I recently started watching Mad Men, a stylish, sexy, moody period drama set in 1960s New York. The main characters work in an advertising agency and are sharp, complicated, and competitive. They cleverly weave words, spin stories, and invent images to sell deodorant, cigarettes, and laxatives, in between slamming vodka tonics and Rubenesque "gals" from the secretarial pool.
There are many themes woven through each episode like sexism, ambition, adultery, social mobility, cultural shifts, but the one that fascinates me the most is the notion of identity. Each character is fleshed out and wholly believable. In fact, they are so believable they are almost caricatures.
The unfulfilled housewife, struggling to maintain her position in a changing society. She struggles to manage her conflicting desires: the desire to fulfill her familiar and expected role as wife and mother and the desire to be a bolder, modern woman.
The ambitious young ad-exec who is so oily he leaves a slick spot in his wake. He flirts, winks, compliments, schemes, and breaks a visible sweat from straining to grasp the next rung in the professional and social ladder.
The husband suffering from a mid-life and mid-married-life crisis, who comforts himself by embarking on a series of affairs with smoldering, younger, doting women.
An hour of watching Mad Men and it had me contemplating how our lives can become caricatures of what we had hoped they would become.
Are you living the life you had always hoped you would live? Are you the leading lady in your feature film or a bit player? Are you merely playing the part of wife, mother, sister, daughter or are you actively involved in writing the script? Have you become the best version of yourself or are you a cardboard cutout of what you could be? Are you one-dimensional, lacking true substance? Have you lost yourself in your own story, letting the plot and setting overshadow the greatness that is you?
We lead busy, demanding lives, filled with many obligations. Too many, sometimes.
Women my age are expected to be wives, mothers, career women, pillars of their community, and well-preserved sexpots. We are bombarded with conflicting, overwhelming messages. We are encouraged to be the ultimate nest-makers, the Martha Stewarts of Milwaukee, Memphis, and Mayberry, but we are also expected to be hot and sexy skinny jeans-wearing cougars. (Thanks Courtney Cox)
New Age gurus tell us we should grow old gracefully, view the wrinkles on our faces and the stretch marks on our bellies as war wounds, and focus on our hard-earned wisdom, not our head-full of gray hairs. But the media (and men) tell us we should color our hair to more youthful hues, botox the wrinkles, lipo the fat, tuck the post-childbirth tummies.
We are supposed to get regular pedicures, go to Pilates, participate in PTA, knit enough scarves to keep all of the freezing orphans in Darfur warm, be our husband's beck and call girl, be the spiritual and social helmsmen of our families and social circles, and persistently pursue our personal passions.
Is it any wonder we wake up one day, pad over to the mirror, and find a wrinkled, worn, duller version of the bright star we always thought we would be? Is it any wonder we soon find ourselves to be caricatures of what we hoped we would one day be?