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The Price of Beauty Recap: Jessica Simpson Tackles the Joie de Vivre on the Catwalk

After last week’s stint meditating with monks in Thailand, Jessica Simpson takes on Paris, along with her traveling entourage: hairdresser/makeup artist Ken Paves and friend CaCee Cobb. Whereas last week the intrepid trio had to confront Fear Factor–meets–Amazing Race tasks like eating fried cockroaches and riding in a tuk tuk, the most daunting aspect of Paris seems to be the volume of leggy, svelte women that Team Jessica observe from their van. “When you think of Paris, you just think fashion, and you think tall and confident,” Simpson says.

Model Rosemary Bartilla shows them around (Jessica brightly lists her beauty credentials: “She’s been in Marie Claire and Elle!”), introducing them to a former model who narrowly survived a struggle with anorexia, as well as a slew of multicultural and plus-size models. Jess also faces her catwalk debut in the Özlem Süer show, confronting her insecurities in a pair of five-inch platform wedges and a ruffled prêt-à-porter gown. This week’s show doesn’t have the same novelty factor of Thailand — our perceptions of beauty are not so far off from those of Parisians — but in the end, Jessica concludes, confidence is the joie de vivre.

• We have no beef with Rosemary Bartilla, the very pretty, chatty French model who introduces Jess to the mean streets of Paris. But why are all of our “beauty ambassadors” models? Somehow the idea that a professional model — someone whose job is to be excessively image-conscious — doesn’t seem like the most ideal guide on a show that keeps hammering away about the importance of finding one’s “inner beauty.”
• We learn that the average model in Paris is 16, weighs 115 pounds, and is subjected to daily measurements. We eagerly wait to see Rosemary tuck into a croissant. Sadly, the moment never comes.
• Apparently every episode thus far (including next week’s teaser) opens with a local spa experience. We are simultaneously envious and disgusted imagining this show’s budget. Problem is, watching someone get a massage isn’t all that entertaining. Jess valiantly tries to ham it up for the camera, squeezing grapes between her fingers and feigning coquettish surprise.
• We briefly panic when the camera pans over to find the trio soaking together in a murky wine-barrel bath and eating grapes from between one another’s toes. Is that Ken’s old bathwater? Is that her own foot, or someone else’s? Did high school not instill in them the same wariness of hot tubs as it does in most of us?
• Fashion director Alexandra Senes arrives backstage at the show wearing a toothpaste-blue suit with giant blue balls dangling from the sleeves and waistline. It’s almost too easy — literally, a blue-balls outfit. “Did you make this?” Jessica asks. “It’s cou-ture,” Senes sniffs.
• “Try to smile without smiling,” Senes directs, as Jessica hobbles down the makeshift runway. “Smile with your eyes.” Jessica’s eyes register only fear and confusion.
• Before walking the runway, Jessica is shaking and on the verge of throwing up. “It’s not something that I do; it’s not my personality,” says Jessica. Okay. We get that the producers want to make the most of Jessica’s insecurities, but we’ve seen enough “Jess-on-the-red-carpet” montages in this show to feel like this is overkill.

• The scenery on the drive through Paris is interspersed with handsome men sipping coffee and riding motorbikes. The three take a seat at an outdoor café and a waiter immediately appears. “Would you like a croissant?” he inquires. We make a mental note to check flights to Paris. Minus the lack of wine and a jaunty beret, this show affirms all our collective Parisian stereotypes/fantasies.
• In Thailand, Jessica was in hippie-chic mode, draped in long, flowy skirts and low-cut tops. Now that she’s in Paris, it’s all black leather and minidresses (the mobility-impeding heels, of course, are the one constant). She is International Barbie.
• We’ve been consistently distracted by Ken’s mascara in the first two episodes. Yet, here he is, stretching and splashing around in a barrel full of vine extracts, hair and lashes intact. Leave it to the makeup artist to appreciate the value of waterproof mascara.
• Jessica meets Isabel Caro, a former model who nearly died from a battle with anorexia. (She weighted 86 pounds at her lowest point.) Now she works to warn young girls of the dangers of the disease. Everyone cries; this part is hard to watch. “I think it’s important to know the skinnier you are doesn’t make you more beautiful,” Jessica says. Amen.
• Jessica is sewn into her prêt-à-porter dress and Ken springs into action, whipping up a sleek bouffant. “It’s like a fashion pit crew,” he gasps. Oh, Ken. Ghana and India are both coming up on the itinerary: Paris is your warm-up lap.
• “There’s, like, naked girls walking all around … they all look perfect. Here I am, five foot four, trying to be a supermodel.” In a super-scripted show, we feel a fleeting moment of genuine affection for Jessica.

The Price of Beauty Recap: Jessica Simpson Tackles the Joie de Vivre on the Catwalk