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The really, truly hideous side of pretty

Women's reality TV is all about make-overs and dream weddings, but how about some compulsive over-eating, plastic surgery, and porn?
 
 
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Years ago, I banned women's magazines like Cosmo and Glamour from entering my home, convinced that exposure to the smut was rotting both my brain and my self-esteem. But then another kind of girl smut came creeping into my life when I got cable -- shows like "Whose Wedding is It Anyway?" "Ambush Makeover" and most recently, the puke-inducing "Daddy's Little Girl." The longer I watched these "reality" television shows, the more I feel I must be in need of a make-over, a baby, and some bridesmaids. (Not necessarily in that order.)

Thankfully, a new television series is quietly exposing the ugly side effects of a world obsessed with feminine beauty. "The Secret Lives of Women," which premiered December 13th on the Women's Entertainment channel, has documented the real lives of porn workers, plastic surgery addicts, and women with eating disorders. Each episode is about a different subject, but so far the binding theme has been women's hatred and abuse of their own bodies.

On WE's website, the subjects of this documentary series write about their experiences. Their comments are a glimpse into the minds of self-loathing women everywhere. One woman who was featured on the episode about plastic surgery addicts rationalizes her addiction:

"The reason I first got plastic surgery was to look better in a bikini and pants. I had a small frame with huge hips and upper legs. My inner and outer thighs were big. After getting the surgery I was so happy to be able to wear tighter clothes that made me look good and feel better. Then the second surgery came about. I have always had a butt, but no breasts. So I wanted to look proportionate. So my friend at the time had them, and loved hers, so I thought I would save and get them too. After finding a wonderful doctor to do them I decided I wanted a touch-up of lipo on my hips and outer and inner thighs again. I did them both and it looked great. I also had a large lump in my right breast so it needed to be taken out. If I would have taken the lump out and had not gotten the implants, it would have left a large dent in my breast.

After a couple of years, it just seemed to be a good idea to redo the breasts. So I did. I got them smaller and liked it, but not that much, so I went bigger again. Third time! Then came the nose, lips, lipo again, and it just kept on going.

I think plastic surgery can be addicting but also very helpful for your insecurities."

More than anything else, "The Secret Lives of Women" is a show about women's insecurities. The plain, straight-forward approach of the show is refreshing and eye-opening after a diet of fake reality TV and the fantasy world of "Sex in the City." It certainly got under my skin, and it's clear I'm not the only one.

Maria Luisa Tucker is a staff writer at AlterNet and associate editor of the Columbia Journal of American Studies.