Alex: "Two girls in high school who want their tits done: that's not a story," the man explained. "A mum who has six kids, is now divorced and wants a Yummy Mummy makeover to find someone who loves her for who she is: that's a story"
I was at the launch of Beauty and the Beach, a new surgery-themed reality show debuting tonight on TV One, and the already bizarre event was taking a dark turn.
While Martin Cleaves, the show's creator continued, I decided that someone who only wants a woman after a Yummy Mummy makeover definitely doesn't love her for who she is.
The conversation definitely did not get better. I asked Martin if there were any men featured on the show. Cleaves thought for a moment and said, "Yes, two". After sitting down to watch the last episode, a recap reel of all the stories from the season, I approached him again.
"When you said there were two men on the show, did you mean the transgender women?"
"... Yes," he replied.
Beauty and the Beach, which Cleaves executive produced and is made by his company 2B Media, features the clientele of Gorgeous Getaways, a business created by Loraine Reinsfeld. The company sends people to Thailand and Malaysia on a package to deal to get themselves hoiked up, suctioned and implanted until they're a better version of themselves. I've spent longer than I'm proud to admit on the website, perusing the options available to me - from Designer Vaginas to Mummy Makeovers.
I am still not entirely sure what a Designer Vagina is: a Louis Vuitton labia? Versace Vulva? Jimmy Choo's likeness lasered into your pubes? Seems a bit rash, but each to their own. No mention of Daddy Makeovers or a Genius Penis package.
Beauty and the Beach follows women on their personal gorgeous getaways, chronicling their transformations as they undergo various surgeries from facelifts to breast augmentations, tummy tucks to gender reassignment surgery. The launch party took place at Loraine Reinsfeld's house, where we watched the finale along with several of the women featured on the show.
Given the subject matter, there was a sense of trepidation as my colleague Madeleine and I walked past the gate. On our way we had established that we would do a walk-by to scope out the joint first, then pivot at the end of the dead end street and return to the house. Totally normal party prep.
Alas, we were spotted from the front step by a woman greeting guests. "It's too late, we have to go," I muttered forlornly, like a dying soldier farewelling their friend in the trenches who is also dying. Inside the doors we were ushered down the hallway into what a brochure would describe as living/dining area, and met the producers of the show.
Madeleine: One of them stepped forward. "Thanks for coming, I'm Martin," he said, shaking Alex's hand and kissing her on the cheek. He then shook my hand but didn't kiss me on the cheek. I frantically wondered if my eyebrows had gotten so out of hand as to cause gender confusion. Probably.
Alex: We were given the biggest glasses of red wine I have ever seen in my life. One of my tiny hands could barely cup the small goldfish bowl base - I wondered if they offered surgical solutions for rich people with small hands and big wine glasses. I held it with both hands like a nervous bride clutching her bouquet.
Madeleine: It was so warm inside and we had eaten a family bag of m&ms on the bus, so I went outside to shed some layers before I started getting an allergic reaction. As I was taking my windbreaker off away from prying eyes, a woman came out with a giant glass of red wine for me.
"What are you doing outside?" She sounded frantic, worried.
"I'm just taking off my jacket, it's so warm -"
"You're not a smoker, are you?"
"I can bring a candle out if you are."
"No thanks, I don't smoke I'm just taking off -"
"You're not going to stay out here all night, are you?" She seemed genuinely concerned about my being outside.
"No I'm just -"
"Well come back in soon, it's cold outside."
And she hurried inside.
Alex: The crowd inside was small, and dotted with vaguely recognisable faces. Waverly from Shortland Street was there. Nikki Lee from NZ Idol was there. My old netball coach from fourth form was there. With the Ponsonby air thick with silicon and botox, it was impossible to know how old anyone else was. Some women could have been 200 but looked 32, some could have been 17 and looked like they were 40. The technology is just that good.
I examined the canapés spread, having to put down my giant goblet of wine each time to sample a morsel. There was a delicious cracker with guacamole on top, garnished with two enormous chillis on either side. One thing was certain: Beauty and the Beach was raking in avocado-level dollars.
Madeleine: Not five minutes later, I was back inside (against all odds) and talking to people. That same woman came over to trade pleasantries and was suddenly frantic again.
"Are you going back outside again?!"
I stopped. Maybe I was having an out-of-body experience because I could've sworn I was standing within the confines of the house's four walls. I looked outside, where I was not, then back inside, where I was, then back to the woman.
"Nope, I'm inside!"
Everyone laughed because no one knew what was going on. She walked over to the bar and I joked to the group, "She wishes I was outside". All of a sudden she was back, giving me the fright of my life.
"I'm sorry I don't want to be rude I just thought you'd gone outside again!"
It all seemed strangely symbolic. Me in my trackpants and overgrown eyebrows, standing on the outside looking in even though I was actually standing inside, right in front of her. It could almost have been poetic if it weren't so weird.
Alex: I was still undecided on where I stood on plastic surgery, so what better opportunity to discuss the problems and the positives about it than with the people behind the show itself. Surely the decision-makers behind the scenes have had long discussions of the moral quandaries of the show, and the various messages that they could be disseminating through what definitely seems to be an advertorial (there was certainly no mention of the two people that had died on their own Gorgeous Getaways).
"Who am I to judge?" said Martin, "If she thinks she needs it ... personally I think it's retarded"
Plastic surgery is largely (publicly at least) a female pursuit, and the subjects of the show seem to be entirely comprised of women. I couldn't help but notice, though, that the executive producer, his co-creator, the editor and the head cameraman were all suit-wearing dudes. I furrowed my brow deep into my chalice of wine.
Madeleine: After our caricature glasses were refilled for the fourth time and no hearty food was offered, I decided it was time for some fun.
"I've got a great idea," I told Alex, with the confidence of a very drunk person, "I'm going to ask Loraine if I should get a nose job."
At some point in my childhood, my nose broke and nobody, including myself, noticed until I was 16 and my mum very sweetly asked me if I wanted a nose job for my birthday. I decided instead to wait for someone to inevitably punch me in the face and then let the doctor set it straight for free. This hadn't happened yet so now I had the perfect opportunity for a great conversation with someone in the business of cosmetic surgery.
I sidled up to her and got straight to the point, meaning I rambled on for a bit about the show and then got straight to the point.
"I think I should get a nose job. Should I?" I pointed my crooked nose at her and waited to be sold on plastic surgery. Instead she shook me to my red-wine-soaked core by saying, "It's entirely a personal decision, but I think it looks fine."
What?! I had practically thrown my nose at her, a la Michael Jackson, and she had responded like a person who didn't sell cosmetic surgery for a living. Could the woman who owned Gorgeous Getaways in fact be the most sane person involved in running this show? I didn't know how to respond because I had planned an escape that included the words "hard no on the face lift but I'll think about the nose job." Instead we talked about her upcoming renovations for far too long.
Alex: The night was getting on a bit. I was now cradling my goldfish bowl of wine and talking to Waverly from Shortland Street about Brexit, hoping that my dramatic wine swill would distract her from the fact that I know nothing about anything. But I still had questions about the show hurtling back and forth in my pickled brain with the aggressive thrust of a liposuction wand.
The show itself is certainly full of achingly human moments - and not just because it's full of blood and guts. The story of Nikki Lee's gender reassignment surgery had the room moved to tears, and I don't doubt for a second that every single woman came out of their experience with a renewed and inspiring sense of confidence.
Who can blame them for doing whatever it takes to get ahead in a world that demands they practically age backwards like a sexy bikini version of Benjamin Button? It isn't women's fault that their currency still lies in the yumminess of their mummy-ness and the luxury design of their vagina.
But is it a good thing to peddle plastic surgery on TV, making it a more accessible option for people who are already deeply unhappy about how they look? Or does it simply feed avocado canapés to the monster of self-loathing that most women are trying (sometimes literally) to starve every second of every day?
All I know is that this morning I woke up and looked at myself slightly differently. And not just because I had drunk 400 gallons of wine several hours earlier. As I tentatively chewed my toast, I looked in the mirror and saw lines around my mouth that had never been there before, and crinkles around my eyes that seemed to be multiplying by the second. It could be because I spent the night frowning.
Or it could be something else ...
* Beauty and the Beach screens on Thursdays on TV One at 9.30pm.