The Real Housewives of Dubai
This week, I learned that Caroline Stanbury has an astonishing 587,000 Instagram followers — though, if you use the HypeAuditor influencer-auditing tool, you’ll see she has an engagement of 0.95 percent and an audience quality score of 65 percent — and has essentially been getting paid to live in Dubai as an influencer and socialite. I am still picking my face off the ground at the discovery that half a million people, or even 65 percent of that, have a hankering for the Lady of London, but it certainly explains her look of dismay last week when she saw the hefty price tag for the jewelry on display for her upcoming wedding and realized it would not, in fact, be offered as spon-con. (Doesn’t she descend from the Vestey family on her mother’s side? What’s the point of shameless profiteering, labor exploitation, and tax evasion via colonial trade routes if your descendants are still counting coins on national television?)
My astonishment aside, we learn that in Stanbury’s universe, the sun rises and sets on her co-sign, and so far, Nina Ali and Caroline Brooks are the only women on the cast who’ve been bestowed with such an honor. Brooks goes with Stanbury to CosmeSurge, a cosmetic med-spa where she serves as a brand ambassador, replete with a photo at the entrance that I can only describe as “if someone Photoshopped a wax replica of Caroline Stanbury to make it look more human.” She genuinely is a robust brand ambassador, however — she’s all over the company’s website, boldly showcasing all of her preferred operations in process, which read like a bizarro-universe version of a Sesame Street “Letter of the Day” compilation.
Don’t take my remark as judgment. In fact, if anything, I am merely impressed by the comfort with which people are willing to trust another professional with the transformation — surgical or nonsurgical — of their body, which Brooks explains is the (unsurprising) standard among the wealthy in Dubai. If you can afford it, the body and face of your dreams are just a wire payment and recovery suite away. And apparently no one knows better than Dr. Sara Al Madani, whose before-and-after photos need to be investigated by plastic-surgery lifestyle influencer Lorry Hill for a complete breakdown. Sara is a woman of many surprises, talents, and contradictions (in other words, a human), an endless entrepreneur who has flubbed as many businesses as she has started and gone bankrupt twice. (Seeing as how she has also been divorced twice and endured abusive relationships, I wonder whether her financial woes and marital woes have any relationship with each other). She does fashion, tech, NFTs, and life coaching! She is “a bit conservative,” but her tattoos make her a “rebel,” a statement she grossly undersells considering that common convention considers tattoos haram, or a sin and thus forbidden, in Islam; the perception is that they obstruct ablution for prayer despite there being no explicit Hadith or Quran verse explicitly speaking on the practice. Regardless of all these new insights into Sara’s persona and businesses, I still have no clue why or how she’s a doctor. I am almost certain she would have announced her Ph.D. by now; is there an honorary doctorate bestowed somewhere that she is holding onto? I had a high-school principal like that.
It is Fashion Week in Dubai this episode, and Lesa Milan is debuting her first standard runway collection outside her popular maternity line, for which her customer base has an average renewal cycle of two years, which lets you know her clients have money because who else can afford to have babies every two years in this economy? She works with Chanel Ayan, who has an agency side hustle, on casting, seeking a diversity of skin tones and body types for her runway show. When she first started trying to cast Black models, Milan accidentally booked Ayan twice from two different agencies, giving us a strong sense of how bleak the industry is and of the limited infrastructure for supporting Black models. As most fashion shows are, the hours leading up to the grand event backstage are frenzied — Ayan has on her Anna Wintour bob wig for this evening, so she means business — but it seemingly goes off without a hitch and to great aplomb (despite Madame Stanbury declining to grace the event with her presence). The “black and white” theme reads well visually. I like most of the maternitywear (particularly the white strapless single-sleeved dress and the black-and-gold jumper) and am into a couple of the ready-to-wear runway pieces (including the midi-length satin shirt dresses). However, a few are a bit too “hot Miami styles” for my personal tastes.
All in all, the event ends on a general high note, the looming absence of Stanbury notwithstanding. I am glad the three Black women in the cast have, at the moment, chosen to let bygones be bygones, though if social media is any indication, that has long since gone out the window. With Milan and Ayan on one side and Brooks on the other, a tentative truce is established among the trio with plenty of digs in the subtext and in confessionals. Or, in Ayan’s case, made very plain with a pot full of lemons that she chooses to performatively carry on her head in case either you or I forgot she is a fellow East African.
Next week, we get some insight into just what Brooks does as an entrepreneur, and Stanbury’s pending nuptials hit an inevitable rough patch.
• The transition music on this franchise is firing on all cylinders. This week, they gave us a nice little Afropop bop by Dubai-based Nigerian singer MKO called “Love You” as the duo of Carolines enter the med-spa.
• Do the Stanburys … like Sergio? In the limited screen time he gets this episode, the household collectively makes fun of his accent even though they’re all expats with out-of-place intonations. Caroline insists her kids have taken to him in a stepfather–older brother hybrid role, but considering her oldest daughter’s reaction to the idea of another sibling emerging via Sergio’s loins, calling him a man-child, it seems as though they view him more as a household pet they’ve come to love begrudgingly despite themselves.
• Nina is treading dangerously close to Reza on Shahs of Sunset territory with her whole “commenting on mundane things and giving them cultural heft” shtick. There’s nothing uniquely Arab or Arab American about packing a cooler full of snacks for any road trip or vacation — that’s just a staple of working-class living. That said, her passion for French fries is an easy way to win points in my book. It is nearly impossible to mess up potatoes, oil, and salt.
• Shout-out to Nina for having a phone accessory of nazar, or the evil eye, on her phone. It’s those subtle touches that really give it the Islamic authenticity more than the performative explanations; I don’t know of a Muslim woman who doesn’t have some sort of amulet or a praying family member constantly sending WhatsApp messages and duas to help protect them from the jealous gaze of strangers and friends alike.
• Also: Shout-out to the adventures of Billy the Goat. He tried to run for freedom only to be recaptured by way of a Facebook alert. It’s #FreeBilly until the hashtag is reversed! At least he is being given an organic diet in captivity, but can you really thank your oppressor?
• Ayan-ism of the episode: “I’m getting better with English. Now I know words like verbatim. The other day I went to the bank and I told the guy, ‘Give me my money verbatim.’”