Iyanla: Fix My Life Is Proof That Sometimes Our Aunties Get It Wrong

Photo: Courtesy of OWN.
Jerry Springer has an affinity for extreme cheating cases. Maury Povich has mastered the art of the paternity reveal on his eponymous talk show. Iyanla Vanzant — the life coach and New Thought spiritualist co-signed by Oprah herself — has also found a profitable niche for her show Iyanla: Fix My Life: scurrilous reality stars and other Black socialites. Vanzant “fixes” people’s lives from the comfort, and sometimes discomfort, of their own homes. She is often seated in their clean kitchen or living room, asking hard questions and offering her authoritative take on where they went wrong in their lives and relationship. But while the format of her show implies that Vanzant has established a more meaningful connection with its subjects and the issues they experience, Fix My Life offers viewers the same thing Povich and Springer offer their viewers: the chance to take a position of moral superiority, mock celebrities, and uphold tired respectability politics.
Not all of Vanzant’s clients are reality stars. She diversifies her show by also including guests with an assortment of woes, like the man with 34 children, a woman who was kidnapped at birth, and a 600-pound woman hoping to walk again. Vanzant is also known to dedicate several episodes over the course of one season to a big-picture issues in the Black community, like the stereotype of “the angry Black woman” and colorism. However, the episodes that feature some of the most controversial names in contemporary urban media tend to be the most memorable and buzzed about. Violent altercations, drug scandals, and sexual controversy are what many of the famous people on Fix My Life are known for before meeting Vanzant, giving the self-improvement expert quite a bit to work with.
Evelyn Lozada, one of the stars of Basketball Wives, was at the center of the two-part series premiere of Fix My Life in 2012. She provided intimate details about her abusive relationship with football star Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, after news of his violence made headlines. The concluding episode of Lozada’s special brought in the highest viewership in the show’s history, and Vanzant is clearly still chasing the high. Laura Govan of Basketball Wives: LA fame brought her family along to remedy their issues with Vanzant. Trina Braxton sought help with a complicated situation involving her ex-husband. Instagram model and ex-fiancé of Rick Ross Lira Galore has also been part of one of Vanzant’s “healing circles.” Co-parent’s Erica Jean and Saigon from Love & Hip-Hop tried to work their issues, and even rapper DMX let Vanzant host a mediation between him and his estranged son.
Fix My Life offers these personalities the opportunity to reach a different audience and change the narrative about them and their brands. Fix My Life is all about redemption. But thanks to Vanzant and her audience, that is not always the perception that viewers are left with.
Vanzant has found a unique lane for herself combining tenets of New Thought with Black colloquialisms and a racialized version of “tough love.” She unapologetically calls out her guests on what she identifies as “misbehavior” — a fair categorization for someone like Lozada who has been known to throw a drink at someone mid argument — and holds them accountable for their mistakes. Vanzant has locked in a fanbase that relies on her to “keep it real.” Ironically, this often involves Vanzant being animated, yelling, and occasionally invading the personal space of her guests. In some ways, her behavior is just as outlandish as her guests.
But Vanzant balances this approach with the socially conservative etiquette of the Black upper-middle class. As a TV personality, she carefully toes the line of popularized Black stereotypes like the mammy, the mythical negro, and the strong Black woman. She touts sanitized versions of Black History and often reminds us of the foundations laid for us by elders and ancestors. Trauma, to her, is an affliction that can and should be overcome with some positive affirmations and an admission that you have mommy or daddy issues. But for viewers, she is basically the stuff bougie, well-to-do aunties are made of. And if you have or know a Black auntie, you know that being judgmental is one of their calling cards.
When Karrueche Tran split with Chris Brown after finding out that he’d fathered a child with someone else online, she also went on Fix My Life to tearfully tell her side of the story. It was her chance to show the world she’s human, and not just someone’s girlfriend. Vanzant extended some empathy, but she spent a lot of the episode reprimanding Tran for making “classic mistakes” in her dating decisions with Brown and harping on her daddy issues. Following the episode, Black Twitter was ablaze with jokes about “classic mistakes” and the lengths Vanzant was willing to go to belittle Tran while empowering her.
Earlier this month, Hazel-E, a villainous personality on Love & Hip-Hop: Hollywood, was the latest reality star to join Vanzant on Fix My Life. Hazel’s reputation as a combative member of the LHHH cast was tarnished even further when she, a light-skinned Black woman, went on several social media tirades about dark-skinned women, referring to them as “dark butts” and insisting that they hated her because she was light-skinned and thus prettier than them. Vanzant pulled out a lot of her usual stops. She moderated a conversation between Hazel and other Black women in pop culture like Raven Goodwin and Estelle to talk about the effects of colorism. She spoke with Hazel’s mother and made her share in some of the blame for her daughter’s actions. But the highlight of the episode was when Vanzant had Hazel speak the words of her song “Pop My Butt” to pictures of Black history icons like Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Sojourner Truth on Vanzant’s wall.
It was a moment that was supposed to make Hazel face the arrogance of her position as a Black woman obsessed with beauty, “turning up,” and the idea that the complexion of her skin made her better than other Black women. Instead of impactful, it turned out to be laughably ridiculous, and the internet responded in the best way they know how, with memes.
Unmoved by the threat of a thrown drink or pulled weave, Vanzant is willing to subject her guests to public embarrassment to get a reaction out of viewers. And it works every time. Watching Fix My Life does not appeal to our, the viewers, innate sense that things could be better in our own lives. Vanzant taps into that market with her speaking engagements and workshops. But Fix My Life offers viewers something entirely different. They get to join Vanzant in the role of fixer. The allure of the show is getting to play judge and juror over the problems in someone else’s life. Reality stars put their dirty laundry on display for us to build up an opinion on how much it stinks. Then Vanzant lets us release the build-up of those opinions by bearing witness to her putting them in their place.
Our society comes with a pre-written script about how Black people should act and present themselves. They often demand that Black women be mild-mannered, sexually pure, and ladylike. Men should be strong, upstanding members of society, responsible for everyone around them. Women like Vanzant, proverbial and literal Black aunties, are unofficial gatekeepers of that code, tsk’ing us when we fall short and nodding curtly even when we get it right. We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t, but for fans of Fix My Life, the fallout is fun to watch either way.

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