There’s a Beautiful Girl Under All of This: Performing Hegemonic Femininity in Reality Television

There’s a Beautiful Girl Under All of This: Performing Hegemonic Femininity in Reality Television is an article about a reality makeover show called The Swan that was aired in 2004. The title of the TV show refers to the children’s story The Ugly Duckling, indicating that the contestants were considered “ugly” and would later be transformed into beautiful swans. In the article, it states that one of the contestants is told that when she undergoes surgery for an abdominoplasty, liposuction, face lift, endoscopic brow lift, nasal surgery, and a chin implant, that there would be a beautiful girl underneath it all. With that, I was outraged by the content that this TV show had. Fortunately, the show was cancelled in 2005 due to an audience drop and only lasted two series.

Furthermore, in the two series of The Swan, several normal, average women share their stories, experiences, and struggles with self-esteem and life issues. Each contestant then undergoes extreme plastic surgery. At the end of each episode, the contestant who underwent the most extreme changes, would be crowned “The Swan” and would win the largest, most expensive prize to ever be awarded in a beauty pageant. However, throughout the process, the contestants were unable to see their progress because no mirrors were given and they were only allowed three, ten-minute calls per week to their families. The reason this is done is because it was considered “the key to the transformation process”; which increases the drama of when the contestants can finally see their results; which draws more attention and makes it more interesting for the viewers.

The producers attempt to make the show focus primarily on transforming bodies and finding happiness; However, I believe that this television series, like most reality TV shows, was created mainly for the entertainment of others. I find it heartbreaking how these women lacked so much self-esteem that it lead them to the point where they turned to a reality TV show to seek help in regaining their confidence. It is even more awful how they were objectified in the way they were on the show. I understand that appearance really does have an impact on self-esteem, but it really should not play a role in anyone’s self-worth. There is so much more to a person than just their physical appearance and changing appearances can do just so much. With that, in the TV show, they make it seem like changing appearances through plastic surgery can solve all of a person’s problems, which is highly impossible. The article even states that, “The Swan implies that the end goal of creating an ideal body is not intrinsic beauty, but the prospect of a happier, problem-free life.” (Marwick, 2010, p. 257) This statement shows that the main goal of the TV show was to mainly focus on outer-appearances and not what is on the inside, which is an improper way of thinking, because just because someone looks happy, does not mean they are. In other words, just because someone looks different does not mean how they feel has changed.

Although this TV series has been cancelled long ago, body-shaming, self-esteem issues, and the objectifying of women, still exists today. I believe that social media and what is considered to be “the norm” is linked to body image concerns. Despite the fact that this article reflects primarily on older women, body image concerns and self-esteem issues can also affect young boys and girls. I believe that this article is important for education students to read, because as future educators, we will be dealing with children and adolescences who may be struggling with these types of issues. As their teachers, it is one of roles to ensure that we teach our students that everybody is unique in their own special ways and that they do not have to change the way they look or the way they are for anybody. We must also promote diversity and teach our students ways to love and take pride in themselves and others. Even though it is a small step, it will get us one step closer to terminating body-shaming and the objectifying of women for the generations to follow.


Marwick, A. (2010). There’s a Beautiful Girl Under All of This: Performing Hegemonic Femininity in Reality Television. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 27 (3), 251-266.

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