I’ve been trapped in the dark, unforgiving hole of The Real Housewives series ever since the first episode of The Real Housewives of Orange County in 2006. The show is one of my guiltiest pleasures, and I get so sucked into the swanky, sometimes tragic, lives of the cast members that I often forget I don’t know them outside of the confines of the television screen.
As much as the show entertains me, I actually hate it straight to my core. Sure, the aggregated, always over-the-top catfights are enough to make anyone’s head spin, but my beef with Housewives runs deeper than the surface-level drama. I have a major problem with how the show, specifically The Real Housewives of Orange County (RHOC), normalizes cosmetic surgery and Botox.
For the Housewives illiterate, it’s all too common in any given episode to witness a cast member undergo some form of cosmetic procedure on the show. The nature in which cosmetic surgery and Botox are talked about and portrayed on the show makes cosmetic intervention seem like some glamorous, snap of the fingers magic trick that will keep you relevant. In season 5 of RHOC, short-lived housewife Lynne Curtin referred to her face and brow lift as “simple… like getting your teeth whitened” and was, by the end of the hour-long episode, in awe of her transformation. Obviously, a lot more work that we didn’t get the pleasure of seeing went into her procedure, but all we’re left with are the drastic benefits.
Botox is treated almost like a necessity on the show, like breathing or carrying a Louis Vuitton bag. Longtime housewife Tamra Barney sung the praises of Botox in the third season and said, “There’s nothing out there that you can go in one day and twenty-four hours later have zero wrinkles.” Apparently Botox is liquid magic. Former housewife Alexis “Jesus Jugs” Bellino said of Botox in the fifth season, ” You know, when I was twenty-seven, I only had to go [get Botox] one time a year and now I’m thirty-two and I have to go twice a year.” When asked what her husband thinks of her Botox obsession, she said, “Jim loves that I Botox. He doesn’t ever have to worry about growing old with a frumpy wife. Every minute, every penny… Everything’s worth it.”
Obviously, if these women have the time, money, and pain tolerance to go to such lengths to maintain Malibu Barbie bodies well into their 50s, that’s their prerogative. The problem is that the show, and reality television in general, puts a huge emphasis on the real. It’s saying, in order to be a “real” housewife in a certain area, these are the lengths women have to go to. The fact that we are watching women we might even feel like we can relate to on some level go through very real procedures on live television and are being told that this is the reality of aging is a problem. The fact that, according to Alexis Bellino, I should start getting Botox in the next three years is also a problem. This show makes cosmetic surgery and Botox seem as routine and easy as your Saturday night Seamless order, and it can give helpful hints to viewers on how we should take care of our wrinkling bodies.
At a time when we are force fed so many glorified Kendall Jenner bodies, this show is just one more outlet that says we’ve got nothing to look forward to after our twenties except wrinkles, arm flab, saggy boobs, and finding ways to look like we just hopped out of the womb. Age studies scholar Christopher Faircloth notes in his book Aging Bodies: Images and Everyday Experience, “The way we perceive our own bodies is dominated by the plethora of ever-expanding images of the body provided to us for our own consumption.” The show is telling us that a frequent nip, tuck, or poke in the face is glamorous and totes everyday.
Sure, these women might be certified nut jobs who regularly scream at each other, cry for no apparent reason, sneeze kale flakes and wouldn’t touch a French fry with a nine foot Swarovski- studded pole, but their habitual glorification of cosmetic surgery means more than the fact that they’re super vain.