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On their new docu-reality show, premiering tonight on VH1, the singer/actress and her hairstylist travel the world to discover that beauty really isn’t skin deep.

In January 2009, a slightly fuller-than-before Jessica Simpson performed in a pair of high-waisted denim pants. (Anyone with even the slightest fashion sense at the time knew they were in style.) Nonetheless, the unrelentingly critical media immediately declared them “mom jeans.” Rag mags, entertainment “news” shows and even self-respecting news outlets went to town — it was open season on America’s once-favorite Newlywed.

Ken Paves, one of Simpson’s best friends and one Hollywood’s hottest hairstylists (his clients include the Simpson sisters and Eva Longoria Parker) tells Tonic, “I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. I was shocked. No one was giving her a break and no one was taking into account that this was a real person with real feelings, who was still navigating through life. We can all remember what it’s like in high school or the office and someone says something bad about you, and you go back the next day and think everybody knows and everyone’s looking at you.”

In reality, there was nothing remarkable about the whole ugly affair. This certainly wasn’t the first time we’d seen the media crucify a woman for not fitting the ideal du jour. What was remarkable, however, was Simpson’s unwavering dignity and grace. Even more impressive was what she decided to do in the following months. Instead of holing up somewhere in the Hollywood Hills and taking comfort in Juicy sweatpants and an unlimited supply of Chunky Monkey, Simpson decided to take action.

With best friends and colleagues, Ken Paves and CaCee Cobb (pictured below) in tow, Simpson took off on world tour to explore other culture’s notions of beauty. The result: Jessica Simpson’s The Price of Beauty, a new reality series premiering Monday night (Mar. 15) on VH1.

The Set-Up

Like most women in America, Simpson has struggled with body image. Everyday women are bombarded with messages about how they’re supposed to look. Everywhere you turn — TV, billboards, magazines, the Internet — there are images of impossible beauty. Whether the moment calls for thinner, fuller, taller, shorter, younger, older, wrinkle-free, blonder, darker, you name it — the underlying message is that whatever you’ve got going on, it isn’t quite like the photo staring back at you.

Those photos are often of the celebrities we’re supposed to be striving to look like. On the unfortunate occasions that celebrities make the mistake of “looking like us” (mom jeans) they are reduced to little more than “fashion don’ts” and late night monologue fodder. In a disturbing twist, the people celebs are being likened to, are those consuming the mockery.

“I thought it was insulting to women around the world. Because we know that the average woman is not a size four or six. So in that statement, they offended and insulted women around the world,” says Paves of Simpson’s critics. “I asked, do you realize that in saying something like that … In calling my friend that, you’re calling your mother fat, you sister fat, your nieces … whatever women in your life, you’re calling them fat, and you’re contributing to how they feel about themselves.”

Women are set up to feel bad and insecure. With messages like “thin is in” and “voluptuous is back” it’s almost impossible not to. If full-figures are en vogue, what’s a thin gal supposed to do — hide indoors until Kate Moss hits newsstands again? Positioned like that, the whole notion of body shapes as trends sounds utterly ludicrous.

“What is back, is a color. A trend. What is back is the height of a heel or the shape of a pant — is what is back,” Paves tells Tonic. “What’s not back or ever going away is the shape of a woman’s body or the color of her skin, her eyes, her height … all those things that we cannot change. I think it’s insulting and disgusting and a really cheap attempt to sell media. It’s unfortunate that they [the consumer] fall into it. You dehumanize a woman to a new hot color. Are we really talking like this? Really? You can buy a new pink sweater, but you can’t change your shape and then change it back next season. It’s a really unevolved way of thinking.”

The Journey

Although she remains the genuine, down-to-earth sometimes goofy girl we came to love in her first reality series, the 29-year-old has definitely done some growing up, as this is clearly an expedition inward. “It’s an incredibly honest journey,” says Paves. “She’s now in a powerful enough position to use her voice, even at the risk of people not liking what she’s saying.” Paves says Simpson couldn’t understand why the world was taking her appearance so personal, when she loved herself. If she could accept herself for who she was, why couldn’t everyone else?

It’s in that spirit that the Texas-native set out to learn more about beauty, and breakdown the myth. A pretty courageous move for someone already under a microscope. Paves was skeptical at first because there was so much critical attention focused on his friend’s appearance. “The entire journey moved me because I would dare to ask if any other woman in the world, in her position, with all that scrutiny on her would say, ‘OK, you know what, throw me into other situations where I’m not going to fit the mold. Let’s do that.’ I was so proud of her.”

As Jessica, Ken and CaCee trot the globe, they meet women everywhere from the runways of Paris to the remote villages of Uganda. Along the way they not only uncover notions of beauty which are the opposite of what we in America find attractive, but they also identify the ways in which women will suffer or injure themselves all in the name of looking good.

While Americans value sun-kissed skin and often consider it a status symbol, in Thailand, tanned skin indicates that you’re a laborer. In the first episode they meet a woman who has become disfigured from using skin lightening creams. Although lightening skin isn’t something that’s done in the US, Simpson can identify with the extreme measures this woman took to achieve a particular look.

Simpson pushes the limits of her comfort zone, immersing herself in a culture’s norms to see how she fits in, or not. In Paris, she braves the runways and unforgiving clothes, and in Uganda, she discovers that she’s not nearly fat enough to be a bride.

Paves explains, “Then you go to Uganda where the men refer to her as a ‘fat cow,’ because that’s a compliment there. The currency there is measured by cattle. I say to them, ‘if I wanted to marry Jessica off, would you consider it? What are we talking here in cattle?’ They shook their heads. ‘She’d have to spend at least two months in the fattening hut for anyone to consider even marrying her.'” Go figure.

The Lessons

The journey promises to be successful, and at the very least, offers hope. Paves shares that Simpson became more empowered at every turn, and was moved at how much the women embraced her. But it seems they may have been the real beneficiaries. “In the arrogance of American culture, we always look at other cultures and think, ‘Hmm, gosh those women have to do this; the women have to veil themselves.’ We went to these cultures and saw something completely different. There’s a lot more choice. They celebrated their heritage. Here we celebrate trends. There, they celebrate heritage.”

Coming from the land of “this is in” and “this is out” — Paves notes room for choice.

“I felt there was more leniency in these cultures, I thought there was also more integrity in identifying beauty. They were more lenient. In that lenience, Jessica found strength. It empowered her. On the flip side, to see women who were injured or hurt by the same position that we have here in this country. She empathized with these women, and furthered her need to commit to this purpose to celebrate all kinds of beauty.”

There is of course nothing categorically wrong with beauty or wanting to look good. It’s at what cost, that becomes the problem. As someone who has had an extremely successful career making women look their best, Paves can speak to the problem, but more importantly, he speaks to the solution.

“We don’t have to chase it. It’s already there. Look in the mirror. If you don’t love what you see in the mirror, you’ll always be changing something else. What we communicate in this show is such diversity even within regions and communities and cultures. It begins this movement of celebrating everything. Celebrating you — just the way you are.”

It’s easy to identify the media as the problem, because largely, they are the problem. But the media is not going to change. Not unless they’re forced to, and there’s going to take some effort on the part of women before that can happen. Women are not kind to one another. Look at the bylines of most any story ripping apart an actress or singer and invariably, it’s written by another woman. Like any other movement, this one also has to start at the grassroots level.

“Women can start by standing up for one another. They can start by not allowing that behavior. If someone in your office is talking about someone because of the way they look, you can stop that. We can start at that level. We can unite — men and women — but, first and foremost, women need to stand up for one another,” says Paves.

And then with solidarity, bigger change can be expected. An impassioned Paves explains, “We can communicate to the machine, the industry, that we understand that they’re preying on women’s insecurities in effort to sell products. We have to let them know we see right through that.”

Simpson and Paves have big hopes for the reaching power of their experience. “If by the end of this season, women could look at themselves as the definition of beauty, we’d be so proud of it.”

Source: tonic.com (thanks Ken!) :)


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