Couch potatoes and reality TV fanatics alike will have almost certainly watched an episode or two of TLC’s flagship show, Sister Wives. The series documents the lives of a turbulent polygamist family living in Arizona and, if you’re anything like me, you may have pondered dipping your TV-obsessed’s toes into this world yourself. What you probably didn’t expect was to trip, fall head first, curl up with a blanket, and never leave.
The famous family in question consists of: Kody Brown (the patriarch), Meri Brown (first wife), Janelle Brown (second wife), Robyn Brown (fourth wife), their 18 kids, and—until recently—Christine Brown (third wife). Those who follow the Brown family as closely as I do know that Christine officially left the household in November 2021 following explosive revelations regarding her romantic relationship—or lack thereof—with her shared husband. But more on that later.
Premiering in 2010, Sister Wives quickly became one of TLC’s most profitable and popular TV shows, piquing people’s interest and natural curiosity in polygamy and a family’s plight to live a normal life without fear of persecution.
In February 2020, the Utah House and Senate reduced the punishment for consensual polygamy, which had previously been classified as a felony, to roughly the equivalent of a traffic ticket. Nevertheless, plural marriage is still technically illegal in the US and therefore viewers were invited to watch the family move from state to state in search of a safe environment to raise their children without worrying about being reported to the authorities.
We were also witness to some pretty awkward moments, such as when Meri spoke of having to divorce Kody so that his new partner at the time—Robyn—could become his legal wife. The series was one of the first to broadcast the story of a polygamist household and record the day-to-day lives of a family such as the Browns.
Over the course of 17 seasons, fans began to spot certain clues as to who was Kody’s ‘favourite wife’. And after the COVID-19 pandemic shone a light on certain biases in regards to where the shared husband was spending most of his time, one wife was officially pushed over the edge.
On 2 November, 2021, Christine (third wife) shared with her Instagram followers: “After 25 years together, Kody and I have grown apart and I have made the difficult decision to leave.”
For avid viewers of the show, we were well-aware of how unhappy Christine had been in recent years, so this statement didn’t come as a shocking surprise. In fact, in a number of episodes, the mother of six would often refer to her relationship with Kody as “sad”—particularly, in reference to the lack of intimacy within their marriage and her feeling of isolation.
In one specific heart-wrenching episode, Christine recalled how previously, when they had been living in Las Vegas, she had found it incredibly hurtful how Kody would never shower at her house—choosing instead to wash at one of his other wives’ homes. The reality star stated, “I do everything I can to make my home our home, and he’s like ‘Well, Meri’s shower is better’. I’m like, ‘I don’t care. Because what you’re saying is that I don’t matter’.”
In a more recent episode in season 16, Christine detailed the moment in which she realised that the intimate side of her relationship with Kody was over. The couple were discussing the installation of a door for Christine’s bedroom and Kody stated it was due to not wanting the cat to get in.
Christine asked him plainly, “I need to know, is the door just about the cat and it’s not about us not having an intimate side of our marriage?” to which Kody responded, “I’m not interested in having an intimate marriage anymore. I don’t like your behaviour. We’ll see if you can be a good sister wife.”
“I’m heartbroken, my heart’s shattered, to be honest with you,” Christine confided to the cameras.
Similar TLC shows such as Seeking Sister Wife and My Five Wives have also documented some of the eccentricities of plural marriage—some more so than others.
Jarod Clark, for example, was an exceptionally controversial figure within the community during his run on Seeking Sister Wife season three, single-handedly exposing some of the most toxic and misogynistic elements of plural marriage. Most notably, Clark’s insistence on practicing polygyny as opposed to polygamy. The primary difference between the two is that polygyny is geared more towards the male’s needs and desires.
In Clark’s own words, he favours this lifestyle because “kings had multiple queens and each wife played an intricate part in that king’s life and building and growing the king.” Sadly for Clark, his second queen, Kaleh, found him far too controlling and left, evidently seeking a castle without so many restrictions.
For Christine, her departure from her Sister Wives family was a monumental release. In season 17, after revealing her plans to her fellow wives, she expressed, “I need to make a choice for happiness. I need to make a choice to have joy in my life and peace and there hasn’t been a lot of hope at all until I decided to leave.”
Shauna Rae was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer at only six months old. Luckily, she received life-saving chemotherapy treatment which—while fighting off the cancer—rendered her pituitary gland dormant, thereby stunting her ability to grow as a normal child would.
Now aged 23, Rae is only three feet ten inches tall and weighs approximately 50 pounds, giving her the physical appearance of an eight-year-old girl. Rae still, however, seeks a fulfilling and normal life as a grown woman, and captures this turbulent journey on her own TLC reality TV show, I Am Shauna Rae.
TLC has always been known as the network that showcases unique personal journeys—such as the most identical twins in the world and their shared fiancé—and encourages audiences to educate themselves on a wide array of human stories and challenges. This case is no different.
For those of you who might not know what pituitary dwarfism is, it’s a medical condition caused by insufficient amounts of growth hormone in the body. Few cases can be accurately treated with the use of synthetic growth hormones.
In I Am Shauna Rae, viewers follow the young woman’s journey as she tries to experience a number of different activities such as going to a bar, getting a tattoo and even going on a blind date. While out with friends at a bar, Rae is treated poorly and after being asked to leave—due to the bartender assuming she is underage—she’s forced to repeatedly show her ID in an attempt to enjoy herself without receiving judgmental looks from the other patrons.
According to UNILAD, Rae has also expressed her frustrations with the ways in which she is compared to 24-year-old sister, Tara. She stated, “It is difficult seeing my other friends and family being more independent, but I don’t envy or have any jealousy towards Tara and what choices she has made in her life, whether that’s going to college or moving out. But I think it’s entirely unfair that my parents treat us differently as we’re only two years apart.”
During the reality TV show, Rae frequently airs her disappointment at the fact that so many of her friends and family continue to treat her like a child due to her stature, rather than as the 23-year-old woman that she is. She even recently took up vaping in order to try and appear older.
When it comes to love and dating, the Long Island native has also spoken at length during I Am Shauna Rae about the disturbing kind of men who gravitate to her.
“I attract creeps. It’s difficult when you look like an eight-year-old—a lot of guys have an issue with it at first, they feel that sense of staring and that’s why a lot of my relationships don’t work, they don’t know how to deal with my height. People don’t understand that I’m an adult.”
Rae went into further detail on the dating subject during an appearance on The Sarah Fraser Show in February 2022. The TLC star, when considering the topic of sex within the dwarfism community, shared on the podcast that “I know sex is a huge topic when it comes to disability and just dwarfism in general, so it is something that is touchy, but it’s something that needs to be talked about. I don’t think sex should be so taboo as it is in our society.”
The young woman continued: “At least for me, it was confirmation that I can kind of do whatever I want, because growing up I was told that it might not be a possibility. And when I found the boyfriend that I had and we dated for a couple years and it finally happened, it made me feel like a normal woman.”
Well, with season two of I Am Shauna Rae set to hit our screens before the end of the year, we’re sure there’s much more in store for this taboo-breaking remarkable individual.