I’VE ALREADY TALKED about how problematic reality network Bravo’s Shahs of Sunset can be, with its one-dimensional representation of the Los Angeles Iranian-American community as one that’s obsessed with debauchery, status, wealth, and material possessions. But every so often I’ll find myself giving the show another chance (it is, after all, one of the only shows on air centered around Persians), and though I’ll still wince at a scene here and there, sometimes I’ll be pleasantly surprised with what I see. That was the case with Monday night’s Season 4/Episode 9, entitled “Can’t Fake the Funk.”
Sure, there’s the melodrama that we’ve come to expect from anything produced by Bravo-slash-Ryan Seacrest, this time centered around a he-said-she-said argument between two of the cast members and an explosive dinner showdown. Whatever — those kinds of scenes are a dime a dozen and ain’t nothin’ to bat an eyelid at. The scene that did catch my attention was the one in which cast members Mercedes “MJ” Javid and Reza Farahan visit The L’Cheriyve Studio in Gardena, CA to shoot some sexy “boudoir photos” for MJ’s boyfriend. MJ gets the full hair-and-makeup treatment and slips into some super-provocative outfits — not to mention poses — while she makes love to the camera. Here’s MJ’s voice-over during the shoot:
“Every year that goes by, I learn how to embrace and be happy with what I have. The old me would have thought I had to, you know, be my ideal weight. So the fact that I’m doing this boudoir shot is just saying ‘F**k it.’ …You always look up to women who say ‘I wish I knew in my twenties what I know now,’ and this is one of those things. Every woman should have what the woman who struts down the runway in a million-dollar bra has. So you, too, at home should treat yourself to this and celebrate your body, your face, your beauty.”
MJ has openly admitted to struggling with her weight many times over the course of Shahs of Sunset. We’ve seen her mother, who makes guest appearances on the show from time to time, and other cast members speak critically about her weight. Having that kind of criticism lobbed at you in front of millions of viewers, opening yourself up to the potential judgment and scorn of strangers while also dealing with the opinions of your loved ones and your own feelings, to boot, has to put all kinds of pressures on you to conform to conventional standards of beauty – especially when the majority of your female cast-mates already do. In this episode, not only does MJ send her haters to the left and express satisfaction with and love for her body, she also celebrates that self-love in a way that is usually only reserved for Victoria Secret models and women like them. It’s a great moment to witness, and one that has obviously resonated with viewers, since many have taken to posting messages of support and solidarity with MJ on Twitter.
It’s true that she did take those photos for her boyfriend, complicating things by introducing the issue of linking feelings of female self-worth with male validation. I think, though, that you can tell from watching her enjoyment and level of comfort with her body during the photo shoot that she’s doing it as much for herself as she is for the man in her life. And while he did show enthusiasm for the framed picture she gave him later on in the episode, I like to think that if he expressed anything less than full-on support, she would have kicked him to the curb and hung the picture on the wall of her apartment, to remind her every day that the love for and confidence in her body she has come to possess is worth more than any million-dollar bra.