I should start off by saying that I have a strange love for Bravo's "Real Housewives" franchise. Can't get enough of it—I love Andy Cohen; I love the Countess; I love Sonja and her love life; and mostly, I love Lisa VanderPump and her dog, Giggy. I used to be solely devoted to the New York and New Jersey versions, until not one but four people pointedly told me that I really should be watching the Beverly Hills show. My friends must know me well. Those crazy gals might just be my favorites.
This morning, though, a friend sent me an article about a group of Hinsdale women who started a Facebook group called the "Real Housewives of Hinsdale." Since the article went up on TribLocal (and later on the Chicago Tribune homepage,) the group has amassed 1,678 fans on Facebook, and people seem pretty intrigued by the RHOH (as they refer to themselves.) Posts on the page range from fashion critiques of other Hinsdale residents to snide remarks about some women's plastic surgery overindulgence. The page's Information section says the page "is just for fun! If we can't laugh at ourselves, then we are really NOT living life to [its] fullest!" I wouldn't argue with that last sentence, but the first one seems a little misleading. After all, they're really just laughing at other people, right?
Maybe it's my nostalgia for the way Hinsdale used to be. Unlike some of the commenters on the Real Housewives of Hinsdale page, I grew up in this town. My childhood is filled with memories of a time before A.D.D., before Miller's closed, before the word "teardown" existed, and before Bravo started churning out reality shows (not that I'm complaining about that last one, necessarily). And the way that the RHOH have generalized the women in Hinsdale does not match up with what I saw growing up here, or what I see today.
A RHOH commenter told TribLocal that, to quote the article, "most Hinsdale housewives spend their days the same way ... 'They hang out at Starbucks religiously — the moms sit and talk about how gifted their kids are while the kids throw muffins and run around.'" TribLocal also writes that "some normal, down-to-earth people live there, [RHOH commenter Nancy] Beth said, but they are the exception in what is a 'very socially conscious kind of society.'"
Those comments are what irk me the most about the Real Housewives of Hinsdale group. Of course there are women in Hinsdale who play tennis and start their day at Starbucks and have tutors for their 6-year-olds. First of all, it's obnoxious to assume that all women in Hinsdale have the exact same lifestyle in a "Stepford wives" way—another choice description from the TribLocal article. I know plenty of women in Hinsdale who don't do any of those things. And second of all, it's obnoxious to infer that the women who do do these things should be vilified for it.
It all just seems so ... contrived. Really? Botox jokes as the height of comic genius? The RHOH appear to be imagining a lifestyle to fit the format that they see on television. The description of supposedly gifted kids throwing muffins around could be a description of practically any town in America. It strikes me as cattiness for cattiness' sake, and it's just unnecessary. I'm not saying that people, perhaps especially women, don't talk about other people behind their backs. We all do it. People who claim not to, or claim to be above it are, frankly, lying. I talk about other people far more than I probably should. (My friends will wholeheartedly back me up on this one.)
I am also 23 years old, which is at least a couple of decades younger than the creators of the RHOH page. And the idea of airing my personal opinions about someone else's appearance/husband/wardrobe/bra size/income or anything else on a website that literally anyone, including the subject of the gossip, with a Facebook account can see, is not only completely unappealing, but inconceivable. And I was literally living in a sorority house a year ago, if that gives you any frame of reference.
I am hard pressed to understand why anyone in Hinsdale would want to be seen in the same light as Bravo's Real Housewives. I don't know about you, but watching Kim and Kyle fight in the limo on the RHOBH finale did not look like something I ever want to be involved in. (And yes, I realize how stupid that whole sentence is.) I think the RHOH are trying to come off as classy and affluent ladies a la the Beverly Hills housewives, who include a Maloof and Kelsey Grammer's most recent ex-wife, but the flaunting of money and cheap-shots at friends and neighbors comes off much more like the new-money tackiness of the New Jersey girls—the opposite of class, if you ask me.
I guess my biggest problem with the RHOH page is that it seems to be the brainchild of a small group. From what I can tell, it's the same five or so women posting (at least until the group got some publicity this morning). And having grown up in Hinsdale, I don't see their mentality as the norm. Regardless of the income their family makes or the neighborhood they live in, most of the real Hinsdale "housewives" that I know would be embarrassed to be lumped in with this Facebook group. It's not reality—it's what we see on reality television, which apparently is not enough of a distinction for some people. My reality of Hinsdale is still, for the most part, the small town I grew up in. My neighborhood is still full of people who are genuine friends to each other, and who have been there for each other through good times and bad—but maybe that's just a bonus of growing up on South Adams Street. Among the families that I know in Hinsdale, there are decades-old friendships that are based on mutual respect and caring. If someone in Hinsdale's spouse or sibling or parent dies, or if their child is sick, it's not unusual for friends to organize a meal delivery schedule for that person's family, without the hope of recognition or reimbursement. And situations like that are not rare. Just last weekend, I wrote an article for Patch about Hinsdale's Walk the Walk for Autism, which drew nearly a thousand people from the area. I just can't reconcile the support I saw that day with an image of Hinsdale as a town full of shallow people hell-bent on tearing each other down while rising through the social ranks.
Be honest, RHOH: Would you have created such a group if you weren't trying to emulate the Bravo ladies? That's something I can't get behind—no matter how much I loved watching Teresa overturn a table at the Brownstone to get at Danielle (seriously, if you don't watch the Real Housewives, I'm sorry—but you should, it's hilarious), I would never want to be her. Their lifestyle isn't aspirational; it's barely real. And to assume that most women in Hinsdale wish to associate themselves with an over-the-top reality show franchise is not only false, but embarrassing.
I'm not trying to say that Hinsdale is some haven of peace, devoid of any and all "keeping up with the Joneses'" mentality. There are terrible people everywhere. (Clearly.) And I understand that things like the RHOH are usually in good fun, but now that the entirety of Chicagoland is judging Hinsdale based on one article about one group of women, I think I (and, from what I can tell, many other Hinsdale residents) are justified in feeling a little irritated. Maybe it's time to change the group's name, from the "Real Housewives of Hinsdale" to "Five Women Who Happen to Live in Hinsdale and Want to Validate the Worst Stereotypes about Their Town." After all, one post on the Facebook page asks:
"Don't you just hate those mornings when someone is at your door with a scheduled furniture delivery you forgot about and you're still in your pink robe on the phone defending yourself to a friend that got offended after you spoke your mind the other night at a girls night out, you still haven't got your run in yet and you need to be at a committee meeting in an hour?"
Actually, I'm not sure many people can recall the last time they've had to "defend themselves to a friend" over something like that. Maybe if the RHOH have so much drama in their lives, they should blame it on themselves, rather than chalking it up to a side-effect of living in Hinsdale.