When I was a teenager I loved Sex and the City. The four girls always seemed really glamorous and I thought that when I grew up I would be living the same kind of life. Countless parties, outfits, brunches and a trendy apartment in the middle of a bustling metropolis.
I grew up in a fairly rough, rural area in the North of England, so it was about as far away as you could get from my reality at the time.
Recently, I was watching a re-run on TV, and was quite shocked at the kinds of messages that the show sent. It hasn’t aged well in a number of respects (seems very anti-feminist by today’s standards!), but it also got me thinking about the impression it left on me when I was young and how it might have negatively influenced me.
Of course, a big lesson is that real life is not like the movies, but there are a number of other things I had to unlearn from Carrie Bradshaw, who was a bit of an idol for me at the time.
In one episode, Carrie’s apartment goes on the market, but she doesn’t have enough to make the down-payment. She considers taking a loan from her on-and-off-again boyfriend, but in the end accepts her recently divorced friend’s wedding ring to make the down payment.
Throughout the show, Carrie is always spending big on designer clothes and expensive meals and her apparent lack of care for money is a bit of a running joke.
In the ring for the down payment episode, her friend calculates that she has spent $40k on shoes and it is revealed that she only has $900 in savings and $700 in her checking account. She never catches public transport and only takes cabs, she never eats at home using her oven to store her sweaters, she smokes, only drinks cocktails when she is out, and regularly maxes out her credit card without a care.
As Carrie says, “I like my money where I can see it – hanging in my closet.”
Looking back, the character definitely glamourized excessive wastes of money for me. She lives a lifestyle she can’t afford and lives firmly in the moment. In the end it all turns good because she lands a big book deal and marries a rich guy, who in the end dies and leaves her his wealth.
I think I had a similar perspective on finances when I was younger. I always thought that I would get some great paying job in the future, so it didn’t matter about saving money in the present. I saw Carrie flaunting her credit card around in stores and I kind of mimicked that behavior.
An obsession with looks
One of the best things about Sex and the City, and probably the only thing that has aged well, is the outfits. There are multiple ‘wow’ moments in every episode that blew out the arrow-slit view I had of the fashion world.
For someone who thought that New Look was the epitome in design, it was quite amazing to suddenly know that Versace, Chanel and Manolo Blahnik existed.
From the tu-tu in the opening credits to the grey ruffled Versace gown she wore when she got stood up in Paris. The character was written to be a style icon and Sarah Jessica Parker pulled it off, even when things got a little bizarre.
But, was she a little too obsessed with fashion? There are more than a couple of times that it wasn’t just Carrie’s finances that came second to the way she looked.
At a baby shower, Carrie looses her shoes when the host asks everyone to remove them – the friend offers to pay for them (why??) until she learns they are $485, and says she will only pay $200. Carrie then gift-registers herself at Manolo Blahnik, and tells the friend she is getting married to herself – getting a replacement pair from the friend in a passive aggressive revenge act for the lack of gift-worthy events that singletons have compared to those that are married with kids.
When Aidan moves in with Carrie, they get into a big argument over her getting rid of a top to make room for his clothes, and she looses it when his dog chews on a pair of her shoes. “That dog owes me $380!”
I was never that obsessed with beauty, but I definitely held my fashion sense in high regard. I was very proud of my style, which was actually only possible because I had an extensive wardrobe and spent a lot of time at the shops trying things on and hunting for the latest looks. If I had an event to go to, or even a big night out, it would always need a brand new outfit. It’s funny that I now have a ‘uniform‘ for work which is basically just a sharp black suit, and my weekend wear is mainly jeans and a t-shirt or hiking gear.
Seeking out drama
When Carrie’s lifelong love gets married to a model, she reconciles the set-back by figuring that he wants a simple life with a simple girl, and she’s just too complicated and interesting for him. Her friends compare it to the plot of the movie The Way We Were – he doesn’t want someone who will ruffle feathers and stand up for herself, like the ‘Katie girl’ in the film.
On the surface, that sounds really positive. It’s ok to be your full, authentic self all the time, and if someone doesn’t like it they can just deal with it. Don’t hold back on your opinions or your dreams for the sake of keeping the peace. Be weird, be kooky and do your own thing. I saw Carrie’s confidence in herself and took a slice of it.
“The most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you find someone to love the you you love, well, that’s just fabulous.”
But I think it can be taken too far. There’s soooo many scenes where Carrie has absolutely no filter and is quite mean or lets her least attractive biases show. And there’s also plenty of times when Carrie acts the hypocrite and doesn’t stand up for herself when it really matters (like the time her Russian boyfriend yells at her friends when they come over to his apartment, but she doesn’t say a word and they just leave).
‘Being different’ is also used fairly liberally – “I will never be the woman with the perfect hair, who can wear white and not spill on it.” – yeah, not that unique.
When I was younger I felt like I had an oversupply of emotions/hormones and they were difficult for me to control. Instead of trying to be mature and avoiding drama, I justified my sometimes inappropriate and hurtful behavior by telling myself that I was a complicated person. Worse still, I was attracted to drama and went through some pretty exhausting relationships while rejecting perfectly decent guys that I thought of as too ‘safe’.
I think as most people enter adulthood, the only thing that you are looking for is a stable, happy life, and ‘boring’ becomes something that you actually seek to achieve.
Did anyone else learn some poor life lessons from fictional characters during their formative years?!