Surreal didn’t begin to explain my feelings when I saw my cleavage on the side of a New York City bus for the first time. I was in shock when I discovered more advertisements, larger than my Brooklyn apartment, plastered in every popular subway station. It was just beyond weird to be mindlessly flipping through the latest edition of Us Weekly while getting a pedicure and come across pictures of myself.
The hair and makeup were bad enough, but that cleavage. After living with my 32 B’s for 30 years, I was pretty darn certain that those E cups were not mine. The short-lived reality show, “The Naughty Kitchen With Chef Blythe Beck,” advertised by my inflated anatomy, premiered on the Oxygen network shortly after I began to pursue my real career.
I never set out to be the next Bad Girl, Real Housewife, or Kardashian. I was working in Dallas, saving money to move to New York, where I’d been accepted at The New School’s journalism program. I’d been dabbling in real estate when my friend Megan, who managed the upscale Hotel Palomar in my Texas hometown, needed a new cocktail waitress. I was hired on the spot. I worked three nights a week, meeting fun people and making good money to fund my move. I had little reason to think anything of it when Megan mentioned hiring Blythe Beck, an infamous 28-year-old Dallas chef and local celebrity.
Blythe was a large girl, with an even larger personality. While working as an executive chef at another restaurant, she met two reality TV producers who liked her shtick — a sassy and loud female chef with a “naughty” cooking style. Blythe is known for her southern cuisine with a gourmet twist and savory punch, like short ribs cooked in malt liquor, and prawns sautéed in illegal amounts of butter. She stood out from other female chefs in Texas because of her self-confidence, sense of humor, and her take-me-or-leave-me attitude.
Filming began and I managed to avoid the cameras for a month when producers announced that Blythe was in need of someone to play the part of her “makeup artist.” Word got back to her that I used to dabble in makeup artistry for fun, primarily practicing on friends for weddings and galas. Her producers suggested a trial run, before offering a compensation package that was hard to pass up. The only catch: I would have to become a small part of the show, since I was going to be with her for every on-camera function. I obliged, looking forward to the $500 per episode payouts that would support my New York fund.
I made a personal vow to never give producers the on-camera drama they were hungry for. Let’s be honest, with the endless amounts of reality shows invading our televisions these days, it doesn’t take a seasoned industry professional to know that sex, humiliation, violence, debauchery, and stupidity is what inflates ratings. If Snooki and the “Jersey Shore” gang played sober Yahtzee every night before climbing alone into bed, MTV would have yanked the show after one season. I was fully aware that I, along with the other cast members, would be expected to make a “scene” in one way or another, multiple times on cue. Whether or not I chose to partake in that said scene, I decided, would be strictly up to me, and no amount of alcohol or prodding would persuade me to oblige. I played ultra-nice for the cameras, and then made a clean exit when it came time for my move to the Big Apple (there was still one month of filming left). I said my goodbyes on-air to Blythe and crew my last night in town.
Two months and four days after moving to New York, I was heading out to run a little errand when I saw my huge breasts on a NYC bus.
That cleavage. My cleavage? Oh God.
The title of the show had been strategically positioned right over those photoshopped monstrosities sitting on my chest: “The Naughty Kitchen With Chef Blythe Beck.”
Naughty? Oh no.
Panic sank in and I started contemplating ways I could hold a national press conference explaining that “The Naughty Kitchen” actually referred to the chef’’s cooking style — making food naughty with butter and spice– NOT playing a game of hide-the-sausage-in-the-kitchen. Thank God my father lived thousands of miles away from all New York City public transportation because he would have died.
I flashed back to the day of our photo shoot. The photographer was an Aussie who shot all of the glossy “Top Chef” promos. We each had our own wardrobe, and the catering rivaled any buffet at a Golden Corral. We had a small taste of fame that day, if even for just a moment. By the time I got out of hair and makeup and away from the debate with wardrobe about the fact that no amount of foam cups were going to make my boobs the size they’d hoped for, I was exhausted. But I fantasized about how the photos would turn out, where they would turn up, and the wonders of what Photoshop would do for my acceptable-enough-already appearance. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t seduced by the idea of a larger-than-life image of myself taking up prime New York real estate. A small part of me also wondered what national visibility could do to launch my writing career.
All that changed when I saw the advertisement. Instead of a prized Bill Cunningham shot or even the Page Six excerpt I’d dreamt of, I was a digitally distorted assemblage of body parts on a dirty subway wall next to an ad for “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” I should mention that RuPaul’s hair, makeup, and boobs looked way better than “mine.” I’ll go on the record saying that I believe I am the only individual in the history of reality TV for whom Photoshop did not work in my favor. My Vogue dreams were bulldozed every time I walked passed an ad featuring my botched body. Thanks to Photoshop, I would forever be a busty, clumsy cocktail waitress who was spilling what appeared to be a Cosmo. The show had made my boobs and hips bigger, but my chances for professional success dramatically smaller, I feared. How could Anna Wintour and Vogue editor Hamish Bowles ever take me seriously after seeing it?
The show only ran for eight episodes. I was featured very little each week. When I was, it was a sweet depiction, showcasing the laughs and tender moments that Blythe and I shared during countless hours of hair and makeup. Snooki, take note: Even if you are 18 tequila shots in, you can still be as good as you want to be on camera. But then again, Snooki is a star, and I’m perfectly happy being a little known (if at all) writer in the city.
Soon enough, a more popular reality show advertisement covered ours. New Yorkers forgot about “The Naughty Kitchen With Chef Blythe Beck” and moved on to the latest season of “The Real Housewives” or “So You Think You Can Dance.” I no longer have to stand on the opposite side of the subway platform from my fake chest hoping no one will make the connection. What I once thought of as career-ruining mistake, has faded away into a little “remember when?” that I can laugh about with friends. Luckily, no damage was done to my barely burgeoning career.
I’ve learned that the only way to go about getting the success that I want is by working hard at whatever it is I actually want to be known for. I’d rather scrape by for any amount of time it takes to become the writer I want to be, than to sell myself short for unwanted notoriety regardless of the promise, or paycheck. Next time I’m on a New York City bus, I plan on being the one to pick the digital editor, as well as the platform.