Is Real Housewives Getting Too Real?

From EIC, Laura Kosann

I’m the first person to admit to loving Real Housewives. Not in a way like, “I’m cool because I’m copping to it being a guilty pleasure,” but in the way that, if I have a busy or stressful day at work, I truly enjoy going home and zoning out to RHONY.

With the season just ending, to a tornado of infidelity, true eating disorders and divorce – and a reunion that included talk about one of the women possibly doing cocaine – I found myself asking this question: Is Real Housewives getting a little too real?

It was a bit of a Jerry Maguire moment: Something that’s been a part of my lifestyle for a while started to give me serious guilt. When I watched the reunion, I realized that, rather than just zoning out and enjoying myself like I usually do, I felt more like a rubbernecker unable to avert one’s eyes from a car crash.

Some of us may have had a moral dilemma like this a few years back when Russell Anderson – Taylor Armstrong’s husband on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills – committed suicide. Rumors flew that it had something to do with the show.

Many of us managed to brush it off and move on, but upon seeing Watch What Happens – a musical spoof on the life of Andy Cohen – at Joe’s Pub the other night, I realized that Russell’s passing had already become something we’re technically allowed to poke fun at. Even if in a way where it was a critique of the show and reality TV in general, enough time had passed that we could do what we usually do – shake our heads and chuckle at the “gross” morally reprehensible ridiculousness of it all.

We do that a lot.

Teresa Giudice of Real Housewives Of New Jersey televised her post-prison reunion with her family; Vicki Gunvalson’s ex-boyfriend on Real Housewives of Orange County was caught in lying about having cancer; NeNe Leakes of Real Housewives of Atlanta has a widely known and talked about criminal record. This isn’t new: Criminal records on the show just may be something that make one’s audition to be a housewife even more appealing (this is my own speculation, obviously).

Recently however, something really struck me. At a televised dinner on the Upper West Side for Real Housewives of New York City, Jules Wainstein (who has admitted throughout the season to having past problems with an eating disorder) said, “Three days ago, I threw up my food.”

As the founder of a site based on the celebration of food, I haven’t really been able to get this out of my mind.

Let me preface by saying that, on The New Potato, we are all about celebrating and exploring how everyone incorporates food into their lifestyles – and I mean everyone. When we get nasty comments about supermodels, or asking why a long form interview with a Kardashian and Jean-Georges Vongerichten are on the same website, we answer the same way: “Everyone has to eat.” Be a vegan. Be Anthony Bourdain. Be a complete health nut who goes to the gym three hours a day. We don’t play favorites.

Let me also say that I’m usually the last person to get in the mix when it comes to moral compass debates in pop culture. I’m the first to keep things playful and humorous; there’s enough lengthy rhetoric out there.

I also know that I can’t fathom what it’s like to have an eating disorder, and perhaps Wainstein’s admission to it on the show is something that helps girls who do, know that they are not alone.

But, I also think that sometimes, when someone sees something very bad for you played out in a certain context on television – especially at a younger age – it can not only dilute what’s serious, but make it seem less serious, and without consequences.

Here is a pretty, fashionable woman talking about her eating disorder at dinner, and the women at the table will soon move on to another topic – despite the dun, dun dramatic music after Wainstein’s comment about vomiting, that cues the womens’ “stunned” faces. Of course, you can see how emotional she gets, but in this context it seemed trivialized, and a little too glossed over.

How would a sixteen-year-old girl, already struggling with body image, respond to a scene like that? Does it make the concept of an eating disorder seem more casual? More happenstance? More common? I can’t know for sure, but I know that even just 15% responding to it that way is too high of a number.

As someone who used to work in television, and has been in many edit rooms, I couldn’t help but think how easy it would have been to edit out that one line. Is it for the sake of playing out true, un-tampered reality? We all know that can’t be, because there are clearly numerous elements of edited realness on these shows: From Bethenny Frankel’s daughter Bryn never being on air (a decision I avidly agree with, by the way), to cameras on Luanne switching to another scene when she tells them to stop filming her at finding out Tom cheated on her.

It’s not unadulterated footage; it’s still an edited show with cuts, music cues and transitions. So why not edit out the TMI that could be a risky example to set?

Do I have a solution? No. I really was just curious what you guys thought: Is Real Housewives getting a little too real?

For more cultural musings from our EIC also check our her thoughts on karma, and click here to read her guide on getting out of a rut