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'What are Channel 4 thinking of?'

Ex-model and photographer Stephanie de Leng has a lot to say about the public perception of beauty. Here she ponders media's latest ire over a reality TV show

Published on September 2nd 2010.

'What are Channel 4 thinking of?'

CHANNEL 4's announcement of plans to air yet another reality show, this one called Beauty and the Beast, provoked a predictable flurry of outrage.

Reading an earlier casting call for this show, in FAME magazine, I found no reference to 'disfigured people'. What it did ask for was 'people who are defined and/or define themselves by the way they look'

This six-part series intends to follow two different people in each episode, one strikingly good looking, the other disfigured, living together in a house of mirrors.

Their lives both inside and out, will be filmed and the unlikely duos will be encouraged “to step into each other’s shoes”. In this voyeuristic manner, helped, no doubt, by the ubiquitous mirrors, we will supposedly gain a profound insight into the disproportionate influence of external appearances in our daily lives.

As someone how has a lot to say about body image and how the media’s obsession with its air-brushed form has negatively impacted on our young (click here), it is sorely tempting to jump on the band wagon and condemn what has sweepingly been called a “Freak Show”. But I find myself holding back because I HAVE NOT SEEN IT YET. And neither has anyone else, not even the creative team at Channel 4, quite simply because filming is still to begin.

However, that does not stop me wondering what on earth Channel 4 is up to and whether someone up there is on hallucinogens. Always of the opinion that our young have a much fresher take on things, I asked my 17-year-old son what he thought of the concept. “That’s the most disgusting idea I have ever heard,” he declared, “it is like asking someone with legs and someone with no legs to race against each other”. I thought he had a point.

I myself have issues with the title “Beauty and the Beast”. So this poor disfigured person (hopefully at least enriched materially by agreeing to appear in the show) is to be called a beast? Herein lies the reason for the unilateral outrage, even if the outraged have unwittingly perpetuated the injustice by calling it “A Freak Show”.

Channel 4 meanwhile has defended the title by explaining that “Beast” refers to society’s prejudices. Yeah, sure. Using this logic, then “Beauty” must refer to our good side. So we are back to square one.

And why disfigurement? Isn’t ugliness the true counterbalance to beauty? That would lead to a more credible experiment, but perhaps Channel 4 started to worry about the politics of calling someone ugly? Or, more probably, the marketing department decided an ugly person would not be sensationalist enough.

Interestingly, reading an earlier casting call for this show, in FAME magazine, I found no reference to “disfigured people”. What it did ask for was “…people who are defined and/or define themselves by the way they look“, adding, “…do you know somebody who will go to extreme measures to look beautiful”? This sounds more like a search for slaves to cosmetic surgery - admittedly another kind of disfigurement.

Truthfully, I am less than clear what Beauty and the Beast is supposed to be about. What is curious is that the disfigurement charity, Changing Faces, is co-operating in its making. Why exactly? I can understand that no matter how grotesque this show seems, and despite the false juxtaposition of beauty and disfigurement, a sensitive approach COULD force us to re-evaluate our concept of beauty in a clear and defined way. But somehow that seems unlikely. It’s the mirrors – their inclusion unmasks all pretense of trying to draw attention to important issues.

Ironically, Channel 4’s premiering of that loathsome “Big Brother” series in 2000 drove my decision to turn away from TV altogether. When “Beauty and The Beast” airs next year, hopefully with a different title, I shall feel duty bound to turn on the box for the first time in over a decade. I sincerely hope that this is not a decision I live to regret.

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Square EyesSeptember 2nd 2010.

Channel 4 stopped thinking in about 1990.

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