Update February 6, 2009: Blog posts from Renee Stephens and Stephen Fowler regarding Wife Swap episode follows this article.
Update February 14, 2009: Since writing this article I had the opportunity to view the entire episode of weight loss coach Renee Stephens and her husband Stephen Fowler’s appearance on Wife Swap on YouTube Part 1, Part 2,Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 thanks in part to links on a vocipherous blog devoted exclusively to Stephen Fowler’s appearance on the show Wife Swap (See: http://blog.stephenfowlersucks.com/). I continue to give Renee Stephens the benefit of the doubt because of the admiration I have for her transformative work in weight release. All of us have at least one Achilles heel; sometimes we are married to him. Renee seemed very embarrassed by her husband’s condescending rant at the table meeting at the end of the show, and it was obvious to me she was not tacitly approving of Stephen Fowler’s behavior. I am grateful that Renee Stephens continues to produce new episodes of her Inside Out Weight Loss podcasts (see http://personallifemedia.com/podcasts/216-inside-out-weight-loss) and I will continue to follow, learn from and share her important work in ending the weight struggle and helping people find ways to feed themselves with something other than food. — Nancy Tracy
As a hypnotherapist who specializes in weight release, I considered Renee Stephens one of my top mentors. She and I had never met; in fact, she had no idea I even existed. Yet I had listened to all of Renee’s Inside Out Weight Loss podcasts, read her blog postings and even belonged to her Yahoo and Facebook groups. Her philosophy toward releasing weight using hypnotherapeutic and other energy psychology techniques meshed perfectly with my own beliefs and practices. I even started my own Meetup Group called Weight Loss Without Dieting, Think Your Way to Thinner Peace using many of Renee Stephens’ concepts, along with other leading edge weight release practices found in such books as Intuitive Eating, I Can Make You Think and The Four-Day Win.
So, it came as a huge shock to me yesterday when I discovered the blogosphere was abuzz with stories about the very same Renee Stephens who had appeared on the TV show Wife Swap the night before with her ex-pat British husband Stephen Fowler, a man who revealed himself to be both arrogant and abusive and who, some suspected, had the tacit approval of his wife. I was disappointed, saddened and bewildered. Someone whom I had put on a pedestal turned out to have feet of clay. It was as if I had found out Barack Obama was fooling around on his wife with Ann Coulter-it felt so wrong on so many levels.
Although I did not see the episode of Wife Swap, I read enough accounts to piece together that the scandal concerned Fowler’s verbal abuse of Gayla Long, the overweight Midwestern housewife who took Renee Stephen’s place at the couple’s elegant San Francisco residence. Fowler treated Long as lower class and beneath him because she preferred paintball, go-karts and fast food to his family’s higher status preferences for French lessons, organic food and saving the planet. Fowler, who works for a progressive environmental company in the San Francisco Bay Area, called his replacement wife “fat” and “stupid,” boasted about his higher education and income levels, and implied that the only way Gayla Long’s children would ever see the world was to join the military.
According to a blogger named Loralee from Utah, on that one-hour episode of Wife Swap Stephen Fowler became the man Americans most loved to hate. “I think they may even hate him more than Barney, the annoying as hell dinosaur,” she wrote. (See full blog post at http://loraleeslooneytunes.com/2009/01/31/stephen-fowler-from-wife-swap/)
What seemed to floor most bloggers and those who commented on their blogs was that Fowler’s wife, Renee Stephens, bills herself as a life coach who specializes in helping people release weight and feel better about themselves. And yet her husband did everything he could, even whilst a camera was videotaping him, to verbally abuse a less educated, overweight woman–the very type of woman his wife might be retained to help.
Worse, Renee Stephen’s husband was instilling his prejudices into his children. In the final interview on the show, Fowler’s son and daughter had apparently adopted his supercilious attitude and become virtual parrots of their father.
Of course, there was a flurry of messages on the Inside Out Weight Loss Yahoo group message board, some defending Renee Stephens’ role in the debacle, others expressing disapproval and dismay. At one point Renee Stephens’ assistant chimed in, reminding posters that the Yahoo group belonged to Renee Stephens and members should respect her feelings. But the heavy-hndedness seemed to irk the Yahoo group members even more–especially since Renee Stephens did not stick up for the overweight Gayla Long when Stephen Fowler spoke condescendingly about the midwestern housewife during the debriefing portion at the end of the show when the two couples met face to face. From all accounts, Renee Stephens sat with her face cast down, probably realizing that her dreams of promoting her weight loss coaching business on one of America’s hit TV shows had been dashed by her husband’s searing insults. Fowler’s foul attitude could not have been front page news to Stephens. More than likely, she figured that if she challenged him on national TV, he might skewer her as well.
When you listen to more than 50 podcasts of someone whom you respect and admire, you feel like you have formed a kinship with that person. That’s how I felt about Renee Stephens; she was like my mentor, sister and friend all rolled into one. While pondering the predicament she was in, it struck me that on one of her podcasts, she had talked about her estrangement from and eventual compassion for her alcoholic father, an emotionally cold and distant man who believed that providing for his family financially was sufficient to fulfill his role as a father. For those who have studied the Imago theory of marriage proposed by noted psychologist and Oprah favorite, Harville Hendrix, people tend to select spouses who remind them of one or both of their parents with the hope of getting it right the second time around, healing the initial relationship as well as residual childhood wounds.
In Renee Stephens’ case, she may have subconsciously wished for a healing… and gotten a heel instead.
As for me, I wish only the best for Renee Stephens and her family and believe that which does not kill us makes us stronger. I suspect that Renee Stephens will somehow use her nightmarish experience on Wife Swap to reach a higher plane spiritually and emotionally and that she will likely share her hard-earned wisdom with all of those whose life she touches. Including mine.
Recent blogposts from Renee Stephens and Stephen Fowler on Renee Stephen’s blog responding to the recent Wife Swap episode on which the couple appeared.
Where I stand
February 6, 2009 at 9:28 am • Filed under Uncategorized
Tuesday, Feb 3rd, 2:00 pm
Dear Clients, Colleagues, Friends and the interested public.
I deeply appreciate the compassionate outpouring of support many of you have shown as I struggle through this most difficult time.
Now that I have had a few days to gather the courage, I would like to share with you where I truly stand. I too am utterly appalled by my husband’s behavior during the swap. I had not see the footage until Friday night, so didn’t fully know how incredibly badly he had behaved until I saw it on national TV. I knew he was not proud of his behavior and that he had many misgivings. I did not know he had been aggressively cruel and insulting on so many levels. This has been impossible for me to comprehend.
While I completely condemn his behavior I feel confused because he has been a loving and dedicated husband and father for many years. This in no way can rationalize his inexcusable behavior. It is simply an explanation of why it has taken me this long to make a statement. I have asked Stephen to get professional help.
Finally, I know that I created offense as well. When I made the statement about the parents not having advanced degrees, I was responding to direct and probing questions from the director about what level of education I thought the Long’s had. I certainly don’t think people need college degrees to live intelligent and valuable lives, and was not passing any kind of judgment with my comment. My edited comment regarding being an American was actually an acknowledgement that being born here isn’t enough of a reason to be proud. We each need to make meaningful contributions that we are proud of and acknowledge other’s contributions as well. We create community and we try to live honorably and that is what makes us proud but it’s not our birthright. I am grateful to be a part of this country.
Again, thank you for your heartfelt comments.
A Message from Stephen Fowler
February 6, 2009 at 8:29 am • Filed under Uncategorized
Stephen wrote this of his own volition, without input from me. I offer it without comment.
I hope you will take this as a sincere and unequivocal apology. I have been completely taken aback by the response my behavior generated and it has taken a while for me to figure out what to say. I’m not doing this to try and redeem myself. Rather I’m trying to try and undo some of the hurt that people have obviously felt as a result of my comments.
Clearly I behaved like a complete jerk and I am deeply sorry for all the offense I have caused. I’m not going to hide behind excuses, I showed an extraordinary level of stupidity and arrogance. I will do my best to address most of the criticism directed at me. If I miss something out, however, it is not because I do not deem it important, it is just that there is rather a lot to cover.
First off, let me say I am deeply sorry for the terribly insulting way I treated Gayla during the show. She is a very pleasant person and clearly did not deserve to be treated that way. In fact, no one deserves to be treated that way. I was a bully, and it was just plain unacceptable. Once again, I offer my sincere apologies to Gayla, Alan, and their boys.
Some of my remarks obviously made me appear unpatriotic. Well that was just dumb. I chose to become a US citizen because I deeply respect the values upon which this great country is based. For the record, I think the US is an amazing country and I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather live. And while I do not happen to believe the Iraq war is a good idea, I do have a huge amount of respect for all the personnel who serve in the US military. They have the toughest job in the world and I am truly grateful for the sacrifices that they make to protect this country.
I used gross generalizations about Midwesterners and I am deeply sorry for any hurt I caused with these statements. My comments were just stupid and made me look like the one who is undereducated. Some of my best friends are Midwesterners, which shows how truly dumb my comments were.
I also deeply regret that my actions reflected badly on the environmental organizations with which I am affiliated, and were of disservice to the environmental movement as a whole. I’ve resigned both my nonprofit board positions and would ask you to not judge these organizations by my actions. I offer my sincere apologies to all the staff and board members.
Further, I regret that my remarks made me come across as a person who disrespects overweight people. I do not disrespect anyone for being overweight and I deeply regret that my remarks suggested I do. My wife has devoted her career to helping people and my comments reflect poorly on her and her heart-felt work. I apologize for my extreme insensitivity to her clients and her mission. Please don’t judge Renee by my actions.
I also want to apologize to my family and friends and thank them for their support, which I scarcely deserve. I believe we can all grow from experiences and I will work to ensure this experience teaches me to become a better, more compassionate person.
Finally I want to be clear that these are my words and I have received no input from anyone else, not even my wife. I hope this apology will be taken in the true spirit it was given.