May 24, 2011

Yes, I’m in Love With a Reality TV Star. ~ Jessie Clark

Photo: flash.pro

A Reality Guru of America.

Appointment TV…I fear…is the phrase I am looking for. It is hard to admit even owning a TV these days, let alone watching it. And I don’t get most people I love and respect even started on the topic of reality TV. That lowbrow art form is the lowest of the low.

Hello. My name is Jessie and I am obsessed with Bethenny Frankel.

I made sure to be home by 8pm on Monday evening to catch the season finale of her hit television show Bethenny Ever After. If you don’t know who Bethenny Frankel is then you must have missed the train wrecks called Real Housewives of New York City and Skating with the Stars. I’m not sure at what point in her reality starlet timeline Bethenny scored her own show, but last year the Bravo network’s chronicle of 39-year-old Frankel, planning her wedding while pregnant with her first child, sucked me in. I immediately fell head-over-heels in love with her. I loved her so much I had to DVR her show so that I wouldn’t miss a single moment of loving and envying her urban fairytale existence.

Photo: Boss Tweed

I’ve known women like Bethenny in real life, women that exist in a space-time continuum where minutes are seconds. Women who pride themselves in being so god damn driven they don’t need a partner, or friends, or any of the usual things women usually want. These women are typically very skinny and average about five sexual innuendos every fifteen minutes of conversation. Yep, I tend to be best friends with women like Bethenny, until we have some dramatic falling out and they never talk to me ever again. Women like Bethenny disown people a lot. Usually beginning with their alcoholic mothers, around age 26 when they can finally afford to go to therapy twice a week. Women like Bethenny are always in therapy. Did I mention Bethenny does yoga and is an acclaimed natural foods chef? Oh yes, more reasons to love her.

You see I love Bethenny because in many twisty ways, (that I will rarely admit) Bethenny represents everything I want that I don’t have. Her independent businesswoman rag to riches transformation is legitimately inspiring. In her mid-thirties Frankel had no money in her bank account and no baby daddies waiting for the perfect moment to drop a rock in the bottom of her champagne glass. Of course she was smokin’ hot and had a cookbook on the New York Times bestseller list, so it is hard to believe that her two-year skyrocket to family life and ‘millionairdom’ was really as remarkable as she makes it seem. Still, there is something sort of Cinderella about her rise to fame and fulfillment. Something that makes me think maybe I too could accomplish everything I’m kicking myself for having not accomplished before I turn 40. Bethenny turned 40 this year and threw herself a stylish party on episode #6 Fleeing form Forty.  She cried a lot on that episode. It was one of my favorites.

Bethenny and I have some things in common. Or, at least we did. We are both proud NYU alums. We both have small dogs we treat like children who bark all the time and bite deliverymen. We are both hyper expressive perfectionists and we are both interested in things like wellness and tequila. It was this interest in tequila that Bethenny had the smarts to use to her advantage while I was merely drinking it. It happened in the middle of an episode of Real Housewives when Bethenny gave a waitress precise instructions as to how to make her margarita the mindful way and one of the housewives said, “That sounds good. I will have that too. It’s like a skinnygirl margarita.” For the record, I’ve always preferred silver tequila, refused to acknowledge margaritas that aren’t made with fresh squeezed limejuice and I jumped on the agave syrup as only acceptable sweetener bandwagon while most folks were still enamored with Splenda.

Fast forward to the season finale on Monday evening and Bethenny is crying tears of joy over the offer she is accepting from a major distributor who wants to buy Skinnygirl Cocktails. An offer that is so big she can’t disclose the numbers. An offer that will make her a very wealthy woman and go down as one of the biggest spirits deals in history. The Hollywood Reporter claims the price-tag was around 120 million. It was at this moment that Bethenny went from being merely a celebrity crush to guru status in my thirty-something world. You see, I was disappointed that Bethenny’s tears were the happy variety.

The commercials for the finale were edited expertly to make it seem as if something terrible was going to crash Ms. Frankel’s party. Every time I saw the teaser, I wondered if perhaps Jason was finally sick of his wife flirting with her ice skating coach and was dumping her ass before they even made it to their first anniversary. Or, maybe her Canadian margarita factory exploded? It wasn’t until I found out she was really crying because she was so thrilled about being filthy rich that I realized what a petty, jealous person I actually am.

There is this moment in Fierce Grace, the documentary about Ram Das after his stroke, where he confesses his revelation in the midst of confronting death. After all his years of being “Mr. Spiritual”, when it really mattered, everything he thought he understood about the universe gave way to fear. It was in that moment that he realized he still had quite a bit of work to do.

Apparently, so do I. I was actually disappointed by Bethenny’s happiness. I wanted to see Bethenny fail. How awful is that? It certainly isn’t very Christian, or very yogi, or very feminist, or very…good—at all. I was starting to hate her.

It wasn’t just Bethenny’s good fortune that was pissing me off. It was also her new book that was becoming fodder for my yogier-than-thou sense of superiority. During episode #10 Thin Ice and Ugly Sweaters, Bethenny embarks on a speaking tour to promote her new book, Place of Yes: 10 Rules for Everything You Want Out of Life. Really? Just like that Bethenny went from reality TV star, to margarita queen, to self-help guru? Before she was just lucky and beautiful, but now she’s dispensing spiritual wisdom to crowds of adoring fans. She’s sitting on stages in Pennsylvania saying the word “cock” as many times as she can and telling the women in the crowd all about Rule #1 Break the Chain: Surviving Childhood. I wonder if her therapist is getting a cut of the book sales?

So, why is it that I don’t think Bethenny deserves to be a guru? Is it her pop culture notoriety and mainstream accessibility that disqualify her?

The truth is it’s likely these very qualities that make her such a powerful teacher. Maybe her bite size morsels of wisdom seem shallow to me, but if she is making so many women feel better about themselves and more in control of their lives that’s incredibly meaningful. Right?

In India gurus are celebrities. Their likenesses plastered on the side of ashram jeeps and boxes of branded sandlewood incense. Wilkipedia estimates the late Sai Baba’s followers to total more than 6 million. In America celebrity seems to be mutually exclusive with being a respected spiritual teacher. In fact, we seem to separate spirituality and popular culture all together. Except when Oprah is concerned.

I’m not suggesting that Bethenny Frankel has achieved the saint like status of Amma or Osho. I am however suspicious of my own dismissal of what she has to offer because she’s just a TV star. Reality TV is a guilty pleasure and it should be. But, how different is what we gleam from watching someone else’s’ life on the screen than what we learn from the experiences of those who achieve guru status? After all, isn’t most spiritual insight self-awareness? Perhaps reality TV gives us an opportunity to see ourselves in others and learn just a little bit about our shared human experience in the process.

I’m not sure what is next for my girl Bethenny. Will she return to another season on Bravo? Will she branch out and develop a low calorie all natural strawberry daiquiri? Will she continue her speaking tour and write another book?  Will she have a second baby post 40 and move to Malibu to live a very private life with Jason? I noticed she just launched a line of detox supplements on her website. Skinnygirl vitamins, the perfect companion to her Skinnygirl liquor empire. Yep, this is why I love Bethenny. She’s a walking contradiction. Kind of like me.

Well, whatever is next for Bethenny it will have to wait until after she battles the 100 million dollar lawsuit her former management team has brought against her. In People magazine last week Bethenny commented, “Life is good for me with all the things that are most important, namely family, but let’s be clear, I am a strong woman, and I am not afraid and won’t back down when I’m bullied by something with zero merit. Success is earned by hard work, not taking advantage of others.”

You go, guru girl.

Jessie Clark is sometimes known as SriVidya, and is a recovering playwright and non-profit professional who currently resides in Denver, Colorado with her two dogs Siva Shambo and Sedona. Jessie is also a certified yoga teacher and self-proclaimed ashram junkie. Check out her blog at www.ironicyogi.blogspot.com

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