Talk about a makeover.
Used to be, the image of a housewife was as far from glamorous as you could get. There was nothing sexy about cooking, cleaning, hosting, mothering, and wearing a housedress all day long.
It seemed that being a housewife was what many women were, but nobody really wanted to be.
How times have changed. These days, TV is obsessed with housewives.
It started with Desperate Housewives, the conniving hot mommas of suburbia, who seemed more preoccupied with sex than souffles.
Latching on to their apron strings, Bravo launched what's become a franchise - first Real Housewives of Orange County, then New York and, last season, Atlanta (apparently the only city where housewives of color live, unless of course they find some when the cast for the upcoming Washington and Chicago editions).
And now New Jersey.
There's a whole lot that gets me about this latest Housewives installment chronicling the shenanigans of affluent, stay-at-home moms who do everything but stay at home.
And I do mean everything.
In the Real Housewives world of excess, everything is big. From the double-strand staircases gracing the entryways of their $1 million mansions in a tony enclave called Franklin Lakes (median income $163,000) to their American Express Black cards to the studly husbands who supply them with enough cash to pay for $150,000 worth of furniture in one shot.
To their Big Hair, of course.
These, they want us to believe, are real-life Jersey housewives.
But the issue goes deeper than artificially enhanced cleavage.
Let's get real.
Spa dates, six-figure shopping sprees, midday tennis lessons. Trust me, that's not the life of a real housewife in South Jersey.
"They don't want to watch what goes on in here every day," said Alysa Bannett, 41, who lives with her husband, Scott, and their three sons in Cherry Hill. "That wouldn't draw any ratings, I can tell you that."
Bannett's life consists of packing lunches, chauffeuring her boys to baseball, volunteering at her synagogue. And that's just fine with her.
"All I want to do is exercise and come home and make my turkey sandwich. I'm so happy."
In other words, all the drama you see on TV is exactly what Bannett is trying to avoid. For a real housewife, no drama means the family is OK.
Fact is, most women become housewives so they can be full-time mothers to their children, not keep standing appointments at the salon.
What, you don't live for big hair like the Housewives of New Jersey?
"In the '80s, I did have big hair," conceded Susan Wiedeman, 37, of Haddon Township, a stay-at-home mom of two young daughters. "My hair is naturally curly and thick, so I was prime-time with my hair."
But that's where the similarities end.
"I guess I'm the target audience for a show like that," she said. "I guess they think that's my way of escape, because that's so not my reality."
In her world, "every day is like Groundhog Day, over and over," she said.
After she had her oldest daughter, she went back to work as a kindergarten teacher. It didn't work.
"My husband and I would walk in the door at the same time," Wiedeman said. "I would come home exhausted, cranky, miserable. I'd much rather be home, watching my kids grow up."
The arrangement works for them. Wiedeman teaches her girls at home while hubby Paul, also a teacher, has coached the Haddonfield Memorial High School boys' basketball team to three state championships. He also has coached the golf team to one state championship.
Tracie Boatwright has no problem putting the "stay at home" in mom. Her reality is not some three-hour, wine-fueled lunch at a four-star restaurant, as it is for the TV housewives, but a quick cup of tea with a girlfriend at Panera Bread - if she has time.
The Mount Laurel mother of two daughters always knew what she wanted to do.
"My friends call me June Cleaver," Boatwright said. "I don't look like her, but I act like her."
Though she dutifully earned a psychology degree from Rutgers, she said, "This is my career, and I love it."
And unlike the Housewives of New Jersey, where the husbands pay but don't parent, Boatwright's husband, Charles, jumps right into the fray, even taking his eighth-grade daughter and her friends to Six Flags Great Adventure.
"My husband sat in the car for five hours," Boatwright said, "because he didn't want to cramp their style."
Note to Bravo: Real Husbands Who Pitch In.
Now that's a series that real real housewives would watch.