This week, reality stars have tried doing their own damage control, but it’s only backfired. LaToya Howard (known online as LaToya Forever), who has a recurring role on Real Housewives of Atlanta, released two videos on YouTube addressing her divorce, just one week before an episode of RHOA questioned whether she had an affair with a pastor. Meanwhile, an unedited photo of Khloe Kardashian made the rounds that, to many, didn’t seem like a big deal. In both instances, these celebrities’ need to aggressively control their narrative only made the conversation they were trying to avoid spiral even further.
Before securing a spot on RHOA, LaToya Howard (formerly known as LaToya Ali) was successful on YouTube as a family vlogger. Last year, she announced that she and her husband Adam Ali were divorcing ahead of the news that she would be joining the Bravo franchise. Her storylines on the show have only fueled interest in the details of her divorce. She seemed eager for the freedom of being separated, although at one point she suggested that she would be reconciling with her husband. The central tension between her and fellow newcomer Drew Sidora often leads back to how they view marriage, and in a preview for the upcoming episode, Sidora drops an alarming allegation romantically linking the YouTuber with a pastor from a local church. Although Sidora’s claims could have been a dramatization of what’s to come on the show, Howard’s real life began unraveling almost immediately.
This week, her ex-husband did an exclusive interview with entertainment blogger Tasha K, which was the catalyst for Howard to release two 30-minute videos of her account of the divorce. In her videos, she alleges that her nine-year relationship with Ali was nothing more than a business arrangement and admits to being unfaithful. But her admissions of infidelity seem insignificant in comparison to the allegations she makes against Ali. She accuses him of physical, mental, and emotional abuse after he found out about her extramarital affairs, and says he wanted her to get an abortion when she was pregnant with their second child. The most shocking allegation, and probably the most damaging, is Howard’s account of conceiving their third child. “He knows my weakness is alcohol, and we got extremely drunk with our friends,” she says. “I completely blacked out and I woke up the next morning and I didn’t even know if I had sex or not.” On Thursday, Ali responded in a video to deny the rape allegations along with the other claims of abuse. “How willing are you to sabotage the well-being of your children, [and] your former spouse just to get online validation to feel better about yourself?” Ali asked.
The DIY nature of Howard’s videos leaves room for an audience to poke holes at the material we’ve been presented with. The videos, which were posted on her joint account with her new boyfriend, also appear to have been heavily edited. Every allegation of abuse should be taken seriously. But in the court of public opinion and oversharing, it’s her word versus Ali’s, and in trying so hard to manipulate her version of the truth, the result comes off far less genuine.
The controversy surrounding an unedited photo of Khloe Kardashian is another spot-on example of what it looks like to want to protect your image. On Wednesday, after a photo of Kardashian in a bikini was mistakenly released, it was reported that Kardashian was trying to have the photo scrubbed from the internet, a move that struck many as yet another way that the family empire has contributed to unrealistic beauty standards. Following the backlash, she took to Instagram Live to show off unedited footage of her body in an attempt to prove that she doesn’t need to rely on PhotoShop. “I’m not going to lie,” she wrote on Instagram. “It is almost unbearable to live up to the standards that the public have all set for me. For over a decade now, every single flaw and imperfection has been micro-analyzed and made fun of to the smallest detail and I am reminded of them everyday by the world.” According to her, privilege and celebrity have exacerbated her existing issues with body image and her attempt to remove the photo was a form of self-preservation.
We are living in an age of DIY crisis management, when stars who purport to be transparent and personable have to respond when what’s presented as “real” deviates from that narrative. Howard and Kardashian have made a career of making the intimate details of their lives entertainment, so naturally viewers will expect them to address controversy directly. The disconnect comes, however, when their version of the truth does not completely align with the version of themselves they’ve marketed to us. Howard’s personality as LaToya Forever, a family-oriented wife and mother, is directly under attack by the persona she shows us weekly on RHOA. Kardashian’s anti-PhotoShop post ignores that her body changed drastically before her “revenge body” rebrand. Each version of these truths were given to us by the source, so which one are we supposed to believe now?
Kristin Corry is a Senior Staff Writer for VICE.