Say what you will about Snooki, but she knows what she wants. The first thing she ever uttered on the reality show that made her famous, Jersey Shore—after the credit-opening "I'm going to Jersey Shore, bitch!"—was, "I want to marry a guido. My ultimate dream is to move to Jersey, find a nice juiced, hot, tan guy and live my life." Over the course of her 10-season MTV reality arc, including the latter-day spinoff Snooki & Jwoww, those dreams slowly unfolded in a less-traditional order, culminating in a Gatsby-themed wedding to her Italian-American dreamboat, Jionni, their two olive-skinned tots in tow. It was your typical guidette-to-riches Cinderella love story.
But this wasn't the narrative we all predicted for Snooki. We thought the woman who got arrested for public intoxication in the daylight and threw back vodka shots with "Jersey-turnpiking" juicehead gorillas was likely destined for a sloppy, DUI-laden, fame-grasping downward spiral. Then, when she got pregnant at 24, we assumed we'd see headlines like "Knocked-Up Snooki Still Parties Till Dawn," the paparazzi catching her mid-smoke, empty highball in hand. It's surprising that Snooki has not only defied the catastrophic expectations we place upon our young party-hardy celebrities, but that she has done much more than achieve her happy reality ending.
In the six years since GTL and DTF became part of our lexicon, Snooki––rather, Nicole Polizzi––has launched a multi-pronged clothing line, started a music promotion company, created a brand of bronzers, sold hand-crafted wares on Etsy, hosted and produced a podcast where she dishes celebrity gossip, introduced a YouTube channel and authored five—yes, five—books, one that was a New York Times bestseller. Another came out last month, Strong Is the New Sexy, a self-help memoir about finding your strength, physically and emotionally.
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She's now in a place to take her career to the next level––that is, to grow a successful empire outside of reality television, a la Jessica Simpson or Kim Kardashian. So far, all of her ventures have been paved by the infamous name that Snooki built––and all of them are a means to leave that name behind.
"Snooki's my brand. That's a character I played, and I don't play that character anymore," she tells me over breakfast on recent morning in midtown Manhattan. "But I get it, that's how people know me. This is why I'm trying to transition and introduce Nicole as a mom."
That's a character I played, and I don't play that character anymore.
Nicole the Mom is how Polizzi and her team have been selling the revamped, mature Snooki over the past few years. She is the woman who has traded after-hours in a tacky rooftop jacuzzi for snuggly evenings with the kids in the Jersey suburbs; who documented the births of both her children and her wedding on Snooki & Jwoww; who shared her pregnancy fears in her first memoir, Baby Bumps; and who says the end goal of all of this is to make enough money to be at home with her kids more without the cameras.
But motherhood only partly defines the woman before me today. The 27-year-old Polizzi I watch eat a low-cal spinach-and-egg-white omelet no longer wears a bump in her hair or fuzzy footwear. She's in a full shield of well-contoured makeup and an angelic white dress from her clothing line that modestly hugs her toned body. She often looks at me square in the eye, as if she's trying to get a read on me. I can count on one hand the number of times she smiles. The youthful breeziness of the Jersey Shore goofball is gone, and in its place is a woman made by the repercussions of being herself for an audience that wasn't particularly kind to her. Nicole the Mom is a tough bitch. She's also a survivor.
When we, the public, first met Snooki, she didn't give a shit. She got wasted, stripped down to her thong, and made out with nearly all her castmates within the first few hours of arriving at the Jersey Shore house. But what made her the star of MTV's highest-rated program was not that she was the biggest mess among her castmates––they were all boozy twentysomething extroverts living in a free beach house for the summer; of course they got drunk and tried to get laid––but that she was the one who opened up the most for the camera. Add her small, four-foot-eight stature and various appetites to the equation, and it was a recipe not only for ratings gold, but for one that left her vulnerable to intimidation and attacks—both on air and off.
There was the infamous punch to her face by a random guy at a bar, which left her crying on the bathroom floor, bleeding from her mouth. Then there was the time "The Situation" hit her with a low blow about her weight and she told her roommates she had an eating disorder in high school and asked them to be sensitive. But Snooki was most exposed during what became her main storyline: her quest for love. Sometimes all she wanted was to "get it in." More often than not, she saw potential in a guy and pursued him. However, things often went awry: Dude had a girlfriend or got sick or just wanted to cuddle. Maybe you felt sorry for her, maybe you even thought her pathetic at times, but really, she was a pretty normal 21-year-old modern romantic with sexual desires––casual about hooking up yet ultimately wanting the ring and picket fence, without a clue about how to make the in-between happen.
Many people didn't see her as a typical single young woman, however. She was told she was slutty, hideous, that she needed to die countless times a day on social media. The size of her vagina ("like the fucking the Pacific Ocean," 'the baby will walk right out") was often the topic of hate tweets and cyberbullying. She was the butt of jokes on late night shows, spoofed as an overweight pest who just wanted to "smoosh smoosh" on South Park, and she couldn't escape a tabloid story that didn't highlight her weight or her libido. Though her male castmates––Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, DJ Pauly DelVecchio, Vinny Guadagnino––brought home strange women night after night, it was Snooki who got the most blowback for being sexual.
The double standard is not fair, and I don't really get it. I've always been a sexual person.
"The double standard is not fair, and I don't really get it," she tells me. "I've always been a sexual person. If I wanted to hook up with a guy in high school, I would, but other girls hated that and said I was such a whore. Probably when they went to college, they probably slept with just as many dudes. So, I mean, I've always been confident and I'm going to do what I want and I don't care what you say, but it's still not fair."
Her partying also made her the target of scrutiny. Much like how people often hate Kim Kardashian for "getting famous off a sex tape," Snooki is often despised for getting famous off being drunk. "I would hate me too," she writes in Strong Is the New Sexy. "Like, Bitch, you are rich and famous because you like to drink. Why couldn't that be me? I just got lucky. I don't get why my luck takes away from a complete stranger's happiness, though."
For a while, she was determined to change people's minds about her, one jackass at a time. In Strong Is the New Sexy, she recounts how she was on a short-lived show called H8R, hosted by Mario Lopez, in which she went to the home of a guy who "took it as a personal insult that I made more in an episode than his cop father did in a year," and made his entire family dinner in an attempt to prove she wasn't a bad person; in the end, she seemed to win them over. She also talks about how, at a Hurricane Sandy fundraiser, she went up to Governor Chris Christie, a harsh critic of Jersey Shore, and said, "I hope you can start to like us." She says he then "leaned in really low and got in my face, trying to scare me." She doesn't go into exactly what he said, but even after she defended herself, she says she walked away shaking because he was so rude and intimidating.
I would hate me too. Like, Bitch, you are rich and famous because you like to drink. Why couldn't that be me?
"If I didn't go through bullying in high school, I probably would've broken down," Polizzi says about all the nasty comments she's endured over the years. When she was a freshman, a group of senior girls often tormented her and her friends, spreading rumors, pranking them, and wearing tee shirts bearing messages that called them "trash" or "sluts." "But the fact that I went through that, I was like, 'Fuck you, guys, I'm great.' That definitely set me up for being famous."
Polizzi tells me the hate on Twitter and elsewhere doesn't bother her anymore, and that it's 90 percent better these days anyway. Part of that is due Snooki & Jwoww, which was initially pitched like Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie's The Simple Life, says Polizzi, but then she got pregnant right before they began filming and the premise was forced to shift. Instead of two young women in foreign situations, it became a show about two BFFs settling down, moving in with their boyfriends, and having kids.
Though ratings for Snooki & Jwoww were nothing like Jersey Shore's, its four seasons offered proof that haters couldn't deny: At a lean 100 or so pounds, you couldn't call Snooki fat or a troll anymore, and with subdued scenes at home with the kids, you didn't have much authority to call her a slut or a garbage monster, either. Instead of the giggly, whiny confessionals of Shore, Polizzi often gave the same dry, "don't fuck with me" face during S&J interviews that I get at breakfast. No off-the-cuff, no-shits-given shenanigans here. Polizzi rebuilt a Snooki who was harder to pick apart.
What's most striking when you sit five feet away from Polizzi isn't her flawlessly lined doe eyes or her thicket of lashes, but rather how fierce she is. I don't mean that in a cheesy Tyra Banks way, but in that she has a command of herself that is almost intimidating. I am on her time, it is clear, and I feel pressure to make her laugh, to unarm her, to break through the facade that us media types have probably forced her to erect. And yet, despite being all business, she is open to discussing any subject in her life because talking about her life is her career.
For example, there was that snag in her forever-after this past August, when her husband Jionni LaValle's email address was allegedly found in the hack of Ashley Madison clients. Polizzi doesn't skip a beat, calmly brushing off any rumors of him cheating or chatting up girls in clubs. "If you knew my husband, you'd know he doesn't do that," she says. "He's very shy, he rarely talks to anybody, and he never dances. So it's like, 'Nicole, do you really believe that story? Do you really believe he'd ever do that?' I never believe it because I know truthfully that he does love me. If there was evidence, then I'd be like, 'OK,' but there is never any evidence, there's never pictures, there's never proof. In my heart, I know it's not true."
If I could wish one thing for my new daughter, it's that she be as tough as nails and strong as an ox. Being a woman in this world requires it.
When I ask her about her book Strong Is the New Sexy––a girl-power manifesto for the mall crowd and a place where Nicole the Mom and Tough Survivor Snooki meet (it's also aptly subtitled "My Kickass Story on Getting My 'Formula for Fierce'")––I expect to get some stock answers emphasizing the physical aspect of strength, like exercise and diet tips. But she tells me that she wanted the book to be inspirational for women, to empower them against others who want to bring them down.
"For women now, it's already bad, so I'm figuring when Giovanna's an adult it's going to be worse," she says about her year-old daughter eventually having to navigate body-image and sexual pressures. "So my job, basically, is to make her a strong person, a strong hardass bitch."
She reiterates this sentiment in the book: "I want her to give me hell. If I could wish one thing for my new daughter, it's that she be as tough as nails and strong as an ox. Being a woman in this world requires it." She also talks about how superficial judgy shows like Fashion Police are harmful for women and even has a few words for anyone who acts like they have all the answers.
"As a mom, you see other moms putting down each other for their parenting choices, and that's one thing that I hate," she tells me. "We should be able to choose what we want to do for our kids and shouldn't judge others for what they do. We're just trying to make the best of the situation and we're all different. And with women, in general, I think we're catty and we need to relax. If we band together, we can take over the world."
With women, in general, I think we're catty and we need to relax. If we band together, we can take over the world.
As for Polizzi's plans to take over the world—or, at the very least, least secure her brand and family's finances into the future—she hopes to emulate the trajectory of Simpson, another former MTV reality star who was once brutalized by the media and whose retail collection now takes in about $1 billion a year. Polizzi's clothing line, Snooki Love, which is similar in and price point to Forever 21, and its full-figured offshoot, Curve, can be found online at her Snooki Shop. But she also recently launched Lovanna, her more contemporary, sophisticated line, purposely leaving her trademark character off the label because she realized big-box and department stores "don't want the Snooki name," she says.
She also continues to do her podcast, "Naturally Nicole," as practice for next goal, her own talk show, and is in early talks to produce the film adaptation of Exit Zero, a novel about the apocalypse beginning in Jersey, essentially "a Sharknado-type series" about zombies, she says. In this way, you could say she does know her brand––low-brow for the masses yet genius in its sensationalism––and that beneath that soul-cutting stare, Polizzi has a great, dark sense of humor about herself. (These days on Twitter, when a troll tweets stuff like "Lord help that woman. Trying way too hard to be relevant again," she reposts their comments with a light-hearted, self-deprecating comeback: "Gurl let me live. The lord needs to help others way more than my irrelevant ass.")
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In the meantime, she is currently shooting two reality shows. One is with Farley for Verizon's free Awestruck channel aimed at young moms, and the other is LaValle's idea, which she can't disclose yet. For now, reality TV remains the most effective way to remind people she's Nicole the Mom, not Snooki the Screw Up. Her popular social media accounts and appearances in various media help convey the message, too.
Though it takes Polizzi a while to warm up, she eventually does by the end of our hour-plus meal ("Let's see pictures of your kid," she says, gesturing for my phone). I ask if she likes this part of her job, having to bullshit with journalists and the like. When people won't go out and promote, "that's when you know people just don't care about their career," she says. "If you're out promoting and having fun, that means you don't really want to be successful. Some people just take that for granted. Like, 'Oh, I'll have sales.' No, you won't. You have to do the work."