Warning: This article contains detailed descriptions of disordered eating.
In the carefully curated Bravo universe, thinness is considered a laudable moral success, and the Real Housewives franchise is ground zero for linking it to aspirational beauty and wealth. The women in these shows don’t shy away from talking about the work they put into their appearances, from glam squads to personal trainers and plastic surgery. But the exorbitantly high beauty standards of being a Real Housewives cast member aren’t met just by healthy eating, staying active, and the occasional surgical intervention. With The Real Housewives of New Jersey‘s Jackie Goldschneider opening up about her ongoing struggle with anorexia and entering treatment for her eating disorder, we’re seeing one of our first honest glimpses at what it can take to attain and maintain the ideals for which the show is famous.
Jackie, a lawyer and mother of four, first mentions her eating disorder history on Real Housewives in 2018, during a season nine cast trip to Oklahoma. She’s not the first Real Housewives cast member to have a history with disordered eating and talk about it: on season 8 of Real Housewives of New York City, Jules Waintstein opens up about her anorexia too. But, like when Jackie first mentions it, she treats it as a thing of her past, an obstacle she has overcome.
Speaking about experiences in her mid-20s, Jackie tells her castmates about how scared she became of not being skinny. “Living with anorexia was horrendous,” she explains. “At my wedding, I was so skinny that after, my father told me some of his friends asked him if I was OK.”
She concludes by explaining how seeing a nutritionist helped her find a desire to heal, realizing the harmful example she was setting for her children: “I said, forget it, I’m finished.”
This season, Jackie took an incredibly important step when she admitted (and on-camera!) that her eating disorder wasn’t really behind her.
“I’m not OK,” she tells her husband Evan on a date night. “It shouldn’t make me happy to be underweight. My eating is so ritualized. I eat the same things over and over again.”
In response, Evan heartbreakingly confirms that one of her biggest fears has materialized: “Our kids notice it.”
Jackie’s voice breaks. “No, they haven’t. Do they really? When?”
Evan replies, “Last year. They say, ‘Why is mom eating the same dinner every night?'”
“I’m so scared of food, and I’m so scared of gaining weight, but I’m hungry all the time,” Jackie admits. “I’m afraid that I’m going to relapse and kill myself. I just don’t want to do this anymore. I think I need a therapist. I’m ready.”
Jackie next makes an appointment at an eating disorder treatment center — and while Housewives shows have shown everything from therapists to fertility clinics and even childbirth, there’s something that feels even more raw and unscripted about her honesty here. Jackie is dismantling a carefully constructed façade by being frank about her eating disorder — and it’s impossible not to wonder how many other rail-thin Housewives stars might be quietly struggling with the same thing.
Sure: Maybe many, even a majority of the Real Housewives stars are genetically blessed — a common precursor to achieving the thinness archetypal of these women. But even when it’s not discussed (and it’s often discussed), signs that the women are restricting their eating are hidden in plain sight.
The Bravo podcast Watch What Crappens routinely highlights one aspect of this in their recaps: Real Housewives stars are notorious for leaving full platters of elaborate desserts and tiers of gourmet carb-and-cheese-loaded appetizers untouched. Then, on Beverly Hills alone, there’s Yolanda Hadid famously pressuring her daughter Gigi to restrict calories in pursuit of a modeling career, Teddi Mellencamp reportedly giving disordered eating and overexercising advice to her clients, and Joyce Giraud’s (controversial) tagline of “you can never be too young, too thin, or too honest.”
With each of these previous examples, the audience has been given a glimpse at how these women think about food and what may lay behind their appearance, but the show itself doesn’t dwell on it or ask those involved to explain. Thinness is uniformly celebrated as an achievement and virtue, and Jackie’s recovery journey is one of the first times the show has asked you to question that outright.
The show doesn’t sugarcoat the potential health implications of Jackie’s decades of restricting her eating: After leading Jackie through an overview of her medical history and eating patterns, her intake specialist explains that before she can even begin treatment, she first needs lab work and an EKG. She is concerned about the slow heart rate, persistent coldness, dizziness, and lack of nutrition Jackie has described.
“As you start to increase your food intake, your circulation actually increases,” the specialist explains. “Some people experience heart attacks or other cardiac issues.”
For the first time, it’s made clear: Jackie remaining as thin as she is is not the “healthy” thing to do, despite Real Housewives stars’ frequent claims that their eating and fitness choices are about their health. Bravo, and its stars, need to become more honest about what they do for weight loss vs. what they do for health — because, as Jackie’s storyline shows, they’re not the same thing. The ways in which the women who populate these shows achieve their legendary svelte frames is an open secret that Jackie’s storyline begins to uncover, and it’s a refreshing and moving piece of Real Housewives history.
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