Taylor Armstrong stars in the Bravo reality TV series The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and is using her celebrity to change women’s lives around the world.
Armstrong’s new book Hiding From Reality: My Story of Love, Loss and Finding the Courage Within is an autobiographical account of her personal struggle with domestic violence, which ended tragically in 2011 with her estranged husband Russell’s very public suicide.
Armstrong has since survived the whirlwind media storm, and continues to live in Beverly Hills with her young daughter, Kennedy (6). Channeling her experience into positive action, Armstrong has volunteered for the 1736 Family Crisis Center for six years, and recently founded the Taylor Armstrong Foundation to expand her reach to local domestic violence shelters across the nation. She was also named Chief Creative Director of BeautyTicket.com, a new online personal shopping community.
From juicy housewife gossip, to authentic book inspiration, a college speaking tour preview and what really happened when the cameras stopped filming, get to know Taylor Armstrong in this DSD exclusive.
Q: Does the show accurately depict the women of Beverly Hills?
A: All of our relationship drama is very real. Unfortunately, our lives are not cookie cutter like people expected Beverly Hills to be. So I’m happy in a way that people have been able to see so much of how real these women are and that we really care about each other. And the fact that we get so emotional is because we are truly invested in each other’s lives and we are a part of each other’s lives.
Q: Off camera, do you think the women of Beverly Hills are similar to the famous housewives?
A: I do. I think that -- taking the drama of my life, obviously, in this last year has been pretty significant and severe in some ways -- so that aside, just the regular conflict. There is a lot of pressure for women across the country and I think that our relationships get strained with one another because we’re trying to be moms and wives and have relationships and people get their feelings hurt. It’s probably a little more intense when you’re filming a television show, just because there are cameras there and you find that your emotions are a little more raw when you’re on camera. But I do think that our conflicts are similar.
Q: The franchise, especially Beverly Hills, is known for drama. How do the producers stage and encourage conflict?
A: We don’t have writers, so everything is just us interacting with one another. They really assist us in getting together in locations, because when you’re filming in a location they have to facilitate that. So they’ll organize for us to get together sometimes in a restaurant or something, which has to happen with insurance and permits to film. So in that respect they are involved, but the real conflict that occurs is all on our own, as much as I’m embarrassed to say that. [laughs]
Q: Do the producers throw events for you, or is the show based on your authentic social schedules?
A: It’s 90% based on our own schedules, but they do have to clear buildings and venues for us to be able to film. Sometimes people will ask me, if they meet me on the street -- oh am I being filmed right now? [laughs] So it’s a little more orchestrated than that, as far as having to have cameras and releases. You can’t just have regular people in their day-to-day lives in the background not knowing that they’re being filmed.
Q: In a positive light, what are the best memories from your experience on the show?
A: You know, any time we are all just having fun together, it makes me so happy to see, because we do have our ups and downs and we’ve all been through a lot together. I had a great time with Lisa and Pandora at her bachelorette party. It was just fun, and to be around all those young girls. I was going through a lot in my personal life, and to be around them and to see that their lives really are just starting. Pandora is just now embarking on marriage for the first time. Just seeing how carefree their lives were. It was really nice to spend time with them and I always have fun with Lisa, so that was a great memory.
Also, I have Kennedy’s birthdays now -- the best home videos ever, because they’ve been documented on television. So, seeing her change, turning four on the show and then five on the show, she’s growing up in front of the cameras and it’s nice for me to be able to look back at that.
Q: How often do you see the other housewives? Do you maintain relationships off camera?
A: Oh yes we do. I’ve been trying to get together with Lisa, and our schedules just haven’t been working out. I’m shooting for tomorrow [Wednesday] -- we’re going to try and have lunch tomorrow. I see Kyle a lot, she lives in my neighborhood and we have young kids, so it’s nice that Portia and Kennedy -- although they’re a little different in age, Kennedy loves to baby Portia and play like the grown up sister. And Kyle’s older daughters are just wonderful with Kennedy, and very supportive. And I was actually just texting with Paul and Adrienne about having dinner with them. I ran into Kim at lunch the other day. And the last time I talked to Kim was on the phone -- I ran into her at lunch and then we talked on the phone. So we do see each other!
Q: What are the most important lessons you’ve learned from having your personal life in the public eye?
A: When I watched season one of the show, I really didn’t like me, and I was just a shell of myself. I was trying to keep so much of my personal life off television that I was -- it looked like me in some respects, but the way I was dressing and acting didn’t seem anything like me. And that was a real wake-up call, to see how much of myself I had lost in my relationship. And also seeing my relationship play out on television. Although I knew there were things that were wrong, I could see such a difference between the way, just in our physical space together, how we interacted versus other couples on the show. It brought to light a lot, and I think was one of the biggest catalysts for us going into treatment and therapy in the beginning of last year.
Q: You know when you are being filmed, but when do you see the final, edited shows? Were you shocked to have any comments or actions taken out of context?
A: We see it about three to five days before you do. We get the DVD’s because typically we blog about the episodes so that the blogs come out when the episodes do. And it is surprising at times, because you don’t know how it’s all going to play out and you don’t know what people are saying about you when you’re not around. So that can be surprising. I was just such a mess this last year, I really was just falling apart and I wasn’t able to keep everything that was going on in my personal life under wraps any longer. I knew too many things were going to come out in the press. And so I really was falling apart, and it was happening as much off camera as it was on. So for me, I feel like unfortunately that was an accurate portrayal of the state I was in. And in season one, I was just putting on a façade of who I thought people wanted to see, instead of really letting them into my life. Now that my life is just an open book, it’s a much better place to be.
Q: Speaking of books, what is the message of Hiding From Reality? What do you hope readers will take away from it?
A: The book starts out with me at a very young age and talks a lot about the self esteem issues that I didn’t address when I was growing up. Just being that young girl who felt like I always needed to have a boyfriend there to complete me. I think I became a serial monogamist in the seventh grade. Always needing to have a boyfriend to fill a void in myself that I wasn’t able to understand. But whenever I didn’t have a boyfriend I would have a level of anxiety, feeling like I needed someone to make me feel like I was worth something. So I think the biggest part of the message early on in the book is for young women to find that in themselves and to find their own confidence so they don’t feel like they need someone else. Because that’s when you can get into unhealthy relationships, the minute you feel like you need someone rather than they’re just a complement to you. That’s when you could allow someone to control you or to treat you poorly and you stay. And those things, left untreated, can snow ball into an abusive or significantly unhealthy relationship. You almost wake up one day and think, how did we get to this point? Because it does happen very slowly over time. And I’m hoping that the book will help people not run by all the red flags, because the red flags are there.
Q: Does the book speak to women of all ages?
A: I think college age girls and up, there is some content in here that is pretty heavy. I do think that college is an exciting but yet interesting time, because you’re away from your parents for the first time and you have that opportunity to make your own relationship choices without someone watching over you. I’m going to be embarking on a college speaking tour and talking to girls at that age about all the things that can happen when you’re making your own decisions. How to be strong and how to be safe.
Q: Tell us all about the new Taylor Armstrong Foundation.
A: The Taylor Armstrong Foundation, we just finished forming it, and it’s a 501 c3 a not-for-profit, that is to help local shelters around the country. I’ve worked with the 1736 Family Crisis Center in L.A. which has five shelters for the past six or so years, and I just found that they’re doing really amazing work and they’re really good at utilizing dollar for dollar funding and it goes into their programs. They provide legal services, job placement, job training all the things a women and a family need to get back on their feet once they decide to leave an abusive relationship, and they provide a lot of protection for them. As I’ve traveled around, I recognize that I want to have reach not just in L.A. but in other parts of the country as well for programs like 1736. And by having my own foundation I can give grants to different local shelters around the country.
For more information on Taylor Armstrong's story, book and foundation, visit taylorarmstrong.com
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