I doubt anyone who reads this site needs my condensed Wikipedia version of who exactly Ashley Dupre is, but here it goes: After her outing as Eliot Spitzer’s—one time! Though every media outlet started calling her his “favorite”—escort, she became a national joke for her music aspirations. Because everyone knows prostitutes can’t sing, or whatever. And no internet post about her was complete without a slew of comments making rude remarks about her asking price with relation to her looks. (Once again, civilians are complete dunces when it comes to the sex industry. Is there some national ranking system of attractive women that should cap rates of escorts? It was New York pre-recession, Dummies. Any twenty-something girl with decent teeth who wasn’t asking $1,000/hour was missing the opportunity of a lifetime.)
All of that didn’t stop certain jackasses from claiming that Ashley’s forced outing made her “a big winner,” as though the only reason she was escorting in the first place was in the hope of getting famous for having sex with a married governor. Even Barbara Walters had the audacity to imply that having her life ruined was worth it since she got an advice column in the NY Post. You figured us out, Media! All prostitutes are secretly dying to be nationally outed in a political scandal, which can only make our miserable lives better than they already are. What gave it away, the fact that we work under our full legal names and offer discounts to public figures?
So now Ashley is back in the public eye, sort of, if being on VH1 counts. She’s one of the semi-recognizable people on “Famous Food,” a show that claims to be about completely unqualified folks competing to join a restaurant group formed by two former reality TV stars. More accurately, it’s a show “about” people yelling at each other and coming up with bad ideas while they sit in an ugly room around a coffee stained conference table. It’s pretty hard to watch, but Ashley Dupre is the only element keeping it from being impossible to watch.
Lady’s on a mission: first thing out of the gate, she tells the camera, “An escort is not all that I am. I refuse to let my mistakes define me.” Luckily she’s been thrown in with some people who don’t seem to have a problem with former sex workers. One of the dudes from Three 6 Mafia enthusiastically says, “Two things I know about Ashley Dupre: She’s hella fine and she loves to have sex.” (I don’t want to tell Three 6 Mafia what is and isn’t current, but do people still use the word “hella?”) In a later episode, the guy who played Big Pussy on “The Sopranos” magnanimously declares, “I don’t think about stuff like that. She was a kid. If she was 40 years old and still doing that, I’d probably have something negative to say.” Alright so they’re not perfectly enlightened, but at least they’re not giving Ash a hard time about it. She, meanwhile, is as fresh and innocent as a daisy. “It’s 36 Mafia, Jake Pavelka, Danielle Staub, and I feel like I’m going to make a lot of great friends,” she says on her first day. Aw. Honey.
Speaking of legendary “prostitution whore” and recent Scores defector Danielle Staub, of “Real Housewives of New Jersey” notoriety: if you think these two women might bond over their shaming and stigmatization for sex industry pasts, you’ve clearly never seen Danielle in action. “Sweetheart, I was standing on my feet when I became famous,” Danielle says, ignoring the fact that she’s famous primarily for being an emotionally unstable former prostitute. And when Ashley does something Danielle doesn’t like, Danielle gripes, “this is why we’re looked down upon in the workplace.” Does she mean women or former sex workers? We’ll never know. But Danielle’s carping can barely get a rise out of Ashley. Their biggest fight goes as follows:
Danielle: “Don’t go there.”
Ashley: “You don’t go there!”
It’s actually super cute, how genuinely sweet Ashley is, and how disinterested she is in fighting with She-Demon Staub. And in spite of the ingenue act, she’s very mature. When she starts feeling like her past is the elephant in the room, she sits down with her group and bluntly says, “I’m not proud of it. It’s been very difficult for my family and me. [But] I need you all to respect me.” Everyone but Danielle is like, what a reasonable request. We’re all cool with you! But Danielle takes the opportunity of Ashley calling her “crazy” (to her face, after she acts irrationally) to rant, “you’re a fucking hooker and you’re not sorry?! Being with a married man who was a governor, as a call girl, I’d be nervous to call anyone names.” It’s so sad that the most sex worker-hating character on the show is another (former) sex worker.
Instead of wasting her time throwing stones from a glass house, Ashley quickly distinguishes herself as the Idea Gal. She suggests a picnic themed restaurant, which the others counter with a restaurant named “Fame,” which will be decorated in gold and purple, and serve Italian/Soul Food fusion. I challenge those of you reading this to come up with a more horrible sounding place to eat. How about “Pet,” a place where people eat what looks like dog food out of plastic bowls? Or “Crust,” where every dish on the menu is a sampling of artisanal breads? Nope, sorry, “Fame” is still worse.
Ashley’s idea eventually wins out and then, like a frickin’ dynamo, she takes it upon herself to create a menu even though she’s not on the food team. “Not only did I write up a menu,” she tells the camera, “I took it to Staples and got it laminated!” The fact that overachieving in this crowd involves lamination tells you a lot about the type of competition she’s up against. Again, the investors think Ashley is a genius and their MVP. Danielle fumes, “I already had a senator who won’t come to the opening because of her. A-listers, politicians, who don’t want their name affiliated with hers, if you know what I’m saying.” I’d like to know what Senator was planning on coming to the opening of a LA restaurant produced by a reality TV show not airing on Bravo or the Food Network. Sounds like his stock was already pretty low.
Danielle also complains about a beet salad Ashley included on her menu, “I wouldn’t eat that with a ten foot pole.” (I would pay money to watch anyone eat anything with a ten foot pole. Any takers?) Then she adds “Ashley definitely has a palate,” and clears her throat like she’s said something with a deeper meaning. I can only imagine that Danielle thinks she’s made some type of blowjob reference, apparently predicated on the belief that 1) only prostitutes give blowjobs, 2) it’s embarrassing to give or have given blowjobs and 3) the secret to a good blowjob is skillful use of one’s “palate.” Okay. Does this mean palatal expanders make you better at going down on thick guys? We’ll investigate that later. The whole grand meltdown ends with Danielle in front of her laptop asking Heidi, “How do you pull up a file? On Word Perfect or something. You don’t have to be on the internet, do you?” Aaaaand scene.
I know some sex workers have a problem with Ashley’s self-flagellation during her Diane Sawyer interview, and I’m sure those same folks won’t be thrilled by her frequently referring to her escort past as a “mistake,” but my god, let’s have some compassion. To expect her to go in front of her family and millions of strangers and try to talk to the American public about why her consensual commercial sexual activity wasn’t wrong is simply unfair. As Ashley herself has said
Everyone knows my past. Nothing is going to be bigger than what I’m known for. There is nothing that I can do that will get more media coverage, like it’s something that I have to live with for the rest of my life. I have to tell my kids, my husband, I have to deal with it, I have to continue to deal with it, and I do, I accept it. At the same time I want to show people me.
Her resilience and cheerfulness are more than I think I could muster were I to go through what she went through. As she says on her twitter profile, “I Like Me.” I like you, too, Ashley! And if you don’t win that ridiculous show, there is no God.