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The Tragedies & Triumphs Of Heidi Montag

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    The Hills premiered 10 years ago and unknowingly sparked a rivalry even Shakespeare would’ve deemed too dramatic: Lauren Conrad vs. Heidi Montag. And then eventually, Heidi Montag vs. Everybody.

    Which, in retrospect, didn’t make sense. First, Lauren and Heidi’s friendship began cracking upon the introduction of Spencer Pratt (Heidi’s then-boyfriend and current husband). And then it was Spencer we watched mastermind their fallout as he manipulated Heidi in moments of vulnerability and discouraged her from trying to repair the relationship between herself and her former friend.

    Plus, Heidi seemed to be genuinely battling with mental health issues. Recently, she sat down with Entertainment Tonight to talk about her reality TV legacy and admitted that both she and Spencer had become consumed with the characters they’d begun to take on which fueled her body image issues and eventually led to undergoing nearly a dozen cosmetic surgeries.

    “Everyone else in the show is in clubs and dealing with this and that, and we were dealing with this and that, and we were dealing with life-threatening, severe things,” she said. “We were just emotionally empty and spent at that point, and we really just needed support and set up and a team, and not to be cut down by everyone.”

    Which is what everyone did. Instead of recognizing that Heidi was clearly in jeopardy (and that Spencer was obviously struggling, too), we watched and made jokes because it was easy. We tended to see her as Lauren’s villain and Spencer’s victim, but never an actual person. And while social media had still not ushered in the era of mental health discourse we now seem to be welcoming (with a long way to go, mind you), we need to admit it: we really sh*t the bed when it came to talking about Heidi Montag.

    So let’s amend this. Considering Heidi’s story's the most complex, arguably the most interesting, and also a testament to how strong she is, let’s celebrate the triumphs and tragedies of Ms. Montag. We may have gotten her totally wrong, but perspective can lend itself to an evolved narrative.

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    TRIUMPH: Her (former) friendship with Lauren

    Behold, peak Heidi-Lauren friendship, waxing poetic about the trials and tribulations of love and boyfriends and being young. Hands up if you quoted this line. (Even if it never really applied to you.) Then, hands up if you watched this show with your best pals, looked over and said, “This is totally like us.” (Even though it never was because none of us lived lives like this.)

    Before the introduction to Spencer, Heidi and Lauren’s friendship was seriously on-par with the intensity of most of our own. At 21, their priorities were different which meant they had time for serious BFF bonding time while caring about things like nightclubs and going out. (Where at 30, we go out for somebody’s birthday and it better not be to a nightclub.) So while we knew their reality was nothing like ours, they created characters we could relate to, especially since Heidi and Lauren were so different. Lauren was safe — she wasn’t controversial. Heidi took risks and she made mistakes — Heidi was human.

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    TRAGEDY: The early Spencer fallout

    And then it all went awry when Spencer showed up and cracked the foundation of one of TV’s most beloved pairings. So with that in mind, drink every time you remember saying “he’s a sucky person” about anybody circa 2007 — and not because it was true, but because it was very funny that Lauren obviously wasn’t allowed to say “shitty.”

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    TRAGEDY: Spencer’s ultimatum

    So here’s the thing, though. While we now know that Heidi and Spencer’s relationship was likely night and day compared to what was depicted on TV, Heidi was immediately set up as the victim by producers for not just falling for Spencer in the first place, but by abiding by his commands. Spencer was painted as a domineering, manipulative bully who took advantage of Heidi’s kindness and admiration for him. So while we know that The Hills was nowhere nearly as dramatic as it came across (and we will never really know what parts of Heidi and Spencer’s relationships were legitimate), we still watched a young woman struggle with an emotional and mental abuser. And then we were expected to swallow that as entertainment. Which it was supposed to be — until you realize these aren’t actors reciting scripted dialogue with an outcome in mind. They were 20-somethings with no real control over their situation.

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    TRIUMPH: Heidi’s assertion of self

    Lest we forget one of the most important moments of the whole series. But here’s what we got wrong: while the sex tape rumors were admittedly the work of Spencer, Heidi still tried. Not only did she invite Lauren to her housewarming, she wrote her a note, and then tried to sort out their issues face-to-face. And sure, Les Dux was obviously the worst place in the world to do it. And also the note dealt with no real issues. But considering they’d been drinking, they were young, and that arguably no one was being rational (even a little bit), kudos to Heidi for still trying to sweep up the mess. Especially since she could’ve just defaulted to email or MSN chat. (Which still would’ve been quite a storyline.)

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    TRAGEDY: The Plastic Surgery Episode™

    Oh, but this wasn’t Heidi’s tragedy. It was ours, you guys. (We’re all the worst.)

    Looking back, I think we can recognize how completely off-side this episode — and story arc — was. After the promo worked to set up an ep that seemed nearly as dramatic as an instalment of ShondaLand (although Shonda Rhimes would never be so insensitive about someone’s addiction to cosmetic surgery), it led to us seeing only Heidi’s mom maintain any empathy. Lo and Stephanie Pratt — Heidi’s sister in law — gossip as if Heidi’s clearly not battling severe body dysmorphia. Spencer seems impartial. There’s no voice of concern, no conversations about body image, there’s not even a simple, “Are you okay?” And the rest of us ran with it, echoing the “OMG” revelations over discussions about mental health.