I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
The Real Housewives of New York have factored largely into my life ever since they first burst onto the screen with their Hermès belts and Sutton Place apartments on March 4, 2008. Moments from the show have stayed with me like warm family memories: Luann rasping her way through her first single, Ramona ripping a wall sconce clear off of Dorinda’s Berkshires house, Aviva throwing her prosthetic leg at someone in the middle of a restaurant. But nothing has stuck with me as intensely or as deeply as an early scene of model/magazine editor/jewelry designer/bare sternum enthusiast Kelly Killoren Bensimon going for a run in front of a cab down the middle of Fifth Avenue.
Now, I am at best an amateur runner and at worst a too-tight, human-sized hamstring that might barf on a treadmill. But even my limited knowledge tells me that the middle of the busiest street in perhaps the entire country isn’t the best location for a run.
If you Google image search “Kelly Bensimon running,” which I had done long before writing this, you’re greeted with a mosaic of images just like this scene. It’s like she’s never even heard of a park. Every shot of her running looks like she’s one step away from being hit by a car. (And honestly, it wouldn’t be the car’s fault.) She’s just barreling down city streets like she’s some sort of very tan Prius.
But something about a long shot of Ms. Bensimon trotting in front of a yellow cab in the middle of Fifth Avenue like a carriage horse makes perfect sense. This is our introduction to Kelly. It’s everything we could possibly need to know about her, all in one nightmare of a shot.
These ten seconds of urban jogging were perhaps a foreshadowing to who she would become as she further entrenched herself in Jill, Bethenny, Luann, and Ramona’s version of New York. A woman so comfortable holding up daytime traffic would of course confront a nemesis (Bethenny Frankel!) on her own battleground (Meatpacking District bar, Brass Monkey!) and level her with a core-shaking “I’m up here, you’re down here,” complete with hand gestures to imply status. This woman clearly doesn’t care about other people or consequences.
Perhaps this is the television writer in me, but I also cannot see this scene without imaging the production elements of this shot. They had to affix a camera to, I assume, the back of a car. They had to get that car and camera to Midtown. They had to start driving and shooting when she started running. They had to stop at red lights because this was in the middle of the street. Oh, also, she runs WITH HER HAIR DOWN. What kind of maniac does that?
This was not some spontaneous moment that the reality-show cameras captured. This wasn’t Dorinda realizing she forgot her luggage after already arriving at the cabin in Vermont. This wasn’t Sonja Morgan being so tequila drunk that she stripped off her bathing suit in Mexico. This was a carefully orchestrated, heavily produced scene to make Kelly seem fun and chill and vaguely bohemian.
Her “I love going for a run, I feel free!” vibe in this introductory moment was the result of a minimum of five people putting together a call sheet and coordinating production. This scene is curated within an inch of its life. Instead of coming off as carefree and whimsical, she seems like an inauthentic, calculated person who might also cause a backup that goes all the way to Yonkers on a Friday.
The longer I think about the image, the more I see myself and everyone else I know reflected in it. What is a heavily produced scene of yourself running for a reality show but the blown-out version of my carefully art-directed Instagram post showing that I have six pairs of glasses but no pots and pans? Is my deliberate arrangement of my collection of Warby Parkers on my white down comforter in an attempt to make my life look casually luxurious but still endearingly flawed (vision problems!) really any different?
I’ve spent much of the last decade thinking about Kelly going for that afternoon run in an attempt to look like a free spirit. I’ve felt superior to her from that first moment. I’ve looked down on her bizarre pillow fight with her hot date at Jill’s party at Zarin fabrics. I’ve scoffed at her inability to use basic idioms in her testimonials. I’ve rolled my eyes at her devotion to her “health” but diet of gummy bears and vodka. I saw her and instantly thought, “I’m better than her.”
But I’m not. Sure, I’ve never taken to a congested Manhattan street in the middle of the afternoon to go for a casual run. But I have spent upwards of 12 minutes perfectly arranging an overpriced cocktail and a bar menu at a restaurant to the dismay of my dining partner just to get a perfect shot for Instagram. In the end, I’m not better than Kelly Bensimon. I am Kelly Bensimon.