Anyone remember Marlo Thomas in That Girl? When I was a girl, I would watch the show — which, you know, had to be in reruns, since I was born in 1973 and it ran from 1966-1971. In any case, Marlo Thomas had the life! She lived in New York City, had a fabulous boyfriend, and was — more than any other character from my childhood, save Wonder Woman — an excellent role model of an independent woman.
I think it’s difficult to realize it now, because so much has changed, but I grew up in a world in which those sorts of role models were unusual. Yes, we had Cagney and Lacey and Kate and Allie and even Daisy Duke held her own on The Dukes of Hazzard. But it was also the world in which Murphy Brown was not only unusual in choosing to become a single mother but RADICAL. It was a bona fide political scandal, albeit one created by Republican Dan Quayle. It was a weird time to grow up female; there were more stay-at-home mothers among my group of high school friends than those who worked (which is not the case anymore). My own mother didn’t work until my parents divorced, and I got to see first-hand the perils of staying home and raising children for thirteen years. It wasn’t an easy path for her, and I don’t envy what she had to endure.
Second-wave feminism had been around for more than 20 years by the time I started high school, and yet it was still all so muddled for me. The primary role models I had were teachers, whose lives I didn’t particularly want (if only because we were all stuck in the middle of Texas, which I hated). I didn’t really know any adult women who had careers, who had worked for an employment goal the same way my father and my friends’ fathers had. I didn’t have any examples of what I wanted to be; I only knew that it wasn’t what I saw all around me.
I didn’t consciously do it, but in revisiting That Girl recently, it occurred to me that — whoa! wait a minute! — I think Marlo Thomas was the person I’ve wanted to be all these years. (And, yes, I know I’m talking about Marlo Thomas as “Ann Marie,” who is a character.) I’m creative and quirky and sometimes (okay, often) naive, and I work best when I’m paired romantically with more level-headed men who lovingly tolerate my whims. I enjoy having my own apartment — my own things — and while I have been married (twice), I don’t see that as the goal of life (nor are children, for that matter). I value spontaneity over predictability, and I much prefer seeing the positive side of things over dwelling in the negative.
Yet… all of these qualities are those I had no way of know how to obtain when I moved out of my mother’s house 20 years ago. I had a vague idea that I wanted something different, but I didn’t know how to find it or — more important — how to become the sort of person I had always envisioned myself to be (see above). The past two decades have been an uphill battle, a huge struggle, with twists and turns I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies. Of course, though, every challenge has made me the person I am today — the person I am because of but also in spite of every difficulty.
If I were to be honest — and I’d like that — I’d say that sobriety is responsible for this change, this opportunity to develop into a grown-up of whom the 16-year-old me would be damned proud. But, also being honest, I don’t always remember that. Often times I still feel like a confused muddled teenager on the inside, until I catch my breath and remember how much has changed since then. It’s been a recent project of mine to rewire my thinking in this regard. I’m thirty-seven years old… too old, in my eyes, to feel the same way I did when I was a teen-age girl.
To that end, I’ve come up with a mantra for myself, something I say inside of my head as I walk down the street on the way to my various errands and appointments and (sometimes) dates with tall handsome men. It isn’t much, but it is mine:
You are attractive, stylish, confident and fabulous. You are That Girl.