On October 3rd, 2004 I was a mere 7th grader looking for a way to distract myself from the troubles of plaid skirts, tampons, and hair straighteners. And so like always when I’m looking for a good escape (that doesn’t include physical movement) I turned on the television. That’s when my eyes first made contact with ABC’s new seductive drama, Desperate Housewives. It was…sensational! When you’re used to seeing women portrayed as pestering moms on the Disney Channel or as the demanding wife in “grown up” shows, seeing a mom have sex with the gardener or plotting to kill the maid was a shocker, to say the least. So obviously I was hooked in the first twenty minutes. When I grow up, I don’t have to be annoying and ugly and worn out. I can have an affair with the plumber and ship my pregnant child off to the nunnery all while mastering the art of pastry and becoming a high paid criminal lawyer. I can do it all, I dreamed every Sunday night, eyes fixed to the screen.
Well, I was a fetus then with fetus dreams. Eight years later, I now know I can do all of that and have my own show wrapped up with a nice little bow called Reality TV aka The American Dream. You see, I don’t have to resort to overly theatric, scripted primetime dramas with absolutely ludicrous plot twists and the occasional time travel. Oh no. That’s child’s play. Why watch that trash when you can watch real woman being real moms with real lives in reality?
Two years after the premiere of Desperate Housewives, a then-relatively small channel, Bravo, released a reality version of the ABC hit, instead aptly called The Real Housewives of Orange County. Since then, Bravo has exploded into the #1 cable network for ages18-49, largely thanks to the Real Housewives franchise that has grown to include seven different American cities: Orange County, New York, Atlanta, Beverly Hills, New Jersey, Miami, and D.C. The Real Housewives has also spread globally, including The Real Housewives of Vancouver, Athens, and Israel.
America has fallen in love with the passionate Italians of New Jersey and the glamorously dressed miniature dogs of Beverly Hills. It’s hard to decide which you like better: the crazy, loud yells of Atlanta or the quiet, plastic glares of New York. Every city has its unique style and batch of women aimed to please the little gay boy in all of us. But regardless of your City preference, you can’t deny that with over three million viewers, all of these “real” women have burst into bona fide super-stardom. Unfortunately, along with their stardom has come a mess of divorce, broken relationships, bankruptcy, infidelity, alcoholism, eviction, deadbeat dads, foreclosures, and even suicide.
Fame has always had its consequences. Just ask Lindsay Lohan or Marilyn Monroe. But these housewives aren’t actors or models (unless you count Disney child Kim Richards or model Cynthia Bailey). These women are supposed to be family matriarchs and diamond covered soccer moms. That’s how the show started, at least. “We wanted something very authentic,” says Frances Berwick, president of Bravo and Style Media. Quickly, however, its authenticity was ignited by the Hollywood glow. Fame has infected the housewives almost more so than celebrity actors prone to the downward spiral of hookers and tiger’s blood. These women have spent over thirty years being average, plain ole humans until, thanks to Bravo, they have been catapulted into a whole other world of scrutiny–a scrutiny that’s forced them to react without any knowledge or skills of how to deal with the fame. This lack of readiness has most noticeably transformed the housewives physically: starting off as typical looking Playboy-wannabe’s and slowly morphing them into insecure-past-their-prime-plastic-mommy-dolls thanks to the handiwork of the neighborhood plastic surgeon. There’s definitely something about fame that’s gotten these ladies saying “surgery!”
There have been over sixty housewives featured in the American franchise over the years, and through this time and process of becoming Bravo-lebrities, only six women can still boast that they remain al-natural. The question in the Bravo Clubhouse is not “Have you had plastic surgery?” its “What have you had done?”
The Real Housewives of Orange County are by far the most notorious for routine fix-me-ups. Plastic surgery is simply what’s after yoga and right before lunch. So what’s Orange County’s favorite beauty secret? Botox! All five cast members schedule monthly botox injections for “preventive maintenance” as Vicki Gunvalson, OC castmember, puts it. But it doesn’t stop there. When you’re so close to Hollywood, you’ve got to stay on top of things. Especially Tamara Barney, who’s been on the RHOC for six of the eight seasons. On the Dr. Oz show, Tamara admitted to routine botox, fillers, body sculpting, skin dyeing, breast implants, breast implant removal, and a face lift all in the course of her time at Bravo. Tamara, somewhat thanks to fame, has also gotten a divorce, had to sell her house, and has lost her longtime best friend, Vicki. But doesn’t she look great?
Shortly after Orange County, the Real Housewives of New York premiered. And in its third season, we were introduced to Sonja Morgan whose opening mantra is “A little Sonja will spice up any party!” And that, she has, along with her plastic surgeon who has been featured on the show numerous times. Like Tamara, Sonja has not only gotten a divorce since the show but has also had to file for bankruptcy for to the five million dollar debt she occurred from “bad investments” and “overspending.” The poor dear has also had to sell three of her homes. But there’s no need to worry, she’s still got money for yearly liposuction, monthly Botox, and occasional fillers to keep her fans happy! But Sonja doesn’t have surgery because of body issues. She said to Bravo ringleader, Andy Cohen, that “Honestly, I am very happy with my body… I just wanted to be rid of the roll that came over the top of my jeans.” But she’s done more than just lipo? “Oh God yes, I do it all!” she exclaims, before quickly somehow managing to rationalize, “but I think it’s all about moderation.”
Next on the plastic surgery totem pole, is Miss Nene Leakes, who really needs no introduction. The (hands down) star of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, because of her time at Bravo, has bloomed into a television personality, host, and now actor on Ryan Murphy’s Glee and The New Normal. Sure, she’s gotten a divorce and her son has spent over a year in jail since Andy Cohen first discovered the diva, but NeNe’s still soarin’ high. Since becoming a reality star, Nene has gotten veneers, a breat implant, breast lift, and liposuction. Not to mention tossing the wigs aside and going for some Hollywood-made locks. Boom! Perfection.
The Housewives of New Jersey are by far the most down to earth of the wives (and by down to earth I mean poor.) The show centers on two close knit families whose mob-like qualities expand far beyond jail and scandal. Teresa Giudice might be the most exposed of all the housewives on Bravo. Her shady husband’s stay in and out of jail, her highly publized bankruptcy, and dramatic feud with her brother and cousin is just the beginning of how fame has gone to her head. Since the show, Teresea has become almost psychotic and exeedingly difficult to understand. On this year’s reunion, her family pleaded with her to see reason but Teresea is convinced that America loves her and so clearly she has no faults. Even though Teresea has recieved a boob job (on camera) nevertheless, its her fellow castmates, the fairly sane sister-in-laws, Jacqueline Laurita and Caroline Manzo, that have truly been bitten by the plastic surgery bug. Even in New Jersey the most seemingly normal of women can let fame go to their heads.
But its Miami that wins for best plastic surgery ( again, by best I mean worst.) Though the Miami show has only been on for a little over a season, cosmetic surgery has still plagued TV sets across America. Just look at Miami Housewife Marysol Patton. Or if you dare, look at her grandmother, Elsa! I think the picture pretty much sums Miami up.
But the housewives’ plastic surgery isn’t the most noticeable transformation plastered across the tabloids: it’s tragedy. Indeed, Bravo’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills has their plethora of routine surgery and injections. The city itself reeks of silicon but there hasn’t been too many drastic changes in the past two seasons, probably because these elite women have been “taking care of themselves” long before the show’s premiere. What they hadn’t experienced until the show is true Bravo devastation. Most famously, housewife Taylor Armstrong’s husband commited suicide because of the show’s poor exposure of him. Kim Richards has had to go to rehab for alcoholism. Camille Grammer’s actually famous husband, Kelsey Grammer, cheated on and divorced her, only to then marry a new woman three months later. And Queen Lisa Vandpump has had to downsize to a quaint 10 million dollar mansion built for a peasant. Even Adrienne Maloof, who’s networth at the start of season 1 was more than 300 million has been hit by the fame storm. Now, Adrienne is in the middle of a divorce and having to sell her home because of “financial difficulties.” Though, she still keeps her over one million dollars worth of cosmetic enhancing equipment in her personal Spa Room. You can take a girl’s husband, but don’t you dare try to take away her ” ultra-violet, ultra-mega watt, ultra-cleaning machine.”
You’ve gotta love a good on-screen makeover. Brittany Murphy in Clueless, Olivia Newton John in Grease, and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman have all gone down in history as some of the best two hour drab-to-fab makeovers. But what happens when your life doesn’t fit into a two-hour musical? Well, just ask any of the Real Housewives. Richard Gere isn’t there with a helicopter to take you off to the Opera and John Travolta doesn’t drive you up into the sky after the school carnival. I suppose reality never quite works out that way. Because on Bravo, with plastic surgery and hair extensions, comes lost relationships, bankruptcy, and even tragedy. Still, despite the repercussions, the ladies keep coming back season after season for their forty-five minutes-a-week of fame and glory. I suppose it’s sad, actually, how troubled these middle aged women have become. What’s sadder is probably how I wish I was one of them.
Even after the constant arguing, huge hissy fits, and continual devastation to their personal lives, the housewives remain tragically glamorous. After all, you’re not a star until you’ve fallen down from Mount Olympus and spent a few years with the mortals. Perhaps it’s this kind of tragicness that seems so appealing to a such a normal girl like me. Maybe a part of me is desperate for something horrible to publicly happen just so that I can be pitied and adored even more so. Besides, would we know who Taylor Armstrong is without her husband’s suicide? Or Jill Zarin before her falling out with Bethany Frankel? In America, it’s not your talent that makes you famous, it’s the number of magazines you cover. Sure, people know Jennifer Aniston for her time on Friends but if she hadn’t been publicly humiliated by practically a ten year divorce from Brad Pitt, I’m convinced she wouldn’t be the global star she is today. In a way, she has Angelina Jolie to thank for her success.
I’ve spent a good amount of my life coming to terms with the fact that I’m average. There is no way I will ever be as talented as Meryl Streep or Adele. I’m not going to get famous like that. Still, I grasp at the hope one day the world will know my face. Stardom is the only caliber of succes these days. Money is nothing if people don’t know who you are. I want my life to matter. Fame is my dream– even trashy reality television fame. Because what good is living if Anderson Coooper doesn’t talk about your death on his show? I want the ladies on The View to argue if drugs were to blame for my downfall and for Jay Leno to make some inappropriate joke about my sequin covered casket. No matter what it takes, I will be remembered. But my only chance at fame is people loving me simply for being me. Just plain-ole-average me. And as sick as it sounds, if I have to get some plastic surgery and a divorce to make my fame happen, so be it.