As a kid, I loved commercials. Like a lot. Like when the television was on and all of the other humans in the room were quietly paying attention to the dialog of a show, I would not shut up about a book I read or a dog I saw or why this and why that. An incessant stream of small noise interrupted by frequent groans and audible eye rolls out of the tired sockets of adults. Once those seconds of black, fuzzy crackling ended and the volume shot up several decimals, though? Forget it. Everything grew louder, but I was silenced. I was enchanted. I was also super impressionable and obsessed with what I would be like when I grew up. My main focus was to be thin, beautiful, and to not live in an actual garbage can.
Commercials were like looking at a movie of my future, everything bright and fabulous, set to music. If only I had that one special very specific thing available at my nearest grocer or through this 1-800 number. Hear the beat of that jingle, synths or soft piano. Sophisticated and cool. Look at those fun adult ladies and their big, gummy smiles with gapless front teeth. My synapses fired and I was covinced, then and there, chubby and pale with rug burn from the brown carpet floor, that when I grew up, I was going to be a human Barbie with crunchy blonde hair and a perfectly straight smile and that was final. Below are three commercials that taught me everything I know about how to be six foot tall, thin, and blonde. Even though I would literally not measure up to be any of those things. Except the blonde. Totally achievable with $200 and a few hours.
First, there was a Kit Kat Bar ad. “Gimme a break, gimmmmme a break…”, you get it. The thought process was as follows: Candy! Everyone looks so happy! I could absolutely be the blonde girl in the beret and leather jacket. She’s playing pool, she has friends. And you know what? Those friends, that group of people having a good time at the restaurant? They are just dying to be read to, and it was recently written inside the comments section of my report card that “Abby loves to read! She is very proud of her knowledge and loves to share with her classmates!”. Meaning I followed them around and read to them. I would read anything to anyone, at any time. I just really wanted everyone on earth to know that not only could I read, but I started early. So it absolutely did not matter that I couldn’t really tie my shoes, swim, or ride a bike yet. I’ll read to you! Dr. Seuss? Cool! An awkward excerpt from the Color Purple that I stole off my parents bookshelf because I did indeed enjoy the color purple? You got it! The newspaper? Every sign or billboard, ever? This is fine, too! Yes, I would fit right in. That chocolate coated wafer would give me instant friends who shared my hobbies, a catchy song, and was also delicious. A break indeed.
Then there was a commercial for a feminine hygiene product called Summer’s Eve. Easier for me to relate to, as this woman was a brunette and on the fair side. It was completely possible in my young mind that I’d grow up to look exactly like that. Plus, if I used Summer’s Eve, I too would place the bottle on the beach and let the waves crash over it. Because that seemed like the appropriate thing to do. This woman seemed deep, and thoughtful. She’s sitting on a big white porch swing, taking some time for reflection. I saw her looking wistful in an over sized white sweater, and then there she was again, happily walking along the beach in a very stylish floppy white hat (I had one just like it). And excuse me, but who wouldn’t want the feeling of summer all over, all the time? My obsession came to a head during a trip to the grocery store with my dad. We passed its cool, clean freshness on a shelf, and I, in the middle of the aisle of our local Winn-Dixie, proceeded to beg and plead with him to buy it for me as though all of the future happiness in my life depended on it. Side note: my dad was not easily manipulated by his three young daughters in any place ever, but especially not inside the grocery store. Capri Sun is a waste of money for the ounces you get versus what you pay! I did not have Oreo’s for a very long time, but instead their Winn-Dixie cousins, Big Sixty cookies. When my sisters and I asked my dad to get us Dove soap, he seriously insisted that we just use one of his many bars of Lava soap instead. It’ll wash your hair, your body, and remove petrol oil from your skin. The point is, he did not suffer the whims of some whiny little kid who wanted to fit in with an individual juice box, okay? End side note.
When attempting to bargain for my Summer’s Eve, I decided to go for broke and work my way to something he would agree to, starting with what appeared to be the gallon sized drum, then the two liter, before finally reaching for a small, travel sized bottle in the back. “Buy this for me dad! Oh please! I’ll never ask for anything else ever if you get me Summer’s Eve”! I was nine or so. He shifted his weight uncomfortably against the shopping cart, looking at me, then at the white bottle, then looking back at me. His alarmed “No!” disappearing into confused consideration at what must have been my seriously bizarre insistence. I normally asked only for Little Golden Books, you see. And sometimes a packet of smoked salmon that I would fight with my little sister over, you know, as kids do.
“I, uh, are you sure you know what that’s for, Abby? Are you….. sure you need that?” He glanced across the aisle, his eyes darting for both some assistance with this weirdo he helped create, and praying no one was around to witness whatever the hell was happening. I was incredulous. Was he serious? Of course I needed it! Feminine douche? Who knows what that is? But I DO know that it is going to make me smart, strong, beautiful, powerful, and rid me of my need for glasses! Don’t dads know anything? My dad, to his credit, seemed to know at least that this feminine gel would make his salmon eating, book loving, incessant chatter box of a daughter happy. He shook his head, and placed it into the cart. Victory.
When we got home, I proudly showed my mother my prize. “Look! Summer’s Eve!” Would she be jealous? Would she take me into the bathroom to try on matching large white sweaters that we would wear to the beach? I sure hoped so. Instead the response I got was an eye roll a and a flat, “What the hell? No. You aren’t using that.” Except for when I WOULD use it to mix with water in cups that I pretended were glasses of beer while I also pretended that the bathroom was my own apartment, Patrick Swayze was my husband, and we were always getting calls from the President.
Finally, there was a commercial for Tampax tampons (maybe you are sensing a theme). I liked this one because it was all about having a special day. No matter what. The line might have been great day, but I remember that it had all the stuff little me was obsessed with: a woman in a cool hat, an important, hurried looking woman running around an office with a bunch of papers, a catchy jingle, and it ended emphatically with the phrase HAVE A GREAT AND OR SPECIAL DAY! I also know that I must have loved this commercial dearly because of a story my mother likes to tell. I was maybe four, and she had a friend over. Always feeling more comfortable with adults, I joined right in on the conversation like I was also in my thirties with a bunch of kids. Or I probably just started asking a bunch of questions. That’s when I saw it. The thin white paper, the long tube shape. My mom’s friend totally had a tampon sticking out of her purse. Oh my God! My mom’s friend must be the coolest, busiest woman on earth! I took the tampon out of her purse and saddled up to her, knowing and excited. I was not quiet with this bit of information and asked, “Are you having a special day?” Perfectly dead pan. Special, great, tomato, toma-toe. My mom always ends that story with “And we just laughed!” I never knew if this friend of my mom’s lived up to the commercials potential.
I am still highly susceptible to advertising. I am someone who has more than once jotted down the number mentioned during a commercial I heard on the radio, because a woman spoke very excitedly about how thin she was after eating these “special berries”. She finally got a boyfriend!!!! I am also someone who has spent a lot of time doing things like snaking my self esteem out of a toilet, and referring to myself as a dumpster fire, an uncooked chicken with glasses, Gus Gus from Cinderella but not as cute, and one of those fat, crazed rats who get close ups in documentaries about how addicting sugar is. So I like the promise of something beautiful. I like the idea that if I just had that one thing, all of my stupid problems would melt like a dirty snow bank, black water rushing away to reveal a sparkling diamond. A skinny diamond, with straight teeth and zero glasses. That could also drive and was actually okay at math.
However, I am proud to know that at some point, tiny Abby’s only opinion was: Life is about being a boss ass bitch who can read. Also, its about hats. Somewhere deep down, I still know that, special berries and catchy jingle, or not.