Dear Bravo: Is Crystal's bulimia too real for reality TV?
We can’t leave behind season 12 of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (RHOBH) without reflecting on Erika Jayne Girardi's laxative comment to Crystal Kung Minkoff (and how Bravo is handling coverage of active eating disorders in its RH empire).
For people who haven't seen the episode I'm referring to, here is an oversimplified recap:
It's Diana’s house party. Food (and alcohol) is flowing. A noticeably uncomfortable Crystal is doing her best opening up about her experience with bulimia to Erika and Garcelle Beauvais, saying that she feels guilty about eating and “can’t hold it.”
"Well, I always think, take laxatives and get rid of it," says Erika.
Up to 3 in every 100 women in America live with bulimia nervosa.
Garcelle, in her confessional interview, explains why the comment is inappropriate at best and dangerous at worst:
"A laxative? She has an eating disorder! Erika is not a doctor, and you don't prescribe laxatives to someone with an eating disorder. It's really the most inappropriate thing at the most inappropriate time.”
In the After Show, Erika makes it worse when she tries to cover her judgemental tracks with false concern.
“I asked Crystal, ‘Why haven’t you sought help for your eating disorder?’ Crystal has told us about it, and she’s been very open on Instagram, social media about her eating disorder, and when I was going through my mental health stuff, I reached out to a psychiatrist to help me. I reached out and got treated. I couldn’t understand why Crystal, when I asked her this, she said, ‘No.'”
In the reunion (part 2 of 3), Erika doubles down by bringing up how normal talking about taking laxatives for weight loss is in the dance community, suggesting she was genuinely coming from a place of inner knowing and support.
In this same reunion, Kyle Richards, who has written and spoken about experiencing depression and being diagnosed with fibromyalgia after her mother’s passing, once again dismisses Crystal as a trigger-stacked and overly sensitive “millennial.”
Crystal is then questioned if her “real” problem last season with Sutton barging into her room without knocking was about her eating disorder.
The look on Crystal’s face says it all.
Oh, we’re really going to try to minimize, again, how I feel, and now we have a “reason” to explain why Crystal is so “sensitive.”
When Crystal says “no,” in this moment, I feel her work working. I see her standing up for herself and acknowledging while she experiences “problems,” she is not the problem.
Her castmates do not understand her, nor do they have any desire (except maybe Sutton), to actually hear what Crystal is saying.
BIPOC communities, racism, and eating disorders
* BIPOC refers to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color
Erika’s comments throughout the season, After Show, and reunion could have been prime opportunities for Bravo to help raise awareness about the systematic racism taking place in eating disorder screening, treatment, and recovery.
But nowhere is the intersection of race and eating disorders sufficiently addressed in season 12.
BIPOC communities are not treated equally under the medical system or within the recovery process.
Some relevant stats from ANAD:
Eating disorder symptoms in BIPOC communities are not screened for to the same degree as they are in white communities
This means treatment is less likely to start early in the disease (and the later on in the disease that treatment begins, the more challenging sustained recovery becomes
Asian American college students have higher rates of restriction compared with their white peers and higher rates of purging than their white or non-Asian, BIPOC peers.
Asian American college students report even higher levels of body dissatisfaction and negative attitudes toward obesity than their non-Asian, BIPOC peers.
ANAD is the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, which is the oldest organization for eating disorder awareness and support in the United States.
Too bulimic to be “real”?
Crystal has spent the season (two seasons, tbf) doing the hard work of trying to explain her lived experience with body dysmorphia and bulimia to a group of castmates positioned as frenemies from the very beginning.
She has been open and honest, and in turn, she has been quite openly judged for her relationship to food, for purging, for her method of purging, for not recovering, for…
Yeah, it seems her realness has been deemed far too real for reality TV.
As viewers, we have seen Crystal try to share her experience with bulimia the same way other housewives have shared their experience with anorexia, and it has not been welcomed. It has not been supported. It has not been taken seriously by the castmates.
Bravo should take a lesson from MTV
Instead of your next Girls’ Trip Special*** take a look at what the MTV Teen Mom franchise is doing.
They have effectively made the shift from being trashy reality TV to being trauma-informed…and it’s time Bravo followed the lead…
Andy Cohen could have paused when Erika half-apologized and half-excused her comment. He has paused for far less. So why not really take a moment in the season 12 reunion to discuss the pervasive and life-threatening danger of purging for weight loss?
Bravo, you know you have a massive platform for change, as seen in the "Homeless, Not Toothless" fiasco and the Jamie Lee Curtis so chique record sales day ...
Do more for raising awareness about eating disorders in adults and teens than posting a single tagline for the National Eating Disorder Association at some of the episode endings.
Host a "Family Reunion" Special Focused on Eating Disorder Recovery
Create a campaign that brings together housewives, adult children of housewives, and husbands who have discussed body image issues and eating disorders on the show (ie., housewives including Jackie Goldschneider and adult children of housewives including Amelia Gray Hamlin), and launch a real awareness raising campaign that covers topics like:
Racism in eating disorders
Ageism in eating disorders
Relapse in eating disorders
Preventing eating disorders in the age of social media
How to help your adult child recover
Barriers to treatment and recovery
Bravo showcased the dangers of anorexia in season 12 of the Real Housewives of New Jersey (RHONJ) with Jackie. For example, it was a defining moment for eating disorder coverage in the media when Bravo brought us to The Renfrew Center and we learned Jackie was at risk of death by heart attack. It was also "real" AF to see the back-and-forth between her desire to recover and her resistance to go to in-patient treatment.
We cannot ignore that Jackie's experience will differ from Crystal's due to factors including age, race, and discrimination within the eating disorder community itself (ie., how anorexia is viewed and treated vs how bulimia is viewed and treated).
So let's get real for a moment...
While we did see Crystal consider different treatment options closer to the end of the season, and admit she wants to find food and body peace, we also watched bulimia be trivialized throughout the season and heard a ton of judgement on why, if she has so much money, Crystal isn't recovered "yet."
All of this denies that while money can certainly help buy access to treatment, money doesn't "cure" bulimia (or any eating disorder for that matter). Show that realness.
***But like, also please do another Girls’ Trip Special. K thanks!
Photo credit: Bravo TV