy with the results.
About the motivations for plastic surgery presented in the series – “I want it. In order to please others…”
The presentation of the motivations to undergo plastic and cosmetic surgery of all four women in the episode is quite contradictory: especially for the mothers, the idea of changing their body to become more attractive for men and thus to find a new partner more easily seems to be the predominant reason for the decision they made. In general, the issue of a higher self-esteem is, as usual if we’re talking about plastic surgery, omnipresent. Conny’s daughter Maria, for example, wants to be more attractive for her boyfriend. He, in return, was against surgery at first, but then left the decision to her, ‘secretly’ hoping that it would increase Maria’s self-esteem and thus make her become more independent from her mother. (He also hopes that Conny finds a new partner in order to have more time alone with his girlfriend without having to ‘share’ her with her mother) Conny and Ruth, on the other hand, state at one point that making the experience of a plastic surgery together will link them even more closely. Their relations and relationships seem to be quite confusing and contradictory…
“Schönheitsalarm” as a typical example for ‘makeovers’
Apart from family history and relationships among the family members, there are several aspects which make the show a typical representative of a makeover show: The focus stays on the process all the time, both families are portrayed in chronological order, the second part even showing how long it can take to finally realize the idea of a makeover. The show also strongly emphazises the work that is necessary to do so: Be it Conny’s weight loss, Maria’s job to control her mother’s weight loss, or Ruth’s and Ingke’s smoking prohibition, they all have to ‘suffer’ something in order to reach what they wish for the most. All their labor and pain are displayed, the camera is even present when they wake up after the surgery. Additionally, actors like the doctors or Conny’s nutrition consultant are shown.
Another aspect that integrates the series into the overall topic of the grotesque within the scope of makeover culture is that the body is presented as something that is open, that can be changed and is thus never static. Having started with her breast, both Ruth and Ingke had surgeries on other body parts. This aspect of the body as being always ready for more work is very dominant in the fist episode, where the mother of a family gets drawn into a kind of surgery obsession, always claiming to be satisfied after the next surgery and then immediately finding a new part of her body that ought to be changed.
Plastic and cosmetic surgery are presented as being successful and bearable in all four cases; thus it becomes a kind of reward that is being earned by means of weight loss or discipline. This, however, is also the part where one has to ask if this isn’t the most dangerous aspect of the show: Ingke ‘deserves’ bigger breasts for being a mother and breast-feeding her daughter, the surgery only serves to even out the negative consequences of her motherhood. There is not really much talk about the risks, and if so, the doctors talk about minor ones and the scenes are surprisingly short.
Generally, the way surgery is treated is mirrored in Ingke explaining her plans to her now seven-year old daughter. Altogether, it is nothing more than “first there was breast-milk when you were a baby, then you grew older and now there’s almost nothing left inside, so the doctor will put in more of the stuff that is already in there so that it looks nice again”. Is it really that simple? ‘Containing breast-milk’ was not the original status quo, there are risks because it is a surgery, and what Ingke gets are implants, not natural body tissue (and as we have seen in the latest scandal about the low-quality implants of a certain french company, these risks concerning the implants are very real and very present…)! All four women are willing to take these risks, and even Ingke has a short panic attack right before her surgery, the message that is transmitted by the show could be summarized as “As you have seen, surgery improves your quality of life – everybody is happy afterwards!”. (Conny even starts dating again, for example)
In the course of our session on makeover culture, we also discussed the issue of female inferiority and the idea of the man-made woman. Well, the mothers and daughters depicted in the show come across just like that. This, combined with the dangerously lax and poorly reflected attitude they support, allows for a severe critique of the show’s message.
http://www.sat1.de –> episodes availible: episode 2.