The height of American television started with The Simple Life and ended with Pretty Wild, an E! reality show about a girl accused of robbing Orlando Bloom as a member of the infamous Bling Ring. Her name was Alexis Neiers (she denies the crime). At the time of the alleged burglary, she lived with her two sisters and her mother, the former Playboy model Andrea Arlington.
In between dealing with the trial and the girls' Hollywood exploits (modeling for Biatta Lingerie, arguing with Vanity Fair journalist Nancy Jo Sales about journalism ethics), Arlington homeschooled the girls in a self-help book called The Secret. The text directs readers to follow the law of attraction: The belief that the universe will give you what you crave if you think about your wants enough.
As part of the law, Arlington taught her daughters how to make vision boards. In an episode of Pretty Wild, she tells them, "We are going to make vision boards about people demonstrating good character, like Angelina Jolie." A few years later, Sofia Coppola recreated the scene in her movie The Bling Ring.
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Although critics despised the movie—only Sofia Coppola could make a boring film about Alexis "this is Nancy Jo calling" Neiers—Pretty Wild's fans have continued to adore Pretty Wild. A day doesn't pass without a homo mockingly tweeting, "Nancy Jo, this is Alexis Neiers calling," but fans mostly love the show for the characters' earnestness. Andrea and her daughters wanted fame, money, and more Juicy Couture tracksuits, but they believed in the goddamn law of attraction. Like Disney princesses belting "I Want" songs, they were going to do anything to get what they want.
Since their hero's journey on E! ended, the cast realized they suffered from some serious problems. "Look at the freaking life that we had," Arlington says. "How can you not feel slightly fucked up after all of that?" Neiers went to jail for heroin possession, and then found sobriety and got married. (Disclosure: I am friends with Alexis.) Arlington divorced her husband, Neiers' stepdad, and moved into a new house, but she has continued to study The Secret and create vision boards.
My daughter [Alexis] has overcome a heroin addiction. I got a house on the market that I can't fucking sell.
I have always considered vision boards bullshit. My parents sent me to Catholic school. The trauma of mean nuns, who would yell at me for coloring outside of the lines but defend a church that raped children, turned me away from all spirituality. Deep down, though, I've always wanted a God—or at least a vision board—to magically protect me. In the last two years, I've wanted a God more than ever. Last year, my mother told me she had lied about my paternity. Immediately, I felt like my parents never loved me. Since then I have only fucked guys with boyfriends. Without a strong connection to family, all I want is someone to love me. When I visited Los Angeles to look for an apartment earlier this year, I traveled 45 minutes to a shared-office space in the Valley to meet up with Arlington and learn how to make a vision board.
Arlington uses the space with the ghostwriter of her new self-help book, aptly called Fucked Up at Fifty. The book lacks a release date, but she shared with me the opening chapter.
"Wow! Half a century has already gone by, and what a riot it's been," she writes. "Two beautiful daughters, a foster daughter happily married, one beautiful grandchild, and an international modeling and entertainment career behind me. I can hardly wait to finish my book about how fabulous my life has become. But wait, I think to myself, Are you fucking kidding me? That's just part of my journey. The truth is I'm headed back to court on Monday with my third fucking husband who wants to reduce us to court. My daughter [Alexis] has overcome a heroin addiction. I got a house on the market that I can't fucking sell. My reality show was canceled, but not before every media known to man trashed me and my daughters, and I'm scared shitless about growing old alone. What the fuck is so fabulous about that?"
Arlington doesn't look fucked up. She looks as hot as she did on E!—which is to say, very hot for a middle-aged woman. She wore a silky white shirt and giggled between sentences. Like Elizabeth Wurtzel, the literary world's closest equivalent to a reality star, Arlington's eyes bulge out of her face.
Arlington was most excited to show me her latest vision board, covered in cut-outs from both fashion magazines and Fortune. In one corner, she pasted a photo of herself on Oprah's body. Her goals for this board: Finding a new husband and launching a successful career as a self-help author.
She says vision boards made her previous dreams come true. Arlington initially turned to the craft in 2000, when her love life was in the gutter. She covered her vision board in pictures of guys. "I wanted to meet a new husband, and it worked," Arlington explained. Remembering her previous success with vision boards, she decided to return to the practice in 2012 when she wanted to stop taking pills.
"I wanted to make changes in my life," Arlington said. "Boy did it work: Suddenly single!"
Three years later, she sees her divorce as part of the universe rewarding her. She wanted to get "serious about living," practice her spirituality and live a healthier lifestyle, but believes her ex-husband wasn't "ready for me to get serious." He left her, and the universe gave her a chance to start anew. She has made a scrapbook detailing her goals, including her plans to have someone ghostwrite her self-help book and stage life workshops for other fucked-up women. Today, I am the fucked-up 50-year-old woman. To make my vision board, Arlington took out a pile of magazines.
"You go through magazines, for instance Town & Country, or Oprah, or whatever the magazines are that you feel akin to," Arlington instructed me. "Then you find images of—perhaps if you're wanting to build a new relationship, you would find images of yourself and your partner. In order not to get caught up in the fact that his face or her face isn't the right partner, you just cut out a piece of paper and stick it over their face.'' If I want to improve my career, she said, I should follow different directions: "You'd cut out images of money and you would start to create a business board."
She asked me who I would want to date. Knowing the vision board scene on Pretty Wild, I brought an envelope full of cut-outs from a magazine. I removed pictures of Brody Jenner, my ideal man. I accidentally also brought a picture of a parrot, and Arlington assumed I wanted it in the image.
I got my first national magazine cover when I was 14 because she took me on a Greyhound bus to an audition in Chicago, and I got my first job and then from there I went into becoming an international model with Elite.
"I don't want a parrot though," I said. "I cut out the parrot. I want a guy with Brody Jenner's."
"Oh my gosh!" she said. "You want a guy that's like Brody?"
Next, Arlington told me I need to look at my board every day and imagine myself with Brody.
"You've gotta have your emotions engaged," she said. "When you put your pictures on your vision board, you're going to stand in front of the vision board, and you're going to really embody the emotion that that's going to happen when you're with your perfect man."
Arlington may sound ridiculous, but her vision boards have gotten her very far. She says she grew up in Madison, Wisconsin. Working to get to California wasn't easy. When she was 20, her brother died in a "a drug and alcohol related accident," she says. She got sober and stayed clean until her parents broke up.
"I raised myself from the time I was a young woman," she said. "I actually lived with a transsexual, who taught me how to do my hair and makeup and how to walk and talk and be a model. I got my first national magazine cover when I was 14 because she took me on a Greyhound bus to an audition in Chicago, and I got my first job and then from there I went into becoming an international model with Elite."
Unfortunately, the law of attraction works both ways.
She says the law of attraction has helped her continue to reach her goals. When I left her office with my board, I left feeling uneasy if she knew something more about life, or lacked self-awareness like most of Los Angeles. I remember how she explained how her daughters made vision boards to become famous, and then became famous.
All I wanted was a boy. In Los Angeles, I discovered nobody, but a few weeks later, my friend set me up on drinks with a boy. I liked him a lot, and he seemed to like me. He stopped speaking to me a few months later. The vision board worked, but only temporarily. Who knows what will happen next? As Arlington told me, she and her daughters made a vision board to become famous. They got what they wished for, but not in the way they expected.
"Unfortunately, the law of attraction works both ways," Arlington said. "In my affirmation for the girls I had written that we became famous and were able to make a difference in the lives of women and children. Well, today, look at Alexis. She's famous, and she's making a difference in the lives of women and children, but it's not exactly what she wished for. Maybe our vision wasn't clear enough on how that was going to happen, by positive means or whatever.
"The bottom line is that ultimately, that affirmation has manifested."
For more info visit www.andreaarlington.com.