December 10, 2020
While many elements of the genre are seen as retrograde, in series like the hit Real Housewives franchise being an older woman is no barrier to fabulousness
Witty, sexual – and menopausal: how reality TV made middle-aged women aspirational
After the runaway success of Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking, reality TV fans waited with bated breath for its latest Mumbai export, Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives. A cross between the Kardashians and the Real Housewives franchise, the show follows the lives of four Friends of 25 years - Maheep, Neelam, Bhavana, and Seema – across eight episodes. However, though the premise has potential, the first series fell flat; the lifestyles of the rich and famous are nothing without a side serving of schadenfreude. We don’t see enough of casts’ inner lives, or of Indian culture, to differentiate it from the conveyor belt of similar shows. It felt like we’d seen it all before.
Even so, it was still refreshing to see older Women talking about their hopes and fears on TV. In fact, it’s refreshing to see older women on a TV show, full stop. While many elements of reality TV are seen as retrograde, it is perhaps more progressive than other genres when it comes to the depiction of older women, inasmuch as it bothers to depict them. I’ve always adored the old-time glamour, only embodied after a certain age, that we see in snatches from the few older women we still allow to act – Cicely Tyson, Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren. My style hero since a young age has been my jewellery-dripping, high-flying grandmother (who only lets us call her “nana”, as she thinks “grandma” is less chic). But the Dynasty days of stylish, multifaceted older women are long gone, with most disappearing from the media past 50. They do in part, however, live on in a subsection of reality TV.
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