Vanderpump Rules returned on Monday sucking us all back into the behind-the-scenes, camera-ready drama of SUR. Not much has changed for the cast since last season’s finale. Busboy and DJ James and hostess Lala still operate on the outside of the core group of SUR servers and bartenders, showing up to stir up trouble, working as foils for Katie, Kristen, and Scheana, or both. No one on the show is known for good manners and James and Lala least of all. During the premiere, the whole cast goes to a sponsored party to take advantage of the drinks and photo ops on the step and repeat. James and Lala are not welcome at the cozy corner booth secured by their co-workers. They both lash out. “I can see that everybody here has not been working on their summer bodies,” Lala says, starting the conversation. James escalates it by saying to Katie, “Wait, are you pregnant? Oh my god, congratulations!” This comment sets off a confrontation that ends with a brawl and broken glass. The insults crossed a line even with this group of people who regularly hurl hurtful names and epithets at each other. Just before James and Lala arrived, in fact, there was talk about Jax discovering his girlfriend Brittany in bed with Kristen. Gossip and slut-shaming go seemingly unnoticed with this crew, but James’ body-shaming pregnancy comment sent the group over the edge. James’ comment is reminiscent of a similar controversy involving Jennifer Aniston last summer. A tabloid posted a bathing suit photo of Aniston, claiming, for what has to be the hundredth time, that Aniston was expecting. The claim sparked a conversation about how women’s bodies are judged and scrutinized. Aniston was, in her own words, “fed up” and wrote an essay for The Huffington Post about her experiences with body-shaming and the media. “We use celebrity “news” to perpetuate this dehumanizing view of females, focused solely on one’s physical appearance, which tabloids turn into a sporting event of speculation,” she wrote.
"Sexy" might have many faces in the real world but, in Lisa Vanderpump’s, it starts with being able to fit into the tiny or tight uniforms worn by the staff.
She also pointed to the particular problem of the pregnancy rumor (or insult as is the case with the Vanderpump Rules premiere) as a two-pronged problem. Not only do others feel the need to comment on physical appearance, but also pregnancy and motherhood suggest certain historical roles and expectations for women. Aniston’s point, quite correctly, is that these stories, both consciously and unconsciously, send harmful messages to women and girls about beauty and femininity. Which brings us back to SUR and Vanderpump Rules cast. Granted, the show takes place in Los Angeles, notorious for its image consciousness, and the Vanderpump Rules cast are, or at least were when the show premiered in 2013, all aspiring actors, models, and musicians. So, as Aniston points out in her essay, they live with an enhanced level of public scrutiny about their appearance. In the smaller world of this show, people have been called every name in the book, but being perceived as overweight or unattractive is unacceptable. This standard begins with the very name of the restaurant: SUR stands for Sexy Unusual Restaurant. "Sexy" might have many faces in the real world but in Lisa Vanderpump’s, it starts with being able to fit into the tiny or tight uniforms worn by the staff. Body image issues or body-shaming is not the sole provenance of the female cast members. Likewise, eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder are not just women’s issues. The National Eating Disorders Association points to several studies focused on men that show that many men have misconceived notions about their appearance and perceived masculinity. (Just last week, Zayn Malik said he struggled with was he calls an undiagnosed “eating disorder” while he was in One Direction.) Completely unscientific and heavily-edited, reality-show anecdotal evidence backs this up at SUR. Jax’s vanity could be its own character fighting for screen time with Tom Sandoval’s hair, which has, in the past, merited a how-to video on the Bravo site. James is not immune to these sorts of insecurities. He went to the body-shaming pregnancy comment because he knew that it would mostly hurt the people hurting him by, literally, excluding him from the cool kids' table. Whether he was hurt or not, James had no right to comment on Kristen’s body. But in a world as nasty and superficial as the one created by and for Vanderpump Rules, it is no surprise he went there for an insult. The surprise is that, after all of the insults, backstabbing, and conniving, that there are still some things that cross a line for the cast.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.