Disclaimer: this post contains Selling Sunset season 4 spoilers.
I discovered Selling Sunset during my first maternity leave in 2019, before it was “a thing”. The only other person I knew watching it was my colleague who’d also given birth recently. Million dollar properties, The Hills-style dramz and a gorgeous LA backdrop – it provided the perfect escapism during those wild sleep-deprived newborn days. When I found out the long-anticipated fourth season would be dropping during my second maternity leave, to say I was excited was an understatement. I settled onto the sofa during nap time ready to binge as many 30 minute episodes as my little one would allow. This time though, it didn’t quite deliver the same high-gloss reality TV dopamine hit that previous seasons had.
In season four, the properties play a supporting role as the cat fights get cattier, the heels higher and the clothes more OTT than ever. Then there’s the Christine Quinn storyline. The show’s scene-stealer first appears in series four 9 months pregnant wearing a see-through fishnet dress, vertiginous heels and a £1000 jewel-encrusted “chair” bag by AREA. Except it’s not a bag, it’s just a miniature chair. No, I don’t understand either, but Christine’s insane wardrobe is a whole other feature. Fast-forward a couple of episodes and Christine has had her baby (delivered by emergency C-section). Do we find her curled up on the sofa in loungewear, PJs or her maternity leggings (assuming Balenciaga makes maternity leggings, that is) Nope, she walks down the stairs to meet Amanza and Vanessa, two-day old babe in her arms, wearing a body-con Fendi logo mini dress. There’s no wincing as she takes each step, no sharp intake of breath as she folds herself down onto the sofa. As someone who’s had two C-sections, neither one elective, there’s nothing familiar, nothing I can relate to about the scene unfolding before my eyes. I immediately find myself thinking back to my early newborn days…didn’t I have to brace myself every time I got up and down? Didn’t I have to hold on to someone or something, and take a minute once vertical to breathe through the pain before attempting to move? Didn’t I sometimes walk upstairs sideways, holding onto the wall so as not to put pressure on my tender scar while my partner carried the baby behind me? Yes, I definitely did.
The next time we see Christine she’s two weeks postnatal, viewing a house with Vanessa in a blue croc leather crop top and mini skirt and platform mules. “Look at me, I just had a baby and I’m back in my stripper heels”, she says. Did I imagine it, or was she at least taking the stairs slightly tentatively, holding onto the handrail with an outstretched arm for as long as she possibly could? Perhaps. For me, it all made for an uncomfortable watch. I couldn’t help but think of all the new mothers (and not so new mothers) who would be tuning in for a bit of much-needed escapism, only to be left feeling that somehow they weren’t doing this motherhood thing right because Christine’s depiction of it is about as far from their reality as the palm-tree lined streets of LA. When I shared my thoughts on Insta stories, so many of you echoed my frustrations:
“18 weeks post section and I still couldn’t lift my leg up like that. Well tbh couldn’t before either.”
“I can only assume there’s some help 😅 I’m yet to know anyone looking that amazing after birth 😂 or maybe it was the Botox she said she couldn’t wait to get.”
“Also had an emergency c-section and spent the whole time with a lot of expletives asking how on earth she was moving / dressing / living like she was! 😂”
“I love Christine but this made me feel so uncomfortable. I still had a bump for at least 2-3 weeks post-emergency C-section (not to mention emotional trauma) and could barely move without pain for at least 5-10 days! Is the show fudging the actual timeline (if so, that’s totally messed up), does Christine feel such a need to fit in with LA society and standards that she has ignored any recovery her body needs or is she basically a walking miracle (with a side of liposuction)?”
“Me and my husband were saying just that. And how probably a lot of women who have just had a baby are watching this and probably wondering why they aren’t as “amazing” as Christine. I personally found it was done in poor taste. They kept going on about how she only had a baby 4 weeks ago and how amazing she looked. I think it would have been fine if it was mentioned once and that was it.”
That’s the other problematic issue with this storyline – the incessant praising of Christine’s ability to “bounce back”. By the third episode of the series, I’d lost count of the amount of “how do you look like that after having a baby/did you even have a baby?” comments Christine received from her female co-stars. Upon seeing her days-old baby for the first time, Amanza exclaimed: “Oh my gosh, I forgot how tiny they are” – immediately followed by, “look how tiny YOU are”. The bounce back narrative and focus on congratulating Christine on how her body looked, rather than what it has done – grown and birthed a baby – feels crass and out of touch in 2021. As does the show’s lack of representation of other bodies than thin, mainly white ones, but again, that’s another feature. Read the room guys.
My issue with Selling Sunset’s portrayal of Christine’s post-birth recovery is that it perpetuates the myth that a C-section is the “easy option”, that some women – especially women with million-dollar mansions, immaculate hair and make-up and couture wardrobes – are “too posh to push”. In reality, Christine had an emergency C-section because her baby was in the wrong position with his umbilical cord wrapped around him and his heart rate dropping – as was hers. In one episode, Christine explains that at one point, the doctors told her husband “You need to make a priority right now. You have to choose one.” I can’t even imagine how traumatic that situation must have been, but I do know that trauma can have a hugely detrimental affect on recovery. While my first section wasn’t traumatic itself, my son was taken into special care six hours after being born and stayed there for almost a week. I was left on a maternity ward with no baby and for two days I lay in a bed, catheterised and on morphine. No-one encouraged me to try and move, so when I finally did, the pain blindsided me. Moving mobilises scar tissue and stops it from laying down in a way that can cause tightness and, in turn, difficulty and pain moving freely. After that first section, I was left with a scar that stayed raised, red and angry-looking for two years. I firmly believe that the trauma of my child being in special care and the delay in moving my body contributed to a delayed recovery. When it was decided I would need a C-section with my second child, the consultant looked at my original scar and suggested cutting it out before performing the operation, otherwise I’d risk being left with so much scar tissue it would have lasting repercussions. Thanks to her, and the midwives who – to my horror – came in and told me it was time to get up and go to the toilet twelve hours after giving birth, my recovery second time round was a whole different ball game. So yes, getting up and about (within reason) is essential to successful recovery, but there’s a big difference between taking a walk around the block and tackling stairs in stripper heels two weeks after giving birth.
I guess the Selling Sunset storyline hit a nerve in terms of the frustrations I have with the care – or lack of – for women who have C-sections. It’s only through my work as a pre and postnatal personal trainer and my professional relationships with women’s health physiotherapists (who I saw after both births) that I know about scar massage. Not one GP, midwife or health visitor showed me how to massage my scar, despite the fact it can help improve physical symptoms such as numbness, swelling and sensitivity as well as re-connecting with your body on an emotional level and help to process the trauma often associated with this type of delivery. C-section recovery isn’t treated with the gravitas it needs to be. Compared to something like ACL knee surgery, where you go home with a detailed programme of rehab exercises and physio appointments, after a section you’re sent home with some ibuprofen and paracetamol and told to return to “gentle activities” – but not lift anything – then wait to see your GP at six weeks. Selling Sunset’s depiction of life post-C-section does nothing to help the cause. A 2019 study by research body Biomedical Central (BMC) backs this up, finding that “those undergoing a section for the first time reported not feeling confident in their ability to identify signs of infection and sought visiting health professionals’ expertise and reassurance. Women were unable to recall whether they had received information regarding infection prevention and felt that they had not received sufficient advice. Some reported receiving general information regarding CS recovery, which ranged in quality. Prevention of womb infection is a major goal of the PREPS trial, however, the majority of women were not aware that womb (as opposed to wound) infection was a post CS risk.” The study concluded that women undergoing a C-section want more information on what constitutes a ‘normal’ post-operative recovery and specifically would welcome written information and infection prevention advice.
Of course, just like every pregnancy and every birth, every recovery is different – one of the DM’s we received was from a follower who’d found her C-section recovery a lot easier than she anticipated and was out and about within days. I don’t want this article to come across as a personal attack on Christine or anyone whose postnatal journey looked like hers. It’s Selling Sunset I have the issue with – I think the narrative arc of the new series is damaging and sets unrealistic expectation of new mums.
Perhaps my reaction to Christine’s seemingly miraculous recovery is informed by my own experience. Maybe my incredulity is actually jealousy and I should, in fact, be applauding her. I just can’t shake the feeling that her on-screen performance is the equivalent of saying “I’m fine”, when you’re really not. The feeling that she’s bowing to external (societal and patriarchal) pressure to “snap back” and show that women can have it all. Even women who almost died giving birth to a child just weeks earlier. I just hope any fragile mums watching can take it all with a hefty pinch of salt. Perhaps that’s what I should do – Selling Sunset may be reality TV, but it’s definitely not my reality.