What happens when you take women who consider themselves unattractive, give them full body makeovers via plastic surgery, then force them to compete in a beauty pageant? You get the premise of what Vice called “the most bizarre and offensive reality TV show of all time.”
The Swan, named for the fable of the “ugly duckling” who grows up to be a beautiful swan, aired on FOX in 2004. At the time it premiered, USA Today called it “hurtful and repellent even by reality’s constantly plummeting standards.”
According to a 2014 interview with The Huffington Post, a contestant named Lorrie Arias received 11 cosmetic procedures valued at $300,000, when she auditioned only wanting a tummy tuck. She ended up receiving that, plus a buttock lift, inner thigh lift, dual facelift, upper lip lift, upper and lower eye lift, endoscopic brow lift, rhinoplasty, breast augmentation and breast lift. She said that when she saw her nearly unrecognizable new face for the first time, “I was screaming, ‘I want my face back!’ That’s how freaked out I was.”
She claimed that after filming the show she became “depressed, bipolar and agoraphobic” and continues to suffer from body dysmorphia. At the time of the The Huffington Post interview, she said she was only leaving her home to go to see her therapist.
The show was widely panned by critics who thought it pushed the boundaries of morality, so, needless to say, it was canceled after season two.