Not for the first time, last night’s Real Housewives of Orange County displayed a woman on the verge of (to risk sounding like Heather Dubrow) a nervous breakdown.
Arguably no one has been more public about their ups and downs on this show than Shannon Beador, a woman who—in her four seasons—has suffered through her husband’s affair and, more harrowing still, a friendship with Vicki Gunvalson. Season 12 is shaping up to be no different: In the past year, Shannon has put on 40 lbs. and—quite publicly—is crestfallen over the weight gain, talking about it with every single person she encounters. Clearly feeling terrible about it, she’s relying on a highly familiar defense mechanism—bringing up her so-called flaws and disparaging herself before anyone else can.
It’s depressing to witness, especially considering the way Shannon and those around her act as if gaining weight is the biggest sin a person could possibly commit. Of course, part of this could be that they live in Orange County where personal upkeep seems essential to a woman’s success. It could also be because she’s on television and facing the scrutiny of the public eye. Regardless, Shannon has learned to hate herself in a way so deeply rooted that it’s hard to watch.
In one particularly tough-to-swallow moment in Monday night’s episode, Shannon visits her personal trainer and “holistic specialist” Tim, a marble-mouthed man in a polo shirt who asks helpful questions like whether or not her husband can still stomach sleeping with her and responds to her weight gain and unclothed body with an oft repeated and disappointed “Oh, wow.” If this tactic is effective, then clearly the people I exercise with—the ones who provide advice and encouragement—are doing it all wrong.
Shannon is obviously misguided, choosing to blame her weight gain on stress stemming from her ongoing conflict with Vicki instead of the more obvious culprits like unhappiness within her marriage, over-eating and drinking, lack of exercise, and—most blatantly—the fact that she’s getting older and as our bodies evolve, so does the way we store and keep fat. There is nothing wrong with that in actuality (especially if she is consulting with a real doctor and not just another “holistic specialist”) but by gaining weight, in the world of the Real Housewives, Shannon has become the most pathetic and pitiable woman in the franchise.
It’s obvious that Shannon’s weight will be a major plot point this season. Last night’s episode finished with an explosive argument in which Kelly Dodd, ever the charmer, taunted her about her body, prompting Shannon to devolve into a screaming mess, throwing plates and running around the restaurant—ironically called The Quiet Woman (or “Q-Dub,” according to Dodd)—completely unhinged. (The logo for The Quiet Woman is a woman without a freaking head, so, in that respect, Shannon, I’m proud of you for disrupting the status quo.)
It was tremendously not fun and was walking the fine line between entertaining and highly uncomfortable, though maybe (if we have to find a silver lining in this) it’s good for us to witness as viewers and be reminded of how upside-down the reality TV universe is. Shannon, though highly sensitive and overly reactive, has never lied about someone having cancer, been engaged to Slade Smiley, or thrown a glass of wine in co-star’s face. Instead her crime—in her eyes and the eyes of her co-stars—is getting fat on television and that, apparently, is the worst possible thing a woman can do.