Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Style Aspirations of My Youth

Like most people in this Americanised culture I live in,  I grew up with a few pop culture female role models whom I am happy to say had much less influence on the kind of woman I am than my mother and grandmother did, but I am intrigued by what is represented by the various woman whom I watched on television and movie screens. For the most part it was their style that appealed to me, the way they wore their hair or the clothes they wore.  They were something I wanted to be so very badly; they were grown women and represented some degree of independence to me.  As a child I truly believed that all woes and frustrations would disappear when I became an adult, that I would have power, control of my world and autonomy.  I was in a hurry to grow up.

As a very small child my first image of a glamorous woman was  Rosemary Clooney.  I didn't know the word glamorous or really even the concept.  She was beautiful and fancy.  She was blonde, and everyone knew blondes were the prettiest.  I had the album Rosemary Clooney Sings for Children and I was so excited to find this image of the actual version I had.  I probably still know all the words to these songs as I sang with them over and over.  I wanted to sing just like she did.  I wanted cleavage just like that too.  And pearls.  I was five.
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We didn't have cable television until I was eight, which meant that we only got the CBC.  Our television was a 12" screen in black and white.  I didn't see a lot of television but for reasons unknown to me, I seem to have watched at least a little bit of That Girl around the age of six and seven.  I'd given up on being blonde and thought Marlo Thomas was the prettiest, funniest woman I'd ever seen.  I would love to go back in time and ask my six year old self if she thinks those eyelashes are real.  Marlo played Ann, perpetually engaged to Donald.  This appealed to me because as I saw it she had a man waiting for her, but she didn't need to hurry and get married. I was vaguely confused by the fact that she called her father 'daddy'.  I recall thinking to myself that was silly for a grown woman to do. Today the show would have feminists rolling their eyes, but it was a forward step in its time and I remember it fondly.
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By the time we owned a larger television with colour images and several channels on cable, I was watching episodes of The The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the early evening with my parents.  The character Mary Richards, was a career woman, single but dating and frustrated by the inability to find the right man.  Representing progress for its time, the show would still make women today cringe, hearing Mary address her male boss as Mr. Grant while her male colleagues call him Lou.  I remember that more than hoping she would get a boyfriend, I was waiting for that day when she would stand up to Lou Grant, which she eventually did though with great difficulty.
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I felt that Mary was an admirable and interesting woman, and somehow I sensed that perhaps I should want to be like her ( you know those shoulds that are found floating around in the atmosphere ) but the woman I secretly loved  was Mary's friend Rhoda, played by Valerie Harper, Valerie Harper, who eventually got her own show.

I am nothing like Rhoda, at least as far as I know.  My mother is nothing like Rhoda.  Rhoda was a lively, spunky, New York accented Jewish woman.  There was nobody like her in my world.  Rhoda wore much more flambouyant clothes than Mary did.  Rhoda had a desire to be creative and a short lived career as a window dresser and even shorter one as an interior decorator.  I believed I was supposed to grow up to be Mary, but I wanted to be Rhoda.
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Then came the eighties, which started off by presenting us with a musical set in the fifties and I wanted to be Sandy.  Back to blondes.  This Sandy,
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Not this one.  I was too young to be aspiring to sex appeal and badassery.  The good girl Sandy image stayed with me through much of my teens and was replaced in the late eighties by Molly Ringwald.  I was learning that big hair and big pouty lips were the ideal of beauty, and the characters she portrayed seemed to me to have a strong sense of themselves and their style.  She was a bit bohemian and she wore dresses.  I thought she conveyed a more quiet sort of strength, a strength that was sometimes hidden beneath a very soft and feminine looking exterior.  My role models were getting younger, essentially they were getting closer to my own age. I am one year older than Miss Molly.
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After Molly, no other pop culture icon really stands out for me.  By the time I was in my late twenties, figuring out what kind of woman I was and how I would adorn her became more internally driven.  Rhoda and Molly are the two I am most fond of, and whose images I've had the most fun searching. Now if you will excuse me, I'm off to put on the largest pair of hoop earrings I can find.

6 comments:

  1. Hey Shawna, Great though provoking post.

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    1. Hi Lynn! Thanks for stopping by. How's that scrapbook coming along?

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  2. Excellent run down of some role models that spanned generations. I'm around Marlow's age, and as an early feminist, she was not so laughable to a lot of young women who were daring to step out just a little. You're quite right about MTM, and I too, loved Rhoda. And Olivia/Sandy and Molly( who should have ended up with Duckie!) Great post! So glad you showed up for Visible Monday. Such a fun walk down memory lane ... amazing that we're generations apart with the same role models to compare!

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    1. According to Wikipedia, That Girl was "one of the first sitcoms to focus on a single woman who was not a domestic or living with her parents." I'm definitely not a pop culture expert and I was only six years old when I watched it, but the only women I knew were married mothers or grandmothers, so she seemed modern and independent to me. With Pretty in Pink, I read that they first made her end up with Duckie and test audiences didn't like it so they changed the ending. I think she should have gone to the prom with her lesbian lover but I guess that would be pushing things ;-)

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  3. I'm trying to think who my female role models were on TV growing up, and I really don't know - I can't have had any! In terms of glamour and fashion, I was always more interested in singers, so the girl groups and pop stars of the 60s and 70s were more my thing. I certainly wanted to be Debbie Harry (even though I can recall my friends and I exclaiming over how OLD she was - at 33! We were 14; being over 30 seemed ancient!) I loved Grease too, though we all wanted to be Rizzo, not Sandy! xxx

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    1. I don't think that at 12 I had the desire to take up smoking, get pregnant and have a jerk for a boyfriend, but hey, that's just me. ;-) I wasn't exposed to many visual of singers until music videos arrived on tv when I was in my late teens but if I had, I would likely be including people like Stevie Nicks and Carly Simon in my style file.

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