Our topic this month is embarrassing things that happened to us as teenagers. I can’t write about this, because honestly, I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, much less an incident my brain has actively tried to repress for decades.
However, I do remember those brief shining moments from high school when I thought I looked really cool.
January 1986: Standing in front of the concession stand during half-time of a boy’s basket-ball game in rainbow colored leg warmers and a leather bomber jacket.
April 1987: In biology class in a Coke-a-Cola rugby shirt and Guess jeans pegged at the ankle for maximum skinniness.
October 1988: Leaning casually against a locker in a denim mini-skirt with white Reebok high-tops and scrunchy socks.
In my mind, I was pretty in pink. I was taking people’s breath away. I was so cool I wore my sunglasses at night.
And then, like a damning piece of evidence in a murder trial, a picture from the ’80’s will appear out of nowhere and I will see the truth.
Pictures don’t lie. I looked like Marie Antoinette in acid washed jeans and a Def Leppard t-shirt. Love bites. And so do pictures from high school.
Leg warmers and a leather jacket? Yes. I wore these things, at the same time.I looked like a girl who couldn’t decide if she wanted to work out at the gym or get into a dog fight with the Red Baron.
And the hair? Like courtiers at Versailles, those of us who grew up in the 1980’s believed true beauty could only be found in big hair.
The desired look was Cleopatra-like. A large pouf in the center of the forehead, with huge wings protruding from the side. I was able to achieve this ideal, thanks to the magic of Aqua Net hairspray.
Me, circa 1988, and my very big hair. Also note my super cool geometric earrings.
I recently purchased a can of Aqua Net to hold my daughter’s bun in place for a dance recital. I removed the cap, pressed the top of the can and the 1980’s came out in an aerosol cloud, right there in my bathroom.
The scent took me back to Johnny Holm Dances at Stump Lake (Remember those, high school Facebook friends?) At these dances, thanks to Aqua Net and cutting-edge perm technology, my hair was my crowning glory.
But now, like my Gen X peers, I’ve said goodbye to all that. At best, we now look sleek and professional. At worst, a little paunchy and decidedly middle aged. But traces of the ‘80’s still linger in my psyche.
When I get nervous about speaking before a group, or going to some intimidating social event, I make my hair a little bigger and apply more hairspray. Big hair makes me feel secure. It makes me feel pretty. It makes me feel studly, gnarly, and rad, the three dwarves of totally awesome 1980’s slang. When it comes to hair, I go big or go home.
So, when my kids look at a picture of me from high school and say, “why was your hair so… large?” I tell them my mountainous hair was the epitome of cool at the time, and that someday their children will look at their UGG boots and Under Armour everything and ask the same question.
Because when I was a teenager, the goal was not to look normal. The goal was to look ridiculous in exactly the same way everyone else looked ridiculous. And when I look back at the pictures, I know I succeeded.
Christine Gunderson is a former television anchor and former House and Senate aide who lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her husband, children and Star, the Wonder Dog. When not writing, she’s sailing, playing Star Wars trivia, re-reading Persuasion or unloading the dishwasher.