The Real Housewives’ Dirty Little Secret (2022)

The women of Bravo’s Real Housewives have plenty to hide: Bad business practices, repossessed cars, broken toaster-oven promises, and at least one notable accusation of hexing a computer screensaver via dark magic. All of these humiliations coming to light while cameras roll makes for great drama for women who have chosen to live their lives on screen. But the one dirty secret that many of our girls protect with their lives: they’re smokers.

We see so much of the Housewives, why can’t we see them nip a little ciggy? It’s glamorous! Well, smoking on screen has become a touchy subject. Love Island even banned it after getting complaints. The Housewives tend to see themselves first as businesswomen, then as aspirational role models, and finally as mothers. They think viewers look to them for lifestyle, health, and wellness tips, and hey Housewives don’t want to espouse bad habits, nevermind that they’re constantly drinking, screaming, and, as I can non-exclusively reveal, smoking.

Intrigued, I turned my forensic eye to tracking surreptitious Housewife cigarette usage. On my Instagram account @realhousewivessmoking, I share photos and videos of Housewives smoking on camera, on their Instagrams, in paparazzi pics and anywhere else you can find women on the brim of frikking out. I’ve learned that a cigarette is often an indicator of ultimate distress for a Housewife. A Housewife smoking is usually a Housewife in dire straits — Amber Marchese channeling her misspent Jersey youth in the backyard, chain-smoking while Dina Manzo pets her hair and tells her to be quiet. New York’s Sonja Morgan coquettishly taking a drag of her cig while enticing the Johnny Depp pirate to consider butt-fucking her (it works!); Beverly Hills’ Kim Richards claiming to have “found’ a vape in her bedside drawer post-rhinoplasty that she and sister Kyle play-smoke while clearly losing their minds, desperate for nicotine.

Most importantly, cig-smoking is only executed when a Real Housewife believes she is just beyond frame, or it is filmed covertly through a kitchen window in RHONYer Dorinda Medley’s Stanley White-designed estate Blue Stone Manor, which I maintain is kind of a retcon, as the home was built during the Gilded Age but only christened by Carole Radziwill as such at Dorinda’s 50th birthday in 2015.

What else have I learned? Well, I am delighted to share, and for the purpose of this article, I’ve divided furtive smoking into handy categories for your edification, with photo evidence.

Hardcore Cig Smokers (Primarily From Europe by Way of Connecticut )

Interestingly enough, it turns out that most of the hardcore smokers in the Housewives universe are from Connecticut which, if you’re Luann de Lesseps of New York or Dorit Kemsley of Beverly Hills, means Europe. What it is about Connecticut that creates a pack-a-day girl is not for me to determine.

Kim Zolciak-Biermann

Kim ZB, an Atlanta Housewife from Connecticut and star of Don’t Be Tardy, a show only I have ever heard of, is arguably the most famous smoker any franchise has ever birthed, which reminds me of the paparazzi photos of her smoking while pregnant with one of her many “littles.”

But Kim did more for the smoking community than just reducing in-utero oxygen supply to her fetus — she was proud of her habit and we loved her for it. One of my personal favorite Kim moments is when she is listening to the demo of her song “Don’t Be Tardy” parked in a strip mall behind the wheel of her car, a gift from her married older lover Big Poppa, while smoking a cigarette and drinking a glass of white wine. This is how you feel music.

Dorit Kemsley

Dorit is my favorite housewife. I love her clothes and I love her face and I think she’s funny and she smokes and knows it’s fashion and even Peekay, honorary Real Housewives Smoker, has grown on me. I consider Dorit’s cigarette-work top notch; my all-time favorite @realhousewivessmoking post is from an Instagram shot of Dorit posing in full glam in front of baby pink velvet curtains — while a pack of bright green menthol American Spirits and a lighter rest atop an accent table on the outdoor balcony beyond the windows.

Luann de Lesseps

Everyone knows the Countess de Lesseps drinks, parties, and smokes cigarettes on the regular. When Lu’s got a cig in hand, it’s just her and the flame. One of Luann’s most chilling moments is one we were luckily able to witness on celluloid, wherein she gruffly stammers in her deep baritone about Bethenny calling her a slut and a liar and a hypocrite and a snake, entirely unaware of Jules sitting next to her, having hung up mere seconds earlier with her dying father. Luann fails to recognize why that is a bigger thing.

Dorinda Medley

Absolutely addicted to nicotine.

Cigar Smokers

Monique Samuels

In Monique’s world, smoking cigars while drinking cabernet from a decanter she brought from home is the height of elegance. She repeatedly cigar-bullies her friends on Real Housewives of Potomac, who usually have little-to-no interest in these masculine pursuits. What’s next on the list of guy stuff, the ladies shopping for brown leather recliners?

Vicki Gunvalson

The OG of the OC has never had sex with multiple partners in her life, but she has brought multiple friends, including a disgruntled Shannon Storms Beador, to the same cigar shop in Puerto Vallarta for an afternoon of judgy eyes.

Joe “Juicy” Giudice

Expat New Jersey househusband Joe Giudice has had a lot of legal woes, but he has always known how to enjoy the finer things in life, like Nonno’s breakfast octopus and a good cigar. Are these even good?

Weed Smokers

Mauricio Richards-Umansky and Lydia’s mom live in Cali for a reason. Though to my knowledge they have never been pictured together, they could definitely fulfill no one’s ultimate blunt rotation during an Off-Bravocon performance of “Effortless” by Mario Singer at Birdland.

Judy (Lydia McLauchlin’s Mom)

I feel like it’s a time-honored tradition in the OC to smoke pot, and I therefore consider the two-season rainbow unicorn lover Lydia’s mom Judy to be an elder stoner. Lydia does not agree, but luckily we are unlikely to ever discuss this in person. The kids can’t go to Grandma’s house because she’s always hotboxing!

Mauricio Umansky

Stoner Daddy/Kyle’s perfect angel of a husband is rarely if ever actually seen smoking weed on camera — probably in solidarity with his beloved — but we are privy to his mildly entertaining high antics from time to time. Mauricio even allegedly indulged in the devil’s cabbage at Camille Grammer’s second wedding.

Vape Lovers

Like me, these women grew up packing Parliaments and transitioned into the softer side of smoking later in life. They love the convenience and confidentiality, and presumably each sleeps with a Posh tucked close to her breast, even if Kyle has been known to leave the rubber mouth protector on her vape. I don’t know who had the foresight to check a bag filled with mint Mr. Fogs for #RHUGT, but everyone benefited from the surcharge. Vaping is quick and leaves no trace except the aura of artificial peach, and you know these girls can’t believe their eyes and lungs when they finally break down and ask a fellow cast member what that shiny haze-emitting stick is. Vaping reeks of desperation, and after all, what’s more desperate than being on Bravo?

Dorinda, again

Dorinda is territorial and I’m sure sees herself as discreet, and as a result I think she’s sure she’s getting away with this blatant on-camera vape sesh. Her clenched fist, however, most likely belies her true state of mind-mania.

Kyle Richards

Whenever confronted with a vape, Kyle returns to her days of wide-eyed child-actor wonder and feigns ignorance on how to use it. You know, Kyle. You know what this thing is. You do.

The Cast of Real Housewives Girls Trip

Luann brought the party and the vapes to the island, as she always does. The girls, sequestered mid-pandemic, desperate to feel something, needing to let loose, were ripping puffs like it would save them.

And, of course, Allison Dubois

Psychic to the stars Allison Dubois brought a lot of secrets to light during her all-too-brief stint at the Dinner Party from Hell on RHOBH, but she also brought her e-cig, back in the days when they looked like prop cigarettes for a play. In this scene, Allison uses her exhalations to create beats for the other women to play off of, and that’s why she should produce this show in addition to Medium starring Patricia Arquette.

I implore you to keep up with me on @realhousewivessmoking as you continue your Bravo journey. There will always be Housewives who un-tag. Housewives who DM. And still more Housewives who leave me on read — Margaret Josephs recently caused major controversy (in my mind palace) by messaging me that she would never smoke cigarettes because they gave her “dog breath,” though my Zapruder-style dissection of a last season episode of Real Housewives of New Jersey might prove otherwise.

Regardless of whether the ladies want to be tagged on an Instagram account with a paltry amount of followers (I do this for art, not fame), they’ve done it on TV and I’m not going to let them suffer in silent shame. As long as we as human beings continue to crave the crackling anticipation of a freshly lit square, I’m going to be here to hold them accountable. Or something.

Julia Carusillo is an artist in Chicago.

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