“When people tell me I’m fake, I know they’re just pulling my leg,” says Real Housewife of New York City Aviva Drescher (@AvivaDrescher) in her opening tagline for the upcoming sixth season of the hit Bravo reality show.
Since making her television debut last season, Drescher has been hard at work writing her memoir, Leggy Blonde. And unlike her new tagline, her debut book is much more serious in tone about her life as an amputee. Amongst other things, the book chronicles how Drescher lost her leg in a freak barn accident as a child, and the various ways that both she and those around her have dealt with that loss throughout her life.
With a book hitting stores next Tuesday and the new season of Housewives premiering on March 11, Drescher fans certainly have a lot to look forward to over the next few weeks. I caught up with the television star and new author about writing her first book, why her’s is an important story to tell, her plans to lobby in the nation’s capital, the juiciness coming up in Housewives, and much more.
ALEX NAGORSKI: February is a busy month for Real Housewives books. In addition to yours, this month sees the release of new books from Beverly Hills’ Brandi Glanville and from Carole Radziwill (check out my interviews with Brandi and Carole about their respective new books), your fellow New York cast mate. Have you already read either of these books yet, and if so, what are your thoughts?
AVIVA DRESCHER: I’ve read Carole’s. I liked it very much and I think it’s completely different from her first book. It doesn’t have anything to do with her first book at all and I think it’s really courageous that she took a stab at writing a novel. I think it’s great.
I really enjoyed Brandi’s first book. Obviously, it was her trying to get revenge on her ex-husband, but I thought it was really good. I hope she does well with her second book too.
So if someone wanted to purchase only one Housewife book this month, what would you tell him or her about why they should pick yours?
Well, I think that Carole’s book is more of a beach read, whereas I think my book can really touch everybody. It’s not just for Housewives viewers. I think it can touch everybody because it shows by various examples how you can get through life’s trials and tribulations.
Everyone’s touched by anxiety, health issues, addiction, divorce, and marriage – whether it’s your own relationships, your parents’, or whoever else’s – everyone gets touched by these things and I touch on all of them.
So I feel like my book has a more of a serious/funny tone to it, but I do think that everyone can relate. Mine’s more of a serious book, whereas Carole’s is more of a beach read. And if you are a Housewives viewer, I think that this is a good way to get to know me without an editing team involved.
That’s a really interesting point. How do you think that this book depicts you differently than the show has?
Well, I think that most of all, it shows that there was definitely a misunderstanding between the camera, the editors, the viewers and me. The show dwelled a lot on the bumps in the road that have happened to me. I think that the book really does show that in fact I don’t dwell on those things. And I think the viewers will see that. People will see it very clearly.
I also think that you see more of my sense of humor in the book. I think that when the camera’s around, I tend to get a little bit, you know, more uptight. But with the book, I have more control. I can be more myself to a certain extent.
There’s a point in the book where you discuss turning to fashion as an outlet to draw attention away from your prosthesis. Fast-forward to today, and you’ve published a memoir that goes into great detail about what its meant for you to be an amputee for the majority of your life. What made you decide to finally want to share your story and why is now the right time to tell it?
Well, I turned 40, and I think that at 40-years-old, you start to think about a lot of things in your life and you get a certain kind of sense of security and maturity about yourself – especially if you have children. It’s a time where you really start to officially grow up, and my growing up meant that I was done hiding. I’m done being ashamed of wearing a prosthesis.
There comes a point where you come to full acceptance – hopefully – in your lifetime. I felt ready at 40, and with the show falling in my lap, I felt that was an opportunity to do it. And I couldn’t just put it out a little bit because everything is so full force on the show.
It was a combination of being 40, having 4 children, feeling like a mamma bear, and feeling like a real complete grownup who was self-aware and secure. So it was important for me to come onto the show without really having anything to be ashamed of. Because I think that when you go on a reality show, you can’t really have any skeletons in your closet.
Yeah, I imagine that wouldn’t be very easy to do.
Yeah. So it was kind of a whole combination of like, “Okay. I’m going to go on a show. I’m 40. I am who I am. This is who I am and I’m not, and I’m going to be proud of it, and I’m going to use whatever obstacles are in my way to help other people.” And the helping other people part really helps me to not worry about any sort of uptightness that I had about my leg or my accident.
One chapter that really stood out to me was the one in which your parents took you to India at 15-years-old to see someone that they believed was the “avatar of a healing spirit” and could grow your foot back. You, however, did not share your parents’ faith in this man’s alleged abilities. What type of effect, then, did this trip have on you as a teenager when your parents obviously didn’t get the result that they were hoping for from it?
It just made me realize that parents are certainly not perfect. As children, we look up at our parents and we think they’re gods. Even when we hate them, we still think that they are all knowing. And I think that that was really my first step towards adulthood and separating from my parents.
In some ways, my parents were overprotecting, and in some ways, they were very, “get on with it, move on with it, do everything like everybody else.” I think that as a teenager, you begin to separate from your parents. So seeing this craziness that they brought me into not come to fruition definitely led me to being more independent. I think everybody’s parents are a little bit crazy in their own ways, but maybe my parents were a little bit more crazy than most.
Speaking of parents, the book also discusses your mother’s alcoholism and how you dealt with the tragedy of her early passing. What advice would you give to someone experiencing a similar type of grief today?
You know, they say alcohol is as addictive as heroine. And to live with someone who’s an alcoholic is so enraging and so painful. The extent where my mother went with it was just one of the most horrific things in my life. Alcoholism took my mother’s life from me and deprived my children of her, my father of her, and my family of her. Every day that I raise my children, I think about my mom. I think that the only way to deal with alcoholics is with a very, very severe tough love and that would be the message that I would get out.
I always second-guess and say, “Well, if we were tougher, maybe she wouldn’t have gotten to that point.” Now look, rationally, I don’t think that we are responsible at all for her death, but the message that I would say is, “throw them out of your house. Take away the keys. Take away their money.” Make them hit rock bottom before it’s too late, so that the alcoholic can want on their own to get the help that they want. Because the drug is so strong and unless they are on the floor naked and aware of it, they’re not going to get help. And by the time my mom was so bad, her brain was already going from the alcohol. She didn’t even know she was hitting rock bottom. Do you understand what I’m saying?
Someone else going through this needs to really, really get knowledge and get in there. Don’t sweep it under the carpet. To someone who lives with someone with alcoholism, I would say, “don’t blame yourself. It’s not your fault.” We’re all responsible for our own actions, we all have to deal with the consequences of them, and only alcoholics can really help themselves.
This disease really affects and seethes into everybody around it, not just in the way that an alcoholic is disruptive and not a functional person in society, but it psychologically affects the people around you. So I would say don’t feel guilty and just remember how that person was before they got lost in the alcoholism. Remember them for the great person that they were, not for what they became.
I really loved the theme of survival throughout the book. You write about a great amount of loss – not just in terms of your leg and your mother, but also of past relationships (including your first marriage, Harry). Each time, you learn from your experiences in what seem like very universally applicable ways. Is there any particular message or experience that you want your readers to take away with them after they’ve put the book down?
I would say as long as there’s breath, there’s life. Life is very short and you’ve got to get as much joy out of it as you can. You just can’t know what’ll happen from one day to the next, so you gotta keep on loving the best you can and taking the high road – which, by the way, brings great pleasure. Enjoy every day to the best of your ability, and just remember that no matter how many times you get kicked, if you’re breathing, you can enjoy this life. You can find enjoyment out of this life. That’s what I would say.
And obviously when I say, “take the high road,” remember that on television I’m not being paid to take the high road. So I can’t really always do that on television. But in life, I do believe in taking the high road as much as possible.
What have you personally found to be the most common stigma about amputees?
When people say things like, “are you okay?” or “can you walk?” The most common stigma is that we can’t physically do what two-legged people can do. And that’s just entirely untrue. It’s just untrue. I mean, granted sometimes wearing six-inch heels is a little bit more of a challenge to me than, you know, it is for a two-legged person, but I can still do it. So I think that’s the most common stigma –that we can’t physically do everything that everybody else can do. And we can.
Another thing you mention in the book is your array of phobias, which was also the focus of a few discussions on last season of Housewives. What’s one that your fans might be surprised to read about?
They’ll probably be surprised about my passion for health, which to some degree, I guess, translates into a little bit of fear of things that are unhealthy. I’m definitely trying not to be fearful of things that are unhealthy, but I do avoid them.
Like, if I walk into my apartment and my babysitter’s making chicken fingers and she’s putting aluminum foil into my toaster oven, I’ll say, “Can you please not cook it in aluminum foil?” Listen, maybe it’s a phobia and maybe it’s a little kooky. But by the same token, over the past few days, there’s been a dangerous chemical found in many bread ingredients.
Oh right! It’s in Subway bread.
Yeah, but it’s not just Subway. It’s also McDonald’s. It’s also bread that you buy in the store. There’s a chemical in that bread that when heated up, it’s a carcinogen. End of story. My oldest son loves Subway and so on one hand, it’s like, “yeah, I’m really crazy and a phobic and I’m so health-obsessed,” but on the other hand, every day they’re coming out with a new plastic or a new ingredient that you can’t eat and you can’t use because it’s a carcinogen and everyone’s wondering why cancer’s on the rise?
On Housewives, my phobias were mostly isolated to flying and heights. But in my book, I just think that it’s more really about fear of death. Also, these other fears trace back to fear of death. I think that I have a right to be afraid of death because it kind of stared at me in the face at a very young age. I was six-years-old, so you know what? If I’m a little more afraid of bad things happening to me, I’m allowed to have that. But I think the viewers will definitely see in the book that it’s more than just flying and heights.
In the book, you talk about the various financial pressures that come with the maintenance of a prosthetic. You mention that, “Just as reconstructive surgery after mastectomies is paid for by insurance, artificial limbs for sports or aesthetics should be paid for by insurance companies.” How are some ways that you believe that goal can be achieved?
Well, right now in healthcare we’re really going backward. But when I’m done doing the show, I plan on going to Washington and lobbying for insurance companies to pay for prosthetic limbs that are needed for sports, and for activities and also for cosmetic needs. I think that it requires a voice and I think that now with the Boston Marathon tragedy that happened, amputees are actually coming more into the forefront. I think it’s something that can be attainable.
I think one way is by people who are amputees who are in the public to go and bang on the door of the government to assure that insurance companies pay for these limbs. That’s one way to do it. Another way to do it is to circumvent the insurance companies by raising money and paying for it ourselves, and that’s what I do.
There’s nothing more heartbreaking than to see somebody who’s lost a limb. If that’s not bad enough, these people are fighting to walk again and to get their clothing on again and to figure out their shoes. Some of them are always on crutches and it’s hard enough to go through that whole … I don’t want to call it a tragedy, because I don’t see it that way, but that challenge, and then for insurance to say that they are not going to pay for all the limbs and skins that we need is an insult to our intelligence, in my opinion. It needs as much attention as reconstructive breast surgery.
As someone who received their Masters in Literature from NYU, coming out with a memoir must feel like a total dream come true. Do you have plans to continue publishing books now that you’ve gotten a taste of it?
I love to write. I’ve always loved writing and I’ve found it to be really cathartic emotionally. To go back and to think about all of those experiences that I had, that I lived, and bringing them back up, has been so rewarding. I would love to write again. I really am hoping that this is just the beginning. This was not meant to be a preachy book or a self-help book. This is just like a “here is the story and here is how it happened” kind of book. I’d love to write children’s’ books about differences, and maybe even write about fashion or even a book that’s a little bit more self-helpy. So yeah, I would love to write more books. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity.
So switching gears a little bit to talk about the show, what have you found to be the biggest difference between being a new Housewife and being a returning cast member?
I think the greatest thing that brings people fear is the unknown. Housewives was such an unknown when I began, so I was very fearful about what would happen. I had no idea. What would happen to my family? Would people be following me down the street? Would there be stalkers? Would people hate me? Would people love me? Would I be able to raise enough money for amputees? Now, kind of in the same tone as my book, it’s sort of like: it is what it is and I kind of don’t give a shit. There are pros and there are cons and now I just sort of don’t give a shit. I don’t care as much. Last year, I cared so much more. This year, I really, really don’t care.
As I said in my book, I really feel bulletproof in terms of all the silliness. Last year, I was like this sort of virgin that could be prodded and pulled in different directions. This year, I feel like I just would never get too vested in the positive or the negative. It’s just a job and I hope I did my job well. Last year, I was more concerned about how I came off, whereas this year, I’m more concerned about people feeling entertained and if what I do on the show in my life can give people a moment of escape from their lives. I feel so happy also because of hopefully all of the people that I can help who are facing physical challenges. This show is just a little piece of entertainment, and if I can bring some people some distraction from their own lives and issues, then I’ve succeeded.
What do you think the addition of new cast member Kristin Taekman will add to this upcoming season?
You know, I haven’t … I think that she is a very beautiful addition, that’s for sure. And I can tell you that she throws a good punch.
I don’t mean that literally. I mean that figuratively. But we’ll see!
So I don’t know how much you can say about this, but ever since the trailer for the new season was released, fans have been dying to know: what is your leg doing on the floor in that final shot?!
You know, what is my leg doing on the floor in that final shot? How, I mean, I don’t know. I can’t answer that. I’m sorry.
That’s okay! So what was your favorite scene to film for the new season?
Oh, my favorite scene to film was with Heather Abbott, who’s one of the survivors of the Boston Marathon. I took her to my prosthetist and I’ll let the rest unfold from there. That was my favorite scene to film because I love her, and seeing her first in the hospital after the marathon bombing, and now seeing her run, it’s just amazing. Having been in the hospital room together right after the bombings and months later being at my prosthetist doing what we were doing was just so wonderful on so many different levels.
That sounds really inspiring. Is there anything else that you can tease that fans can look forward to this upcoming season?
A lot of my cast mates are going to surprise you. You’re going to be very surprised by the changes in relationships and changes in characters. People change.
Yeah. People change. The ones that seen normal become crazy. The ones that seem crazy become a little more normal. The villains stay the same. Mostly it’s a lot of changes.
Well, thank you so much for your time, Aviva. Is there anything else you’d like to add about anything at all that we didn’t talk about?
You know, the one thing that’s not in the book is that one of the things that I’ve done to help manage my anxiety is that I have a product coming out called Vivacalm. It’s an all-natural powder supplement that you put in a drink, and it really just calms you down and it can even help you sleep if you’re having trouble sleeping. It’s also really healthy for you.
When is that coming out?
That’s coming out in March. It will be in GNC stores exclusively for three months.
Very cool. Well, it was truly a pleasure reading your book and chatting with you about it.
You’ve really made my week. You have obviously read this book with such a fine-tooth comb and I’m eternally grateful for your time and kindness and you’re obviously super, super smart and thank you so much.
Leggy Blonde will be available in bookstores everywhere on February 25th.