Paris Hilton, America's True Sweetheart

If pretty is as pretty does, then beautiful people have a lot to answer for. They've been up to some ugly business lately. They steal each other's mates on Temptation Island, eat cockroaches and pig guts on Fear Factor, and spit poison behind each other backs on "America's Next Top Model."

And we can't get enough of it.

We love to watch them betray their dark and venal hearts and display their moral vacuity as they sell their sleek skins for the almighty buck. Punishing the pretty is big sport, from Hunting Bambi, an apocryphal story about shooting bikini clad babes with paint pellets, to any number of modern horror movies like "Scream," "Cabin Fever," and "Jeepers Creepers," where they're dispatched by the dozen.

Witness the gleeful feeding frenzy over Paris Hilton, the Pamela Anderson for a new generation. The universal licking of chops at the undoing of the impossibly slender, fabulously blond, revoltingly rich heiress resulted in a worldwide epidemic of wet lips. Paris Hilton is a "stupid, spoiled, superficial socialite who dresses like a high-class escort and, given the recently disclosed pornographic video she made with an ex-boyfriend, probably acts like one too," or so says a recent profile of her in Rolling Stone Magazine. Hilton may have youth, beauty and money (an estimated inheritance of $30 million) but she is most famous for being fatuous.

Her highly anticipated Green Acres-style reality TV series "The Simple Life" premiered on Tuesday night, chockful with dumb blonde antics. The show chronicles the adventures of the two "celebutantes," Hilton and her best friend, Nicole Richie (daugther of Lionel), as they "make the transition from filthy rich to just plain filthy." (Take that however you will.) In the first episode, she struggles to get her brain around two challenging concepts: Wal-Mart ("Is it, like, where they sell wall stuff?") and soup kitchens. It explains why Hilton has been so eager to point out in her promotional interviews that she was, I mean, like seriously, just acting, okay?

Since there's nothing better than watching a ditsy size-zero cutie make an utter fool of herself -- think Jessica Simpson of "The Newly Weds" and her burning desire to know just what buffalo wings are made of -- there is no doubt that the series will be a runaway success.

The Paris Hiltons of the world provide reassuring evidence of divine justice for us mere mortals. Vain is from the latin root Vanus meaning empty or without substance. Pretty vacant, as the song goes, is how we like to think of the beautiful people. Photographer Helmut Newton, famed for his portraits of beautiful naked women, said this of the many models he encountered: "Either they are so dumb that they can only sit there silently staring straight ahead with vacant looks on their faces, or they get on my nerves because they can't stop blabbering." I hear you, Helmut.

The hotties of the world may be long and lithe in limb but in the brain department they're the equivalent of 98-pound weaklings. Shows like "The Simple Life" allow the rest of us to kick sand in their faces and laugh at their dumb expressions. We may be spotty and pudgy, but we've got brains and brains don't sag or wrinkle with each passing year.

No wonder then that we can't bear it when some of those beauties turn out to be (gasp!) smart. It makes the Rumplestiltskin part of your brain stamp its hairy little feet and just say NO. They are out there. Nell Freudenberger -- the 28-year-old writer -- whose very first story in the New Yorker started an epic bidding war over her book, the recently released "Pretty Girls" (Ecco Press 2003) is young, beautiful, and very talented. What hope is there for the rest of us!

Kim Barry Brunhuber, who was a Ford Model for 10 years, is a reporter/anchor for CJOH-TV in Ottawa, and most recently the author of "Kameleon Man." With a masters degree in journalism from Carleton University, Brunhunber's stories have been broadcast around the globe but he still gets judged by the cover of his book: "I've had people come up to me and say 'Oh, you're so articulate,' like hey you can talk, firstly, because I'm good looking or because I don't sound like they think a black man should sound. It's hard to defend good looking people, the 'don't hate me because I'm beautiful', but how you're treated by other people can be very limiting."

Wah, Wah, shut up you damn ingrates. Pretty people moan about always having to prove that they're smart. Anna Kournikova may be ranked 37th in women's tennis but she makes millions more in endorsements than her less physically compelling peers. Research from the University of Texas proves attractive people get higher raises than folks who aren't as good-looking and similar studies published in the Journal of Labor Economics showed better-looking lawyers earned more money than ugly lawyers. So they get the money, the jobs, the hot sex, and the adoring gaze of millions -- and still complain.

When they fall from grace, it is only natural that we should chortle with glee and clap our fat paws together. Catherine Salmon who teaches Evolutionary Psychology and Human Sexuality at the University of Redlands in California says "I think it's interesting, we love the idea of being beautiful and have this love/hate thing going on with people who are." But in our collective love/hate affair with beauties, the love is only skin-deep; the hate goes all the way to the bone. If you can't beat 'em, well, why not just beat up on 'em.

We may hate the beautiful but there's nothing we want more than to be just like them. According to a recent study conducted by Dr. Margo Maine (author of Body Wars and Father Hunger) over half of the women (age 18-25) surveyed would prefer to be run over by a truck than be fat, and two-thirds of those would rather be mean and, alas, even stupid.

Coco Chanel once observed that "At 20 you have the face that nature gave you, but at 50, you have the face that you deserve." But now at 50 you can have the face of a 20-year old. Us uglies used to just wait for time (the great leveler) to settle our scores. Now, the pretties have upped the ante with an arsenal of new weaponry. Surgical intervention and science (the old whore) have extended beauty's shelf life almost indefinitely. Moviegoers were invited to marvel at the well-preserved body of one Demi Moore this summer -- not to mention the twenty-something lover that it has earned her.

It's may be the reason why the rest of us have finally thrown in the towel. We too have joined the long line of Hollywood actresses lining up for a tasty injection of bacterium Clostridium botulinum. One of the strongest and nastiest poisons known to the human race -- one 100 billionths of a gram will kill you -- but U.S. sales of the toxin rocketed from $19.5 million in 1992, to over $310 million in 2001.

Vanity used to be one of the seven deadlies but now it is the cornerstone of the industries of dissatisfaction. You! Yes, you, ugly lump of poo, get thee to a spa, a salon, or under a surgeon's knife.

According to the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons nearly 7 million cosmetic procedures were performed in the United States in 2002 -- an increase of 228 percent from 1997. On the FX hit "Nip/Tuck," about a booming Miami plastic-surgery practice, the brutal realities of the beauty business are made explicit. Hammers and chisels chip away at cartilage and bone. Blood gushes and saws grind. And still they keep coming. Doctor, make me beautiful, carve away my honking nose, my flabby stomach and thighs, free me from this gross flesh.

The pursuit of pretty has reached its apotheosis with shows such as "Extreme Makeover" on ABC, in which ordinary homely folk are subjected to a battery of surgical interventions, made up, prodded into too tight clothes and Voila! Beautiful, non? Unfortunately, they tend to look like they were all squeezed out of the same toothpaste ad, cleaned up, buffed and shiny. You can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear, but you can, perhaps, make a nice leather bag.

Surely, there must be a better way. Can we not instead learn to treasure our fat little bodies and spotty hides? It can be done, just ask the Italians. In a country famous for its lovelies, Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida et al, there is also the town of Piobbico, home to Italy's Club dei Brutti (the Ugly Club). The mandate of the club is to campaign against discrimination based on looks and make society more aware of ugly people's problems. The Club has 20,000 members around the world and its crest features a reclining man smoking a pipe with the inscription "Ugliness is a virtue, beauty is slavery."

Cute idea. Don't believe a word of it

Besides, it's a lot more fun to add a few hundred pounds to bone-thin anorexic actresses on one of those mock-a-celebrity websites. Super-sizing Gwyneth, J-Lo or Julia -- the best cure for those Friday night blues!

Dorothy Woodend is a freelance writer based in Vancouver.


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