The Not-So-Real Housewives of Vancouver

The Real Housewives of Vancouver demonstrate that you can still be faking it, long after you’ve made it.

The ”Real” Housewives of Vancouver | BCBusiness
Watching the plastic surgery cases on parade during The Real Housewives of Vancouver

The Real Housewives of Vancouver demonstrate that you can still be faking it, long after you’ve made it.

For many years the Vancouver Canucks have proven there’s a big audience for wealthy, well-padded gladiators engaged in vicious battles, so The Real Housewives of Vancouver was a natural fit. The TV series, successor to versions based in places like Beverly Hills, New York and Miami, is a winner for the Slice Network, which reported record-high ratings for early episodes. Power plays, slashing (some nasty folks would even whisper “hooking”), the occasional pass, face masks and, as always when competitive women get together, plenty of body-checking (who did Reiko’s implants? And how does Mary keep her butt so small?). Even when the game is romance, everybody seems to be focused on the net. Gross? Viewers didn’t seem to think so.

The considerable buzz over Real Housewives seemed equal parts enthusiasm, outrage and morbid fascination. But if envy is, in fact, the dominant reaction, then the implications are disturbing. Could Real Housewives really succeed in bringing back the Hummer? Will discarded Botox needles become a public health issue in West Vancouver?

Product placement has become so important that the proceeds can fund entire film budgets. Most of it is as blatant as Daniel Craig hoisting a Heineken, as he will reportedly do in the upcoming James Bond flick, Skyfall. But it can be inadvertent, too. If I was a Vancouver plastic surgeon I’d be pretty optimistic right now.

Real Housewives certainly has its share of surgical special effects. Not that’s there’s anything wrong with that – necessarily. But it does represent a genuine culture shift in Vancouver. We’ve been less likely to add and subtract parts, in these parts.

Back in 2004, plastic surgeons descended on Vancouver from around the world for the convention of the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS). Techniques and troubles were discussed, some of which would surely give prospective clients pause. One presentation dealt with “Spontaneous Auto Inflation of Saline Mammary Implants.” Just as it sounds: a single breast implant goes rogue, leaving its partner behind and achieving porn-star size.

At the time, experts I spoke with suggested that Canadian rates of plastic surgery were running at about half the U.S. market. (The 2010 figures from ISAPS rank Canada 16th in total procedures with the U.S. and Brazil ranking first and second.) Anecdotal confirmation was provided by Italian surgeon Dr. Mauro Tarallo, of Rome. He was impressed with the natural beauty he saw in Vancouver, and he didn’t just mean Stanley Park. “I don’t see much plastic surgery around Vancouver,” Tarallo said then. “In L.A., I see it all over. But here, not many girls seem to have had facial work done. I haven’t seen as many implants either.”

The doctor offered a theory about this: “Maybe the young women here are not so fixated on body image.”

He was clearly insane, but I’m sure it didn’t affect his work. It’s not a question of whether we fixate on body image – most of us do, to some extent – as it is how we respond to our insecurities. Scalpels or salads? Biking or butt lifts?

Plastic surgery is popular enough to support a healthy community of reputable Vancouver surgeons who can boast many satisfied customers. But one point accidentally made by Real Housewives is that certain surgeries can leave their own distinct look. Eventually cosmetic surgery patients can come to resemble each other, like some artificially created 21st-century race. The solution may lie in a philosophy rarely highlighted on The Real Housewives of Vancouver: moderation.

Good luck pitching a reality series about that.