It’s the book that sent shockwaves through traditional sections of New York City society. When Wednesday Martin, originally from the Midwest, moved from casual, artistic downtown Manhattan to the rich, super-elite world of the Upper East Side, she couldn’t quite believe what she would find there. A social order so different and so entrenched that she decided to ‘go native’ and study the ‘tribe’ as an anthropologist (her major at university).
What follows is a hilarious – sometimes shocking – and extremely fascinating account of how the super wealthy live and raise their children in Primates of Park Avenue: A Memoir.
According to Martin, this is a world where women’s bodies are primped, pruned and shaved to within an of inch their life. These Upper East Side (UES) women spend thousands each month on grooming, designer handbags, waxing, blow dries and facials. Despite being highly educated, many of the UES women never work outside the home. They have married some of the richest men in the world and devote their lives to their children’s educations with intense parenting rituals – doing everything they can to get their three-year-olds into the absolute best nurseries, hiring the best nannies, and engineering playdates with the most elite classmates – and all while tottering in sky-high Louboutin heels.
Many of the extreme parenting rituals as reported by Martin – helicopter parenting, over-scheduling children, dieting and detoxing – can be found in many Westernised cities today. While other behaviours, such as ‘wife bonuses’ and six-figure annual grooming allowances, most of us would find fairly outrageous (if not a tad desirable!).
This book received a huge amount of press in the US, particularly New York, where some questioned the accuracy of Martin’s more outlandish claims of her life on the Upper East Side, particularly the claim that many women receive ‘wife bonuses’ from their rich husbands for good household management. Some critics questioned if the bonuses really exist, but the New York Post investigated and did in fact track down one UES wife who had received such a payment.
The accuracy in the detail is in some ways irrelevant to the reader anyway – for anyone who has felt a smidgeon of competitiveness about child rearing, dressing up, social climbing or dieting, much will ring true and it’s very amusing.
But there’s a serious side to Martin’s discoveries too. While the idea of full-time nannies, winter trips to Aspen, summer mansions in the Hamptons and a $100,000 a year grooming budget, might sound like the stuff dreams are made of, the book ultimately shows that underneath the fur coats and designer dresses are real women with real problems.
There are sleepless nights, money stresses (it doesn’t matter how much you have apparently), anti-depressants, the knocking back wines to drown the stress, the extreme competitiveness, and fear of divorce. Towards the book’s close, Martin manages to cut through the cold shoulders she first encountered and gets beneath some of the hardened exteriors, to find these women have hearts too and no matter how much cash you have, no one is immune from tragedy. Martin only manages to get this far after she faces her own huge mishap as a parent.
Something to think about the next time you covet a pair of $1,000 shoes.
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