In the annals of reality TV history, The Swan has cemented itself as one of the most unethical and inhumane. You can debate the worst reality shows ever, but few can argue that The Swan was uniquely horrible. A show that took women described as "ugly ducklings" and turns them into beautiful "swans," the series generated plenty of controversy. Fox aired two seasons in 2004 before quickly axing the misbegotten project.
While the cameras rolled, doctors nipped, tucked, and sculpted the women until they became enhanced versions of themselves. That typically meant the same plastic Barbie doll version of beauty, with very little input from the contestants themselves. The Swan also included a competition element. Two women per episode were judged against each other, and the contestant determined to have made the most progress went on to compete in "the pageant," the season finale in which "the Swan" was officially crowned.
After the show, there were all kinds of problems for the women who participated, both physically and in their personal lives. And it's clear that the morally bankrupt capitalists who produced the show didn't care; they had made their money. Here are just some of the reasons why The Swan is the most inhuman reality competition show ever.
While the contestants had helpers throughout their stint on the show to track their emotional well-being, virtually no importance was placed on these women's personalities. The ultimate goal of the show, according to the season-ending pageant, was to crown the woman who had become the most physically beautiful. That notion is antiquated, to say the least.
As if the concept of The Swan wasn't questionable to begin with, the producers also added a competition element. Each episode pitted two women against each other to see who would compete in the season-ending Swan Pageant. Qualifications were based on the work ethic of the women and the amount of progress they had made in changing themselves.
What message did that send to the losing women, who after undergoing exhausting and painful surgery were told they still weren't beautiful enough? An ugly one, indeed.
Most of the women who signed up for The Swan had major self-esteem issues, and the series hammered in how "ugly" they all were. Producers took advantage of vulnerable women, who were then used as props to be molded to the particular taste of the doctors and coaches. And then, contestants were sent home by the end of the three months and told that they weren't worthy. Pure exploitation for ratings.
Reality TV hasn't always had the best reputation of being, you know, real. This extended to parts of The Swan, in which plastic surgeons like Dr. Randal Haworth were encouraged to not say certain things to contestants.
"You couldn't really express your actual feelings," he said, looking back on his Swan experience. "I was censored in saying things I actually thought. Instead of expressing different ways of thinking about the process or patients, they had us saying the same thing repeatedly."