“This is the first time in my life I’ve been a ‘housewife.’ I don’t think anyone is a housewife anymore,” says Lisa Barlow as she ushers me into her home. “Taxi driver, mom, entrepreneur…but housewife?”
Lisa is a housewife now, though, one of six who stars in Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, the latest iteration of the popular reality show from Bravo. Previous shows included housewives from Beverly Hills, Dallas, Atlanta; the first-ever show, Real Housewives of Orange County, premiered in 2006, and its success spawned the others.
The show has been endlessly parodied and criticized for portraying women, as Gloria Steinem (not a fan) says, “all dressed up and inflated and plastic surgeried and false bosomed and an incredible amount of money spent, not getting along with each other.” As of this writing, I’ve only seen two episodes of the Salt Lake iteration, but I do know Lisa Barlow—yes, all dressed up and undeniably glamorous- looking, but also an energetic promoter of Utah and Vida Tequila and an enthusiastic mother of two boys.I was curious to see what she thought of the reality show’s depiction of her and her city. Also, is it fun to be a real housewife?
Bravo looks for cities with distinct personalities and few cities in the U.S. have as distinctly odd a personality as Salt Lake City, the only city in the country founded on and the home base of a religion, as Rome is to Catholics. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is central to the culture here, whether or not you are a member. And it’s central to SLC’s Real Housewives, each of whom has her own relationship to the religion. Lisa was raised culturally Jewish and converted to Mormonism when a missionary knocked on her family’s New York door.
“Some people aren’t comfortable with themselves and their religion,” says Barlow. “They say, ‘’the church wronged me, so I can have a drink.’ Or, she says, they feel like they have to be perfect. “I practice the LDS faith the way it works for me and my family. I’m not culturally Mormon. A friend called me Mormon 2.0.” (Among other ventures, she and her husband John own Vida Tequila.) “I never would have come to Utah if we weren’t Mormon. I’m grateful for the way I live it. No one judges us. People ask us why we live in Draper.” (Draper, like many Salt Lake City suburbs, is distinctly un-glamorous.) But Lisa says, “We love our neighborhood—there are lots of transplants here. This is our home, we’re going to stay.”
Not everything, apparently, is about appearances.
Bravo also searches out women (housewives) with distinct personalities. From what I know of Lisa, she must be their dream candidate. She leads me into her home’s main room—soaring ceilings, black grand piano (she plays piano and flute), custom furniture from Dressed Design in Park City, a kitchen with such sleekly discreet appliances it takes me a minute to realize the space has any functionality at all. “John insisted I put outlets in,” she says. “But we never eat at home.” Housewife?
The entire house is minimalist—everything, even the kids’ rooms, the giant paintings, all by Chris Moratta, and the personal salon Lisa is having built—is black and white “with shots of gray.” It seems to me, as I’m shown through the in-process remodel with Lisa narrating every step of the way, that she’s the only thing in color. I don’t mean literally. She’s dressed in black, except for the black and white hounds tooth high-heel boots with the rhinestone buckles. (“This is the first time I’ve gotten them out this year,” she says.) It’s just that with Lisa’s high-animation and energy, there’s no need for color. It’s easy to picture how her bold outspokenness could cause welcome sparks on a show that replaces plot lines with unscripted personal interactions. “Each of us has our own producer,” says Lisa, talking about RHOSLC. “How you choose to act is on you.”
But how the show turns out is up to the editors. And while it’s weird to write about a show I haven’t even seen yet, it’s weirder because even Lisa hadn’t seen the show at the time we sat down for this interview. She had no idea how she and SLC will come off to viewers.
“I hold myself to a high standard. But they insisted on filming while we were remodeling. And they trash your house,” says Lisa. “There were 11 or 12 people in the room whenever we shot here. After a while, though, you don’t notice them and you just are in the moment. There are moments when you think you’re by yourself and then you see the camera and say, ‘oh no, they got me.’ I’m OK with whatever because I know who I am.” In Lisa’s opinion, that’s what creates the dramatic tension. “People need time to process,” she says. “In this show, you don’t have time to think about what someone just said to you. You just react.”
We are seated in silver-skinned chairs around the dining room table when son Henry walks in to tell his mother he’s going to a friend’s to play. “OK,” says Lisa. “Be safe and keep your phone with you.” “And my watch,” says Henry as he leaves, flashing his Apple Watch. When 16-year-old Jack comes in, Lisa asks him to tell me about his new business. “It’s grooming products for men,” he says. “It’s called ‘Fresh Wolf.’ We sell it online and we give proceeds to foster care.” (John spent part of his childhood in foster care, so it’s a big family awareness.)
I try to imagine my grown son at 16, coming up with such an idea and describing it to a perfect stranger, but I fail.
“We filmed a lot of my segments with the family,” says Lisa. “Mostly it was fine but one day Henry walked in, took a look at the camera and chaos, and ran back out the front door yelling ‘I’m not doing this today!’ Bravo was fabulous. They just let things happen.”
There were good days and bad days during the filming, according to Lisa. “The day we did the ski lift shot, I ripped my gown and had to be sewn into it.” But much of her continued enthusiasm for the show lies in her opportunity to show off the city she’s proud of. “We’re such a gay-friendly town,” she says. “No one knows that. And we’re a great foodie town. And we have incredibly talented bartenders. No one expected that from Salt Lake City.”
Lisa’s vivacity fills the conversation and the house, and, it seems, her life. As she tells it, Bravo shot lots of scenes with her and her children and her spouse, John. Within weeks of shooting, she says, “The producer told me, ‘Let John talk.’” John is in the room for the anecdote. He laughs.
So does Lisa. “My big mouth is what helped me get here.”
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