Most people tend to wave off reality shows like “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” “The Bachelor,” and “Dance Moms” for their melodramatic, often privileged take on everyday issues. The prominent image of wealth and entitlement in reality entertainment can be hard to watch, whether it’s from second-hand embarrassment or unsettling frustration with people who are so obsessed with their luxurious lives that they can’t recognize a struggle that isn’t their own.
“The Real Housewizes of Salt Lake City” has a similar format following six housewives– Jen Shah, Whitney Rose, Heather Gay, Meredith Marks, Mary Cosby, and Lisa Barlow through their everyday lives as they navigate the intricacies of female friendship--- but with a slight twist. Despite the show’s seemingly entitled trend, the religious issues at its core cultivates a more nuanced and complex narrative. As the United States’ capital of Mormonism, Salt Lake City doubles as a hub of obscene wealth, fashion, and eligible competitors in the race for Mormon perfectionism.
These six women bicker often, make up often, and spoil each other with expensive gifts and knick knacks more than anything. Each woman lives in a mansion (if not several), each set with maids, chauffeurs, cooks, and seemingly endless walk-in closets. While their wealth and privilege portrays them as stuck up, vulnerable moments in individual interviews reveal the shame and pressure that comes with upholding Mormon values, or in some cases being excommunicated from the Mormon Church. When personal aspirations and relationships meet the strict expectations of Mormonism, chaos ensues between partners, friends, and the community as a whole.
If this show demonstrates anything, it’s that religious influence penetrates our society in more ways than we recognize, whether or not we individually identify with a religion. Jen Shah, Heather Gay, and Whitney Rose each have deeply painful and complicated histories with the Mormon Church and still suffer the consequences of taking a step back through the judgement of their friends and their harsh inner-critics.
For most of these women, following in the footsteps of their Mormon ancestors is their legacy, and to be stripped of that purpose feels tragic. In Heather’s case especially, divorce meant being cast away from the church, leaving her family isolated and her daughters friendless. When Jen Shah recognized the racist undertones of the Church that discriminated against her husband and her sons, she converted to Islam and suffered a loss of support in friends and community. In a city that prioritizes religion above all else, these six women turn to each other for support and genuine connection that doesn’t rely on their religious affiliations.
This show is all about how we define each other and what we subconsciously prioritize as a prime characteristic in friends. Is it loyalty? Empathy? Compassion?
Is it Lisa Barlow’s Drive-through buffets?
Jen Shah’s closet of stilettos?
Mary Cosby’s innumerable properties?
Give it a watch. There’s more to it than you’d think.