Finish the following sentence: “If I’ve only one life, let me live it as a … ” You’d think there’d be a lot of ways to fill in that blank, wouldn’t you?

You might be tempted to reply: “If I’ve only one life, let me live it as a research scientist who discovers how to engineer new colonies on Mars where human beings could establish self-sustaining cultures untainted by the specter of sin or degradation because there would be no competition for resources.”

Or you could keep it local and say: “If I’ve only one life, let me live it caring generously and thoughtfully for others, making our world safer, happier and kinder.”

But if you grew up in the ’60s, especially if you grew up as a girl in the ’60s, you know there’s only one way to complete that statement: “If I’ve only one life, let me live it as a blonde.” For full effect, say it with breathless yet subdued enthusiasm.

You could be a blond shoplifter, a blond arsonist or a blond money launderer. (In this last case, Madge the manicurist would keep your hands clean by putting them in Palmolive dish detergent and announce “you’re soaking in it.”) As long as you’re blond, you’re fine.

Basically, in 1967, bleaching your hair was all you had to do to achieve selfhood. Blondes had more fun, right? As soon as Clairol colored your hair, life was guaranteed to be nice and easy. This is what I learned when I was 10 years old and reading ladies’ magazines with the same focused zealotry used by fanatics when studying political tracts.

I knew it would take years of preparation to get me where I needed to be. Like every other preteen, I was in desperate training for adolescence. I wanted to be Twiggy. The fact that I probably weighed more at age 10 than Twiggy did at age 18 didn’t derail my dream. Becoming part of the teen scene sounded cool, in part because it came with accessories and gender-specific hair products, even though, in Twiggy’s case, it didn’t seem to come with secondary sex characteristics.

Being a teenager also came with the promise of everlasting love. I still have the copy of a Seventeen magazine ad for the Arpeja clothes collection featuring a sketch of girl and her bio: “She’s a Luv! She went to school in London, studied hard, and got a PHD … his name is Reggie.”

She’s wearing a miniskirt and a blouse with balloon sleeves and a beret so poufy it looks like a Jiffy Pop bag. Does it matter that the designation for a doctorate is incorrect? Nah. Does it matter that the supposedly trick punch line is that the girl who goes abroad to study can only bring home a Ph.D. by dragging some poor slob to the altar? Nope.

After 28 years of therapy and a lifetime of reading about women and men, I’ve come to realize that the foundation for my thoughts considering the nature of traditional feminine and masculine roles emerged less from philosophers I read in college than from ads for products I saw advertised before hitting puberty.

Here’s an influential doozy: In one of what must have been a hundred similar ads from 1967, a man and a woman are running with open arms through a meadow and toward each other. You hear and see another famous Clairol catchphrase: “The closer he gets … the better you look.” The underlying assumption, of course, was that if a guy noticed your roots he’d scream and make a run for it.

Ah, but sometimes things get better. In 51 years, things have changed. We can indeed invent new phrases to fill in old blanks. As my Facebook friends demonstrate, there are more clever and poignant replies one can now make. When hearing “The closer he gets …,” other responses might include, “The quicker I do a background check” (Lynne Ferrigno), “The more pepper spray you use” (Jim Strillacci), and “The better Canada looks” (Robin Hauser Franklin).

If I’ve only one life to live, let me live it being grateful for my friends and, oh please, let me live it laughing out loud.


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