Reality shows that focus on transformation follow a typical pattern. First comes the problem, which could take the form of any of the following: a falling-down house, a kitchen that looked good in 1978, a fashion/hair/makeup fail, too many cats. This is followed by the solution: building, renovating, re-styling, re-homing. The payoff is the reveal where we get to see how different houses and people can look once the experts step in to right the wrongs. When these experts are plastic surgeons and the problem is physical appearance, the things that are "wrong" are suddenly more complicated. Or at least they should be. When they're not, the result is "Atlanta Plastic," a series that promotes physical change as the simple answer to the complex question of psychological pain.
Featuring three Atlanta-area plastic surgeons, Drs. Baron, Jones and Crawford and their patients, the show is not the first of its kind to stress the idea that cosmetic procedures will lead to a "new" you both inside and out. The show uses a familiar consultation/surgery/reveal formula. The featured patients explain what they dislike and the surgeons promise that everything will be fixed. More than that, they offer to reach what has been unattainable. Dr. Jones tells the camera: "We make a physical change in order to bring about emotional stability and a more fulfilled life." Then bodies are marked with guiding lines and circles. Fat is sucked and sliced, breasts are lifted and noses are chiseled into shape. Everyone is in pain. Six weeks later anticipation gives way to exhilaration as the reveal to family and friends confirms everything the women and men always knew. A better body really does equal a better life.
"Atlanta Plastic" is filled with the language of empowerment. Patient Roz, a 47-year-old mother of four grown children tells her husband it's "my time to make myself happy." Tiffany, also a mother of four, declares that her tummy tuck and breast implant procedures are a way to "take my body back" from the effects of childbirth. Both women involve their husbands in the experience and both men are interestingly not initially supportive of their wives' choices, seeing nothing wrong with how they look. This adds to the idea that plastic surgery is an empowering choice and maybe for these two women it is exactly that and nothing more. But for at least one patient on the premiere episode, the choice stems from deep psychological pain.
Iris, a single mother of two, believes that the fathers of both her children left her because she didn't "look good enough." She tells Dr. Jones that she feels "hideous" and sometimes doesn't want to leave her house. She says: "[Surgery] is my last chance to be somebody and be good looking and be the best me that I can be." After her procedures, she says: "I feel like I'm living a princess' dream. This is the beginning of the rest of my life." Her "ugly days," she declares, "are over." For Iris, surgery is therapy but watching her share her pain, it's hard not to think that her issues are more than skin deep.
"Atlanta Plastic" is on Lifetime.
Melissa Crawley is the author of "Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television's 'The West Wing.'" She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.