Jessel Taank Is the Negative Girl Representation We Need

Be honest with yourself: When was the last time you complained? Maybe it was when you looked out the window or checked the weather app this morning to discover it was going to be uncomfortably hot (in summer—who’d have thought?). Maybe it was when you thought about having to go to work. Or maybe it was when you put on what should have been a hot outfit, but it made you look like a shapeless cone—or, more accurately, a Christmas tree. Bravo fans see where I’m going with this, but for everybody else: I’m talking about Real Housewives of New York City’s Jessel Taank.

I’ll be the first to admit that Jessel had a rocky start, especially in the first few episodes of RHONY. At times, she would speak to her husband with the kind of mild amusement you’d adopt when a child puts on their parents’ blazer and tells you they’re going to be president when they grow up—and at worst, a steamrolling tone bordering disdain. (Their squabble over Pavit going to Vietnam for 72 hours last week is a perfect encapsulation of this dynamic, from Jessel initially thinking he’s joking down to her calling him a “dodo head.”) One of viewers’ first impressions of her was how preoccupied she is with the caliber of people her toddlers are potentially networking with (seriously). And her behavior in the Hamptons was so poorly received that she’s been called the villain for it.

To recap: Jenna Lyons gave each woman a piece of lingerie, and while some got strappy corsets and lacy numbers, Jessel received a green slip dress with lace cutouts. Instead of being grateful, Jessel repeatedly complained about the gift. She said she looked “like a Christmas tree,” called the slip ugly and questioned who would find it hot. She even took issue with the size it came in.

Viewers and her castmates alike blasted Jessel for this—and look, I’m not saying it’s not rude, but I am saying I can relate to this outburst. Yesterday, I tried on no less than six outfits to meet my one (1) friend for drinks. Complicating matters were the facts that it was kind of cold out for summer (70s but not humid), I was on my period, and I’m a Libra, so you can bet I made no less than 10 comments about how everything I own sucked and how bad I looked in every outfit I tried on and why don’t I just burn my entire closet and join a nudist colony. My boyfriend, wisely, sat there in silence. Now imagine that Hamptons scenario happened to you, but instead of being on your period, you’ve recently given birth to twins. And instead of thinking the outfit was going to look cute, you didn’t really like it to begin with but your friends who, minutes before, were ragging on you for not having sex with your husband due to postpartum insecurities, encouraged you to put on the garment and parade around in it. I think you’d be in a negative mindset, maybe??

Real Housewives walk a fine line between being hated and celebrated, and where some viewers see the bad guy, I see a relatable queen. Who among us can say that, if cameras were following our every move, we would not be caught griping? As I am a Jewish woman, whining is practically a skill on my résumé. I get together with my friends and all we do is bitch.

And isn’t this what The Real Housewives is all about: being able to relate? No, you’re right, it’s about gawking at displays of wealth and laughing at absurdity—but as viewers, we do look to connect with at least some of the women we see onscreen. That’s why I’m happy to see Jessel giving negative girlies like me some much-needed representation on this season of RHONY.

We can’t all charm every man we meet, like Brynn, or deliver perfectly timed one-liners and also be a model, like Ubah. Some of us (me) are annoyed that we couldn’t sleep because the heat in our room wasn’t working or because we don’t have any phone signal. (These are completely valid complaints in any Airbnb or hotel, by the way!!) Not everyone lights up a room, and that’s perfectly okay in my book. Some of us actually prefer to point out that the room would really benefit from a good floor lamp, and are we sure the lack of natural lighting isn’t some kind of health hazard? Those voices deserve to be heard. And this is not a complaint per se, but when Jessel asked Erin if her grandma’s memorial “went well,” I felt incredibly seen. Show me someone who never gets flustered talking about death, and I’ll show you a liar. Jessel is not afraid to be herself, warts and all, and that is just part of what makes her a good Housewife.

Plus, let’s talk about where this show is based: New York City. You know, the Grumbling Capital of the World? The place you either hate to love or love to hate, often both at the same time? Jessel might not know that Tribeca is home to Beyoncé and Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake, and at one point, Taylor Swift, but she has mastered the NYC art of being perpetually annoyed. And her complaints have range! From her outfits to the temperature of where she’s sleeping to fingerprints on surfaces—it’s not just about being hangry. This is where I, as a glass-half-empty kinda gal, can really appreciate the commitment. Despite what my therapist says, always seeing the worst in any situation is a skill (because it mentally prepares me for the remote possibility that the worst-case scenario actually happens, of course).

In all seriousness: It’s clear that sometimes Jessel’s dry remarks are just misunderstood, and we’ve all been there. But also? If your idea of entertainment is watching rich women get drunk and insult each other, then you just might be a bit of a cackling hag too, and it’s time to embrace it. Reality TV holds up a mirror, and at least when I’m looking into this one, I won’t object to the image reflected back at me.

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