Life after becoming a teenage mother isn’t easy for any girl. Being an MTV Teen Mom, however, takes things to a whole other level. This past week’s crop of headlines about former Teen Mom stars involved alleged heroin addictions, reunions with questionable boyfriends, and, in now-21-year-old Farrah Abraham’s case, a “sex tape.”
The phrase is in quotes for a reason. Through a clumsy series of apparent miscommunications, Abraham, the mother of a 4-year-old named Sophia, both denied the existence of the tape and threatened legal action against any distributors when approached by TMZ (while too-appropriately-to-be-true exiting a lingerie shop). Whereas her co-star, adult film star and Lindsay Lohan survivor James Deen, confirmed its existence a day after he was seen leaving porn distributor headquarters Vivid Entertainment hand in hand with Abraham. With trademark bluntness, Deen told TMZ, “definitely not dating [Farrah]. Got tested together on Friday and then saw her on set. That is my only experience with the lady.” Ergo, the tape does exist and it was on a “set.” Ergo, it’s not a sex tape; it’s a professionally produced sex video—also just called porn.
Deen is unruffled by the ensuing ruckus. He says the company (which he isn’t allowed to name) pitched him the sex-tape idea and tried to arrange for him and Abraham to be seen “on a date” having coffee or dinner in order to drum up interest—to which he responded with an absolute “no.”
“I said I’m like the worst person for this job because, not to be arrogant, but people are gonna know me,” he told The Daily Beast. “If they see me in a porno, they’re gonna be like ‘Hey look, it’s James!’ And then they’ll come to me and ask me about this and I’m gonna be like, ‘Oh yeah, it was a porno’ … Really, what ended up happening was someone took a picture of her and I coming out of her hotel room and they sent that to TMZ. TMZ called me and was like, ‘Hey what’s going on?’ And I did exactly what I said I was gonna do. I’m not going to lie and tell them that I’m dating someone who I’ve never met before.”
“Everybody knows that celebrity tapes are fake. And if you don’t know, let me tell you: they’re all fake!
No one appears to have told Vivid Entertainment’s founder and co-chair Steven Hirsch that the jig is up. In a written statement on Tuesday, he stubbornly kept up the “tape” ruse: “I’ve seen a few minutes of the tape and was amazed at how sexy Farrah is,” Hirsch wrote. “It would fit in well with Kim Kardashian and our other celebrity sex tapes.” Meanwhile, Abraham herself has flip-flopped again, this time admitting the tape exists but still insisting it was private. “I’m a great woman, mother and entrepreneur,” she said in a statement sent to Fox 411 on Wednesday. “I wanted my own personal video made and photos taken for myself, when I am older I will have my best year to look back on.” She also tossed in the fact that she “will not be [selling the movie] for anything less than a couple million.” (Abraham declined to comment for this article.)
Everyone has watched this routine before: Bill the film as a stolen “tape,” get it “leaked,” profit. Until Deen spilled the beans, Abraham was doing her part of the job expertly. She released a slew of click-bait photos of herself modeling bikinis the day after the “scandal” broke. And her denials and legal threats are faithfully modeled after the de rigueur motions of past sex-tape shock-feigning stars. In the early-to-mid-aughts, that meant soon-to-be superstars Paris Hilton or Kardashian, who each had reality shows to promote within months of the leaks. Even today, Kardashian’s tape is still being mined for publicity: Ray J, Kardashian’s sex tape co-star, released “I Hit It First” a few days ago, a song meant to remind everyone that he once had sex with a woman who is now a trillion times more famous than him.
But that was then. Post-2010, sex-tape success stories mean … Tila Tequila? Kendra Wilkinson? Yeah, we hadn’t thought of them in a long time either. Nobody gets famous from sex tapes anymore. Maureen O’Connor at The Cut mapped out “The Death of the Celebrity Sex Tape.” And Choire Sicha at The Awl rightly said, “This is not a sex tape! This is a good old-fashioned porno.”
Deen agrees. “Everybody knows that celebrity tapes are fake,” he says. “And if you don’t know, let me tell you: they’re all fake! I know that the Kim Kardashian one was fake, Paris Hilton, Tila Tequila. But the thing is, who cares? It’s people I wanna see naked having sex … I don’t give two shits if it was a ‘stolen home video’ or somebody paid them $100,000 to do it. It makes no difference to me. It was awesome.”
Fair enough. There are people who would pay to see Farrah Abraham have sex. But then why bother billing it as a sex tape? At best, it’s a painfully transparent strategy. “I think it’s a bigger deal that she just did a porn,” Deen says, later adding: “The whole thing has just snowballed out of control, and it’s turned into this weird bullshit game where people are still trying to keep their media.”
Abraham probably is “trying to keep her media” (Teen Mom wrapped up last August). But the puzzle still remains: why this particular way of keeping the spotlight?
Abraham was first featured back when she was a high school cheerleader from Council Bluffs, Iowa, on the first season of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant. She lived with her micromanaging mother then and was busy raising Sophia without the little girl’s father, Derek Underwood, who was killed in a car crash just two months before Sophia was born. According to Abraham’s memoir, My Teenage Dream Ended, they were an on-and-off couple. “Derek had never stepped up to take on the role of father,” Abraham writes, though she admits she never actually told him he was Sophia’s father. The pair’s relationship was apparently volatile enough at one point that Abraham demanded he stop harassing her and changed her phone number.
Relations between Abraham’s parents are even more fraught. Though they were often portrayed on the show vacationing together or joining Farrah and Sophia on outings, Debra Danielson and Michael Abraham are divorced—and both have been arrested on separate occasions for violent incidents involving Farrah. According to Teenage Dream, her father threatened then-boyfriend Derek with a knife upon finding him with Farrah in her bedroom. Debra refused to bail him out when the incident landed him in jail. In January 2010, when Farrah was 18, it was Debra who left the house in handcuffs after she allegedly grabbed her daughter by the throat and hit her, leaving multiple cuts on her lips. The mugshot is well-documented.
Though the incident was not caught on camera, 16 and Pregnant did show an event between mother and daughter that seemed to foreshadow the arrest: an argument in the car that resulted in Danielson reaching across the seats and hitting Abraham, this time on her shoulder. Dr. Drew Pinsky, who hosted the 16 and Pregnant Reunion Special, called it “the slap heard around the world” and asked Danielson if she regretted it.
Danielson replied, “No.”
Dr. Drew declined to comment for this story. But when asked what kind of help the show provides the young mothers during shooting, an MTV spokeswoman said that although they don’t disclose personal information, “we can tell you that the health and well-being of our cast members is of the utmost importance to us and we strive to create a supportive environment.” She added that, “Teen birth rates in the U.S. are at historic lows and many experts have cited the Teen Mom franchise as contributing to that decline.”
After 16 and Pregnant, Abraham graduated to a spin-off series, Teen Mom, which ran for four seasons until its finale last August. Now described as “an aspiring model,” in the show Abraham moves out of her parents’ house as a result of the altercation with her mother, taking Sophia with her. Highlights of Abraham’s Teen Mom run include therapy sessions discussing family problems and Derek’s death, and a lawsuit from Derek’s mother for grandparent visitation rights.
Even while not on camera, however, Abraham attracted attention. In 2010, at 18 years old, she drew criticism for undergoing a $5,000 breast-augmentation surgery, going from an A-cup to a C-cup. October 2012 saw her follow the surgery by spending an additional $16,000 on a rhinoplasty and a chin implant. She debuted her new face on the cover of In Touch, telling the magazine, “I finally feel gorgeous!”
A few months earlier, in August, Abraham was featured in another In Touch interview, timed to coincide with the release of her memoir. She recalls feeling depressed and suicidal two years after then-boyfriend Derek Underwood’s death and Sophia’s birth. “All I could think about was killing myself,” she said, adding, “I figured I would just drown myself in the bathtub—that seemed like the easiest way to go.” By the end of the interview however, Abraham surmises that therapy, medication, and “frequent sessions with a counselor” helped her get “back on track.”
But a parenting ruckus broke out in January this year after Abraham wrote a blog post detailing how she attempted to wax, then plucked 3-year-old Sophia’s “unibrow.” She defended her decision to ABC News (“If I can help my daughter in a little way by plucking a few hairs … I think I did something right”) and on Twitter: “Unibrows are not sacred! Do the right thing tweeze no matter what age.” In March, she was arrested for DUI, registering a .147 on a breathalyzer—though she called in to TMZ Live to offer her side of the story: she says she was sick that night and couldn’t blow into the breathalyzer properly. And with the first week of April barely behind us, Abraham has already gotten herself into two scandals. One after being called “borderline psychotic” by a guy named Carson Underwood (no relation to her ex, Derek Underwood) after Farrah allegedly lied to get a spot on VH1’s Couples Therapy and put him down as her boyfriend. The other, of course, was for her now-confirmed escapade with James Deen.
But for a few gleaming months after Teen Mom wrapped up, Abraham really did seem to adjust to normal life. She finished up an associate’s degree at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and announced plans to pursue a master’s degree and set up a scholarship fund for teen parents. Deen, who worked with her for only one day, called her “awesome.” “I think she’s great. I don’t have a bad thing to say about her,” he said.
Suddenly unfulfilled tastes for fame aren’t new to the former Teen Moms. Fellow Teen Mom alumnus Catelynn Lowell is appearing on the same season of Couples Therapy that Abraham reportedly tried to fake her way into. Kailyn Lowry reportedly wants to do Dancing With the Stars. And for once-aspiring model Abraham, there’s a porno. Kim Kardashian is someone Abraham is reported to admire—it’s just a shame no one told the girl that sex tapes don’t make you a star.