Bethenny Frankel/Photo © Helga Esteb/Shutterstock
Bravo's Real Housewives franchise isn’t iconic just for catfights, TMZ fixes, and unpleasantly recognizable Mean Girl antics. Not only do these altars of privilege – Miami, Beverly Hills, Atlanta, New York, Jersey – score big TV numbers, but the stars’ memoirs, exposés, and lifestyle manuals do too. Arguably, these women aren’t writers, and their motives are more wrapped up in validation than expression. But it's worth examining what this culture may represent. Maybe their words speak about competition between women and insecurity; maybe how materialism fulfills emotional voids, genuinely dark pasts, and the relative cost of Schadenfreude. Or, maybe they really just speak about tips on adding oomph to a Cinco de Mayo gala (rent a mariachi band).
From the Housewives oeuvre, here are seven lessons from our reality TV girlfriends .... who are probably talking about you behind your back right now.
1. "You'll make mistakes. That's life. Part of coming from a place of yes is to accept that you screwed up and move on. Forgive yourself ... It's okay because it has to be okay. It's what happened." –Bethenny Frankel with Eve Adamson, New York, “A Place of Yes: 10 Rules for Getting Everything You Want Out of Life”
From the sharp, brand-driven Frankel, a cosmopolitan addition to the self-mantra genre. If the vibe is a little focus-grouped, it’s also a positive, accessible approach to self-love and acceptance.
2. "If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, then hell is a quaint suburb in New Jersey and the woman scorned is resident housewife Danielle Staub." –Danielle Staub, New Jersey, “The Naked Truth: The Real Story Behind the Real Housewife of New Jersey – In Her Own Words”
This advice is relevant for anyone who’s feuded with Danielle Staub, called US Weekly on Danielle Staub, or has labeled Danielle Staub as “prostitute” instead of “call girl” in public. Don't go to New Jersey, because she is mad.
3. 'What could be better than a cake made from whiskey?" –Lisa Vanderpump, Beverly Hills, “Simply Divine: A Guide to Easy, Elegant, and Affordable Entertaining”
A finer metaphor doesn’t exist. As The English One, Vanderpump’s requisite drollness is a franchise highlight. “Simply Divine” has diagrams for correct table settings (the little fork does go on the outside) and recipes with warm personalization; it's evident she layers her own Shepherd's pie and glazes her own carrots. Intoxicating photography makes you weep for want of a personal florist and there are many photos of Giggy the Pomeranian. Vanderpump isn’t like the rest of us. However, she is grateful, intelligent, and frank, whether revealing body image issues – "When I see him reach for his glasses, I think, 'Oh thank goodness, his eyes are going just as I am starting to fall apart!'" – or espousing the importance of frugality when decorating. Though she’s a persuasive author, silver napkin rings still seem excessive.
4. "Perhaps most important in managing my time is the ability to create boundaries between my work and personal life and stick to them." –Kyle Richards, Beverly Hills, “Life Is Not a Reality Show: Keeping It Real with the Housewife Who Does It All”
This is a good one. We're often too exhausted to cook, connect, or follow passions because we're consumed with work. Was that e-mail sent? When’s the deadline? Do I need to work this weekend? Richards, 90210’s Mean Girl extraordinaire, provides a girlish, fluffy manual for makeup, party, fashion and lifestyle. However, this one grain of insight resonates: Balance desire with duty and focus on priorities – family, friends, the hug at the end of the day. Of course, this advice comes from someone whose "work" is being filmed while shopping, so take what one will.
5. "Your diet is a bank account." –Bethenny Frankel, New York, “Naturally Thin: Unleash Your SkinnyGirl and Free Yourself from a Lifetime of Dieting”
Hm. Better to focus on “A Place of Yes.”
6. "If you say something I don't like, I might as well correct your ass." –Nene Leakes, Atlanta, “Never Make the Same Mistake Twice: Lessons on Love and Life Learned the Hard Way”
Correcting the behinds of others is Linnethia Leakes' specialty. Crossing over from quotable Real Housewives staple ("I'm rich, bitch!") to writer (although it seems unlikely collaborator Denene Millner exerted much control over the overly conversational, bragging tone), Leakes' memoir is a frustrating catch-22 read. Her story – loss, partner abuse, single motherhood – is one that, were she not reality TV royalty, would otherwise be ignored. Unfortunately, the Nene we have is difficult to sympathize with (let alone like), especially since the book is mostly devoted to self-aggrandizing and sniping about cast members. Lesson here? Maybe the first ass to consider correcting is our own.
7. "What is a perfect life? Does it even really exist?" –Catherine Ashley, DC, “Inbox Full”
Rhetorical, but possibly the most telling lesson. “Inbox Full” reads like a high school senior’s diary, but this sentiment resonates in a guilty pleasure trifle. Everyone has problems – some, like Ashley’s, involve crying on European vacations or learning difficult lessons from a shaman. And some problems are realistic. However, another person’s story always shows us something. Who we want to be and who we don’t; both matter equally.