I can remember exactly when it was that I stopped believing everything I heard on television.
I was eleven, and sleeping over at a friend’s apartment. She was a new friend. It may have been the first time I saw her place. Everything about it dazzled me. She had a dog! I wasn’t allowed to have a dog. She had a bunk bed—even though she was an only child! My bunk bed came with a little sister in the top bunk who always took the good pillow. There was a balcony on the far end of my friend’s living room with sliding glass doors, which offered a view of the entire city! Our windows at home faced a brick wall and still had childproof gates in them when I went away to college. My friend’s apartment was a world I could barely comprehend. And then, that night before bed, I took a shower in her bathroom.
The walls of that shower were lined with expensive fruity shampoos and gels and soaps and scrubs. Mud-masks and pore-cleansers and pumices filled the medicine cabinet. It was an adolescent girl’s wet dream. Everywhere I turned I was confronted with beauty products I had seen in commercials and coveted but could never afford. I uncapped bottles at random and inhaled, then stood panting on the bath mat. I didn’t know where to begin. I wanted to use everything! I wanted to come out of that shower with blindingly shiny hair whose bounce had a deadly force. I would scrub the calluses from my heels and leave them smelling like coconuts dusted with talcum powder and wrapped in rose petals. My skin would be clear and I would glow like a radioactive fairy princess.
I turned on the water. I reached for the first bottle and opened it. The air crackled with excitement and smelled like passionfruit.
And then I stopped, and thought about my friend.
She used these products all the time! She probably always had! Very likely her scalp had never felt the cloying embrace of a chemically scented, molasses-textured Family Dollar Brand shampoo. But when it came down to it, her hair looked more or less…like mine.
This realization hit me like a waterlogged sponge. It didn’t really matter what these shampoos and cleansers were supposed to do. They weren’t really going to make your hair shinier, or your skin glowier. My friend was a pretty girl with decent hair and skin, but I’d never noticed it particularly before, and that was the whole point of these products as far as I was concerned: making people jealous. ‘Who is that beautiful girl with the gleaming, bouncing hair?’ Women want to be her; men want to take her to the top of the Eiffel Tower in a private jet. The story of television ad after ad involves the heads of strangers turning in admiration and envy. What was the point of spending $14 for a bottle of conditioner that wasn’t going to cause your hair’s shine to sear the retinas of innocent bystanders on a sunny day?
I chose a shampoo and began to wash the glamorous, seductive world of false advertising out of my hair. It slipped down the drain, along with soft, ginger-lime scented suds.