For many a fan of Sex And The City, the 90s television show gave a glimpse into what they believed to be adulthood in their younger years. Excluding the dated themes that don’t quite stand up to scrutiny two decades later – biphobia, homophobia, zero diversity and more – the resonance of the careers, wardrobes and relationships of Carrie Bradshaw et al saw the 90s-to-noughties phenomenon rise to meteoric popularity. But for one fan in particular, as the New York Post reported this weekend, the world of Manolos, Mr Big and endless cocktail parties was so much more than a weekly bout of escapism. It was a lifestyle she wanted to replicate.
Julia Allison – a self-described “Carrie Bradshow 2.0” – went so far as to model much of her life on that of the show’s protagonist. After watching the show for years and establishing her own answer to the Sex And The City column at college – her column was called Sex On The Hilltop – Allison earned herself a job as a dating columnist at a free New York-based paper in the hope of achieving the largely unattainable feat of splurging on designer goods on the (usually modest) salary of a weekly columnist.
Talking to the New York Post, Allison said she went from making $50 per column, to $750 a week at Time Out New York – not quite the desired salary of a 400-square-foot apartment resident in Hell’s Kitchen. Supporting her lifestyle with tuna sandwiches, “loans from designers who took pity” on her (including Betsey Johnson) and gifts from men she dated (who gave her Yves Saint Laurent shoes and expensive purses “just like Big did for Carrie on SATC”), Allison was well on her way to replicating the life of her idol. Aided by a six-figure editor-at-large role at Star magazine, Allison threw herself in the deep end and soon saw herself flying off to Miami on private jets courtesy of a fortysomething billionaire who, chillingly, wasn’t used to "being told no”, and filmed a whopping nine TV pilots in which she always played a version of Carrie.
As well as going out with a prince, she dated Sex And The City creator, Candace Bushnell’s ex-boyfriend, a British man who Mr Big – Carrie Bradshaw’s great love – was based on
Unsurprisingly, Allison’s love life even had the Sex And The City treatment. As well as going out with a prince (Lorenzo Borghese from The Bachelor), she dated Sex And The City creator Candace Bushnell’s ex-boyfriend, a British man whom Mr Big – Carrie Bradshaw’s great love – was based on. But it was the ensuing negative coverage from the now-defunct Gawker – which once called her “one of the most hated people on the Internet” – that drove her to question the merits of her newfound fame and Bradshaw-esque escapades.
By 2011, Allison was done with living vicariously through Carrie.
Twenty years after her love affair with the show started, Allison now classes Sex And The City as a vehicle for “too much consumerism and fear of intimacy disguised as empowerment”, a mindset that she attempted to unlearn during an eight-year “healing journey” in Bali – you know, as you do. Now a change activist, it is good that Allison, like most Sex And The City fans, now recognises that the show had its fair share of problems. But while it’s clear to many of us that, as per the show’s position, bisexuality is not just a “layover to Gaytown”, people of colour live and work in New York and Carrie Bradshaw’s budget is the stuff of dreams, it wasn’t to Allison.
Although much of that can be attributed to Allison’s penchant for fantasy, it’s easy to see how someone could fall prey to the aspirational glitz and glamour of Sex And The City. Carrie’s life, though unrealistic, was fabulous. She had a full-time, successful job, a dynamic group of supportive friends, whirlwind romances and, arguably, a sense of freedom that few women had enjoyed on television.
In the week of the 20th anniversary of Sex And The City, changing social attitudes and access to more nuanced representations of women mean that few women coming of age today will look to it for guidance in the same way that they did when it first hit screens in 1998. But in its heyday, Sex And The City was one of few shows women could go to as a positive source of escapism. If only Allison had applied the common sense the rest of us generally exercise when watching fictional shows – maybe, don’t try this at home?