Absolutely Fabulous

Transformed by a romanticized airport novel, our heroine constructs a strangely compelling life

Though six months remain until the event, Bordelon has already set the agenda: There will be none. The Ya-Yas plan to descend upon the city, drink, talk, party, talk, cry, talk, hug, and, as she puts it, "talk until our teeth fall out."

(This isn't the first time Bordelon has tried to organize a convention. Several years ago, she attempted to put together an event in Alexandria, La., hometown to Rebecca Wells, who declined to be interviewed for this story. Bordelon, who spent so much time planning the convention that she almost got fired from her day job as a DSL technician, was foiled at the last minute because, as she tells it, Wells "came out and said, 'I don't want y'all to go bother my mama.' Like we would! Please.")

Certainly, if there's a party to be thrown, you can count on the Zeau Zeaus. Among Ya-Ya groups, they're neither the biggest nor the oldest, but they're arguably the most ostentatious, with a reputation for drunken raucousness and for having outgoing personalities. Ya-Yas in other groups confide that they think the Zeau Zeaus drink too much, but in Bordelon's estimation, "Everyone wants to be a Zeau Zeau."

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood 
inspired Leigh Bordelon to start a Bay Area Ya-Ya 
group, the Zeau Zeau Fleurs.
Paolo Vescia
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood inspired Leigh Bordelon to start a Bay Area Ya-Ya group, the Zeau Zeau Fleurs.
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood 
inspired Leigh Bordelon to start a Bay Area Ya-Ya 
group, the Zeau Zeau Fleurs.
Paolo Vescia
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood inspired Leigh Bordelon to start a Bay Area Ya-Ya group, the Zeau Zeau Fleurs.

Followers across the country don't entirely disagree with her. "The Zeau Zeaus, they're very fun-loving," says Kimberly Cole, who headed another Northern California Ya-Ya group until it recently disbanded. "And you always know when they're there, believe me."

"They're kind of the cool girls," adds Sari Philipps, an honorary Zeau Zeau who lives in Arizona. "I remember back in the beginning thinking they were the most predominant people on 'the porch' [the public Ya-Ya bulletin board], the way they seemed like they were all good friends. You notice them, and they get out there. And Leigh seemed like this wonderful, wild-woman girlfriend that you'd always wanted to have, but she could still be caring and concerned."

Their hilarity can be infectious. Zeau Zeaus often arrive at Bordelon-sponsored slumber parties and luncheons wearing boas, tiaras, and other outrageous costumes. They drive up to events in cars with bumper stickers that read "Ya-Ya on board!"; the proceedings unfailingly open with a round of hugs, squeals, and giddy giggles. After that, it's on to the recounting of madcap anecdotes from past Ya-Ya outings -- followed by the inevitable collapse into laughter, though everyone's probably heard the story before. (A couple of Zeau Zeau tales are particularly popular, like the one about the women scandalizing a group of Mormon missionaries at Washington Square Park by sucking provocatively on penis-shaped lollipops.)

Still, the Zeau Zeaus are quick to point out that they're not just party animals. Members insist that by using Divine Secrets as a springboard, they've established deep friendships.

"Conversations start about the book; that's how you get to know each other," says Holly Todd, a 22-year-old student and nanny who lives in San Jose. "You get insights into each other's lives [through the book], like someone will say, 'My father is abusive,' and someone else will say, 'Mine was, too.' Then all of a sudden, you have these bonds. You find people willing to care about you, a shoulder to cry on. The amazing thing to me is that it is so unsuperficial."

Members frequently bring each other to tears with unabashed emotional outpourings. They provide moral support for their colleagues -- women in the midst of a divorce or dealing with cancer. They send care packages and cards, and tell each other often that they love one another, though some of them have never met in person and they're occasionally unsure about each other's last names.

But the Zeau Zeaus say that they've achieved a special level of intimacy in part because of their bonding rituals -- all of them researched, crafted, and executed by Bordelon. One such ritual, which aims to tell the story of the "Divine Tribe of Ya-Yas," involves candelabras, tribal music, a cauldron, and anointing oils. It has become so popular that several other Ya-Ya groups have asked Bordelon for copies of the ceremony so that they can hold their own bonding events.

"People think that the only women who like Divine Secrets are middle-aged housewives who read Harlequin romance novels," Bordelon says. "And to a certain extent, they do have a point. But then here comes a bunch of chicks wearing tiaras and boas who be acting crazy. And the more crazy you are, the more we like you. [Those who seek out the Zeau Zeaus] were probably women who were not popular in high school. People dismiss that, but they were formative years. [This group is about] people who care what you think. ... [Y]ou find gals who are willing to accept you."

Leigh Bordelon was born in 1963 in Kaplan, a small Louisiana town that's home to the Krewe Chic-A-La-Pie Mardi Gras Festival and the Liberty Rice Mill. From the start, religion played an overpowering role in her life. Though her devout family moved to various medium-size towns throughout that state during her childhood, Bordelon and her five sisters and three brothers were expected to participate eagerly in the local Catholic ministry. The third oldest child, Bordelon regularly worked booths at church festivals and sang in the choir, sometimes performing in four masses in a day.

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