Bethenny Frankel: How the 'RHONY' Icon Transcended Reality TV

Wow, Bethenny, wow.

Real Housewives of New York star Bethenny Frankel has officially announced that she will not be returning for the series’ upcoming 12th season, leaving behind a lengthy reality television legacy and enormous shoes to fill.

Bethenny, who has been on the New York iteration of the franchise on and off since its inception in 2008, said in a statement,

“It’s time to move on and focus on my daughter, my philanthropy, and my production partnership with Mark Burnett, producing and starring in shows which represent a shift in the conversation for women. With the changes in modern culture, I want to highlight the strength, confidence, and unstoppable power that women have.”

She went on to add,

“My experience at Bravo has been an incredibly magical ride. I am so grateful to them for highlighting my entrepreneurialism and allowing me to pave the way for many women to achieve their goals. I am excited for my future. The best is yet to come.”

bethenny frankel real housewives
Photo by: Heidi Gutman/ Bravo

While the best might be yet to come for Bethenny, the future of the RHONY franchise will certainly take a hit with her departure. Bethenny has objectively made the Housewives franchise what it is today: she promoted authenticity and entrepreneurship since the very beginning, championed philanthropy, and demanded that the world pay attention to women over 40.

For those of us who have followed Bethenny since the beginning, it’s been so rewarding to see just how far she’s come. When Bethenny first appeared on RHONY, she was the only cast member that was still seeking success rather than enjoying it. She was living in a small New York City apartment and was hustling to get her Bethenny Bakes business off the ground, a venture that ultimately failed but acted as a precursor to her Skinnygirl empire.

Bethenny was also one of the only women on the series that wasn’t actually a housewife; she had a nice-seeming, commitment-hesitant boyfriend (the forgettable first of two Jasons) who faded to the background of their relationship. Bethenny’s true love was her career. It was clear that her main priority was to start a successful business and that her dream was to become the next Martha Stewart; love, marriage, and babies were all just bonuses.

bethenny frankel rhony
Photo: @bethennyfrankel / Instagram

Fast-forward ten seasons and Bethenny has become a business mogul overseeing a sprawling collection of Skinnygirl products. In a franchise that has otherwise been inundated with socialites, stay-at-home moms, and cabaret “stars,” (ahem, Luann), Bethenny has always been a ‘round-the-clock working gal. She was completely transparent about the hard work she puts in to make the Skinnygirl brand the success it’s become and her from-scratch accomplishments were a breath of fresh air to the show.

Bethenny was also the first housewife to use her platform as a means to shoulder philanthropic efforts. While the charity gala has been a well-worn trope in Real Housewives-land as an excuse for socialites to dress up and pat themselves on the back, Bethenny is the first to headline an honest-to-god charity initiative that involves much more than simply shelling out cash.

In the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Maria that shattered Houston and Puerto Rico, respectively, Frankel founded B Strong: Disaster Relief. She chartered planes filled with food, money, and medical supplies to distribute to people in crisis and ventured to Puerto Rico in-person numerous times to assist those struggling in the hurricane’s aftermath. Bethenny proved that the reality television world could do more than merely amplify silly drama; it could be used as a way to shed light on real, serious issues impacting our world today.

bethenny frankel real housewives of new york city
Photo: Bethenny Frankel / Facebook

While Vicki Gunvalson is somewhere still white-knuckling the title of OG of the OC, Bethenny Frankel was really the OG that elevated the Housewives franchise to its current notoriety. Before Bethenny, Real Housewives was framed as a behind-the-gates narrative, a chance for viewers to peek into the lives of the elite. Bethenny didn’t just let us sneak a glimpse of her life; she invited us in with open arms. She was brash and irreverent and completely open about the grit behind the glamour, always with a joke on hand. While Luann is busy spewing condescension at anyone she deems lesser than and Sonja is still waxing poetic about Morgan days gone by despite having long split from her ex-husband, Bethenny has remained the down-to-earth counterpart keeping us anchored in reality. And her reality, which has stayed free of pretension all these years, has been so much fun to watch.

bethenny frankel rhony leaving
Photo by: Heidi Gutman/ Bravo

One common criticism that Bethenny – and the Housewives franchise overall – has faced over the years is that her actions can be anti-feminist. And look, that’s absolutely the case. Bethenny has had her part in slut-shaming and tearing down other women in ways that are certainly disappointing to the feminist cause. But in the ten years that she’s been on our television screens, she has strived for authenticity by unapologetically being herself. We saw her drive a shrink-wrapped Skinnygirl car and grind to make her business dreams a reality. We saw her fall in love and leave the show, only to come back dealing with a grueling and emotionally abusive divorce. She had a daughter, a new love of her life. She formed friendships and watched them fall apart. She mourned her boyfriend Dennis after his sudden death. She launched a disaster relief initiative. She mentioned it all.

For ten years, Bethenny opened her life up to the world and allowed viewers to see her as genuine, flawed, and imperfectly human. Just like us, Bethenny has often stumbled, but she has never stopped striving to be a better person. She has made her fair share of mistakes, just like anyone else. She has just made many of them on camera and has let us in to see her at her best and her worst. And for that, I couldn’t be sorrier to see her go.

For her part, Bethenny took to Instagram to thank the fans that have stuck with her from the very beginning and to reassure them that other plans are on the horizon. She even gave a nod to her very first season tagline, writing,

“Stay tuned, you haven’t seen the last of me… New York City is still my playground.”


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Michelle Vincent
Michelle Vincent is a project manager and freelance writer. She enjoys traveling, is worried she won't love her future children as much as she loves her dogs, and is actively recruiting podcast recommendations.