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Carole Radziwill On The Beauty Culture of The Real Housewives

What came first: The Real Housewives or our ever-growing obsession with perfection? Did the smoky eyes and bandage dresses on Bravo’s juggernaut Housewives franchise influence the beauty choices of millions of women or have my fellow Housewives simply conformed to society’s ever-changing beauty standards?

To answer that, we need to travel back to 2006. Facebook was in its infancy, Jack Dorsey gave birth to Twitter, and Bravo announced a new show: The Real Housewives of Orange County. The franchise grew up alongside these newfangled social apps, and so did the Housewives themselves. We are pop culture, and we are informed by pop culture. We have incredible reach, but we too are merely followers on the yellow brick road that led to the rise of social media, beauty bloggers, and the filtered culture we have all grown accustomed to.

When I joined the franchise in 2011, The Real Housewives of New York City had been on the air for four seasons. Facebook and Twitter were no longer novelties; they had helped to popularize the shows — and to normalize oversharing. But it was the birth of Instagram (in late 2010) and Snapchat (in 2011) — and with them, the filter — that revolutionized, seemingly overnight, the way we present ourselves to the world.

Until then my experience with glam could have been summed up in two words: “What’s glam?” In fact, in 2006, I had a job as a columnist for Glamour. Each month I took a celebrity — Alec Baldwin, Julianne Moore, Jon Bon Jovi — to lunch and interviewed them. That conversation, along with photos of the two of us at lunch, then appeared on the glossy pages of the magazine. Every month, for two years, I brushed my own hair and did my own makeup before sitting down for a nationally published photo shoot with A-list stars. It never occurred to me, or my editor, to have my makeup professionally done. That was for movie stars, models, and the occasional brides. Not writers, working girls, or your average housewife.

In my first season of RHONY, I, along with most of the season five cast, did not get my makeup done professionally for each scene I filmed. When I started RHONY, I did not have the phone number for a single makeup artist (I now have eight, on two coasts). We had glam teams, courtesy of Bravo, only for our “confessionals” and a few of the “all-cast” events. It wasn’t until midway through season six — incidentally, also the year we all joined Instagram — that I recall glam becoming the rule and not the exception. It all started with a ruined blow-dry in the Berkshires: When Kristen splashed water on Ramona’s fresh blowout, and Ramona went, well, berserk, we knew that a new standard of glam had arrived. I suppose, after all those years, it was difficult to watch yourself on a high-definition TV screen and not want to make improvements.

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