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Getting Really Unreal with Courtney Stodden

We interviewed Courtney Stodden in an attempt to discern what she brings to the table when performing the act that is her life.

by Signe Pierce
Jul 8 2015, 10:00pm

Photos by Jason Altaan for VICE

When I first heard about Courtney Stodden, I was convinced she was not real. I thought she was more of a performance artist than a budding reality star. In an era where likes serve as empty calories for our self-esteem, and we can repurpose any life moment for commodification, it's difficult for us to determine what is real and what is an act. Upon receiving the opportunity to interview and observe Stodden, I decided to answer the plaguing existential quandary: What is the actual reality of a reality star?

Playing a characterized version of yourself is nothing new. We've been immersed in the famous-for-being-famous echo chamber for decades, from the Warhol Stars to Angelyne to The Real World cast to Anna Nicole Smith to Paris Hilton to the never-ending Kardashian sprawl. But Courtney Stodden's construction has seemed unreal to the point of hyperbole. Her initial tabloid headlines felt garish by design ("16-year-old girl marries 51-year-old has-been actor"), and her meticulously calculated photo-ops (bikinis in public, 8-inch stripper heels at-all-times, ubiquitous Frappuccinos) functioned as much as entertainment as they did a studied critique on the spectacle of femininity. Viewers could perceive her devotion to a hyper-feminine aesthetic, and all of its discomfort, as a radically feminist act. A Barbie girl in the Barbie world, objectifying the nature of objectification one paparazzi snap at a time.

If my artistically inclined hypotheses had indeed steered me properly, if she was some post-Paris Hilton performance artist who had designed her life to serve as a satirical gazing ball for us to reflect on ourselves, she was brilliant. Her curated persona is undoubtedly a performative act—she lives her life like this every single day. Still, the question of intention looms: If the artist at work is unaware of the art that's being suggested, is it still art?

I emailed Stodden in an attempt to discern what she brings to the table when performing the act that is her life.

[It should be noted that all of my questions were pre-screened and monitored (and likely answered) by her omnipresent stage mother, Krista. Keep that in mind when gauging the "actual reality" of our exchange.]

VICE: What's your average day like?
Courtney Hutchison: I get up in the morning around 10 AM, brush my teeth, wash my face, cuddle both of my little fur-babies (Cupcake and Dourtney), check social media, and make a breakfast smoothie (all fruit except bananas because I'm allergic). I kiss my hubby good morning and then give the pups their breakfast. Around 11 AM, my yoga instructor comes over for a private session. Afterwards, I shower, put on my make-up, get ready for the day, take a few selfies, and my wonderful hubby delivers my Starbuck's caramel Frappuccino. (Guilty pleasure!) Then I meet with my team to discuss projects over lunch at my house. A typical lunch for me is tofu with a side of veggies. Yummy! Depending on the day, I may have a photo shoot and/or meetings in the afternoon. Somewhere in there, I squeeze in time to satisfy my shopaholic tendencies. [In the] early evening, I get to enjoy dinner (i.e. my famous veggie lasagna) with my hubby and our pooches. After dinner, I sometimes get a massage from my masseuse—and, for me, the perfect ending to the perfect day is to pop some corn, make cotton candy, curl up on the couch, and watch one of my fav flicks like, Killer Clowns from Outer Space.

You spend a lot of your time selling your life to the public. As a reality star, if you walk down the street and nobody photographs you, did you really walk down the street at all?
Yes, but I was incognito.

Considering your personal life is the public's business, what would you say is the difference between the person you are in private and the person you are in the public?
The public me always has her make-up in place and is always "on." The private me sometimes doesn't wear any make-up at all and [lays] around in pajamas. The public me plays up "the blonde bombshell" image. The private me is actually pretty unpretentious. The public me is vulnerable, yet guarded. The private me is vulnerable and unguarded.

There's certainly an element of humor involved with the blonde bombshell character. You've been quoted as saying, "I don't read or write." What are the benefits of playing up the dumb blonde character?
There definitely [are benefits], but actually, when I said "I don't read or write," I was being facetious in order to point [to] the fact that all blondes aren't dumb. The quote was taken out of context and people assumed I was being serious. Of course I read and write—otherwise, I wouldn't be able to read your questions and write my answers. LOL!

The dumb blonde is one of the oldest Hollywood clichés. You present yourself as hyper-aware of the stereotype. Are people's perceptions of you as stupid the most common misconception about you?
Marilyn Monroe did build a career on [playing dumb]. I'm exactly that—a dumb blonde. I know I look the part, but some would say I'm definitely dumb like a fox.

That's a cute twist. You're clearly a dreamer. What was the last dream you had?
Actually, I had a super fun and colorful dream last night. I was at Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. I was riding on the Ferris wheel eating cotton candy, and all of a sudden, Michael came running out of the house, grabbing his crotch, singing, "You know I'm bad, I'm bad, you know it." And then I flew from the Ferris wheel down to Michael. He gave me his glittery glove to put on, and we started climbing all of his trees together—and then I woke up feeling kind of sad knowing that it was just a dream and Michael's no longer here.

That is indeed a bittersweet dream. I was thinking about his ranch the other day and how its legacy is laced with both fantasy and tragedy. Since your image represents fantasy, and you yourself are a reality star—not to mention that you have a song called "Reality"— what does the word reality mean to you?
To me, reality means whatever you want it to be. I believe we create our own realities based on dreams, imaginations, and beliefs. I know I sound like a total Disney princess right now, but it's true. What I mean is that we all have the power to define our lives any way we choose. That's reality to me.

Get more reality by Signe Pierce here, and see Jason Altaan's previous contributions to VICE here.