Role Models

Like many other young women I was profoundly affected by the cinema: the films themselves and the glamorous film stars. When “Gone with the Wind” came to Blackpool the excitement was overwhelming. Some of us had to wait for hours, standing in all sorts of bad weather, to get in. The film was played over and over again, as much as they could fit into one day. It ran for a long time. Every time the theatre was emptied a new audience piled in. As soon as the last seats were filled the doors would be slammed in our faces and we had to wait another four hours.

The character of Scarlett O’Hara fascinated me. I liked her toughness and determination not to be beaten by misfortune. The scene that I remember best was when she came home to Tara after the war. The situation was very bad. Food was scarce and there were looters all over the place, helping themselves to anything they could lay their hands on as they made their journey back to the North.

Desperately trying to survive and take care of Melanie and her baby, Scarlett sees a vegetable still left in the arid ground, seizes it and stuffs it into her mouth. She retches. Raising her fisted hand against the crimson sunset she swears an oath. “As God is my witness, I shall never be hungry again.”

Most young women, whether they were at school or out in the world making their living, took as their models these film-stars. We copied hair-styles, make-up and intimate ways of moving and facial expressions. When we were in the sixth-form, influenced b y the sultry alure of Lauren Bacall, we took to smoking cigarettes, preferably in long holders at the week-ends, once we were well away from home.

I spent hours changing my hair-style every day, twisting my straight black hair into strange coils and twists with hair-pins.

I was cursed with oily skin that erupted into unpleasant purple spots. I had to wash my hair every two days. I was full of despair. I spent my hard- earned money on ointments that did no good at all. I finally settled for calamine lotion with a dusting of powder on top. I looked paler than ever. Moreover, my body was thickening and I had longed to be slim and willowy. To top it all, I had severe period pains most months and I had to go to bed and miss school. My thirteenth year was the worst in my whole life. I was so sorry for myself but I knew that I alone had to find my way through.

I constructed scenarios in my head of suicide and a consequent funeral, surrounded by weeping people who had failed to recognise m y genius and great personality.

My nature was becoming more and more extreme. Either I was euphoric, my mind buzzing with ideas and vivid images or I was in the depth of despair. I felt there was no-one in my life who understood me. No-one I could share my thoughts with. No-one was there to guide me. I remember all this so clearly that when I became a psychotherapist I was able to give unhappy adolescents the support they needed to help them to take control of their own lives.

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