Ali Levine is a celebrity stylist, host of the Striptd Down With Ali Levine podcast, former reality star of Bravo’s “Stripped,” married to Justin, and mother of two. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
While the novel coronavirus will change the future of reality TV, we’ll probably still continue to question whether or not anything is actually real behind the makings of these shows. Whatever changes the future may bring, I cannot help but think of my own life-changing experience in the world of what is often produced and scripted television under the guise of being real life.
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The Unreality of Reality
In 2010, my boyfriend and I moved to Los Angeles from New York in search of the career I had always dreamed of as a celebrity stylist. Soon after the move, I lost my grandmother, who was like a second mother to me. She was my rock and my center. When she passed, I felt like my legs were taken from underneath me. My world grew dark and instead of facing the pain openly, I built up walls around me with my work and career. While the professional results were undeniable — I styled celebrities like Jesse McCartney, Candace Bure, and Holly Robinson Peete — my relationships and personal life were crumbling.
Unexpectedly, those walls came crashing down when Bravo’s Stripped came knocking. There was no prize to compete for at the end of the show. No money to win. In fact, having nothing was essentially the foundation of the show. Contestants would be literally stripped of everything. Participants begin their 21 days on the show without clothes, money, furniture, not even a cell phone. We were given water, toilet paper, and rations. That’s it. And each day, one item – that’s right, ONE item – would be returned. All while participants were still expected to go to work, see family, and go about their daily routines.
By this time, my boyfriend and I were married and we were invited to be on the show together. I didn’t think much of the opportunity one way or the other, but for some reason my husband did. He looked at me and said, “You’re obsessed with fashion, you don’t make time for us or for yourself anymore. You could use a reset. Let’s do this.” In the moment, I simply said, “Sure, whatever. Let’s do it,” not thinking much of the potential consequences.
Of course, nothing about the actual experience was real. It is highly unlikely that any of us will ever be in a real-life scenario where we are naked, separated from everything we own, expected to go about our lives, all while cameras are recording our every action. But what was undeniably real, was how it changed my life, opened me up again, and prepared me for motherhood.
How Stripped Prepared Me for Motherhood
The experience on Stripped forced me to be vulnerable. I could no longer hide behind work when I was grieving. I could no longer use material items to avoid pain. Instead, I had to address the difficulties in my life head-on, without any distractions, and on camera for the world to see. During my 21 days on the show, I grew to find comfort and strength in my vulnerability. I allowed myself the space to begin grieving the loss of my grandmother. And my marriage began to heal and rebuild. It was a vulnerability I had avoided but slowly grew to accept and appreciate. It turns out this shift would also make me a better mother.
When we become mothers, we do more than birth our children. We also experience a rebirth of ourselves. We are stripped of everything that made us the women we were leading up to the birth of our child – we are exhausted, sore, and weak; the most vulnerable most of us have ever been in our adult lives. And in those same moments, we must also be the strongest we have ever been for the new life dependent on us to survive. If we let our vulnerabilities break us down, we can’t be there for our newborns. Instead, we must find peace and strength within our vulnerabilities as we work to give our babies so much of ourselves at the same time.
Finding Strength In Having Your Life Stripped a Way: A Lesson on Being a Mom During a Pandemic
Shortly after we filmed Stripped, we became pregnant with our daughter, and today I am a mother-of-two. Each day, I work to take on motherhood in its purest form and simply exist in the moments that are both challenging and beautiful, as there is nothing to hide behind when it comes to raising our children. Had it not been for my experience on Stripped I would likely be pushing back against these vulnerable moments rather than finding the beauty in them. I never expected reality television, something that so many argue is fake, would help me find more truth in my life than I had ever known and help me become the mother I am today.
Most people will never be a part of a show like Stripped and be able to learn the lessons I was able to take away from the experience firsthand. But in light of the pandemic, we are all living through a time that has stripped away the routines of life that we often hide behind. We are collectively living in a moment that has made us tremendously vulnerable, both emotionally and physically – even more so for mothers who are somehow now balancing more than ever before. However challenging it may be, let’s attempt to find a silver lining in this time and embrace our resulting vulnerabilities. If we do so, we can walk away from this experience with stronger relationships with our loved ones and be more connected to our children as mothers.