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I remember, as a child, reading magazine advertisements with special attention. They seemed to be a window opening onto a wondrous world-the world of mainstream America-that I avidly wanted to be a part of. In those days, living in Brooklyn in a neighborhood filled with immigrant families like my own, crossing the bridge into Manhattan was like finally getting to the Promised Land. And in my dreams-dreams styled by the values I saw in those glossy magazine ads-I'd know just how to fit in.

I'd use Pond's Cold Cream (She's lovely, she's engaged). . . . I'd know the answer to: Shall she order chicken salad? . . . I'd charm them with my musical talents (They laughed when she sat down at the piano, but when she started to play. . . ). And of course I'd grow up to be a blonde. A natural, all-American blonde. It seemed to me that every woman's dreams must be similar to my own, and that assumption guided my lifelong career in advertising.

When I became a copywriter on the Clairol account, hair-coloring products were not yet acceptable for a "nice" girl, but I assumed that-like me-millions thought the answer to Is it true blondes have more fun? was: You bet! But first, no one must know it came from a bottle. Does she . . . or doesn't she? Only her hairdresser knows for sure. . . .

Times certainly have changed since "natural" was a hair coloring ideal. Now you can have roots, streaks, wild colors, purple one day, brunette the next. And the ads give you that license; anyone growing up today thinks of hair color as we used to think of lipstick.

When I was a girl, getting your dishes really clean meant your husband would love you and the neighbors would admire the shine. When my daughters were growing up, the image of Mom had shifted to a woman whose dishes were cleaned so fast she actually had time to cavort with her children (. . . even her kids love the younger way she looks). When my grandmother grew up, Mom was already a part-time worker (My days are filled with job and family). Now my great granddaughters see commercials where Mom is on her way to the airport, using a cellular phone to call home and say she'll be late for dinner.

So to me, advertising remains a window on mainstream America-not necessarily what our life is really like, but what we'd really like it to be. If I've only one life, let me live it as a blonde. Or, as whatever strikes your fancy.

Shirley Polykoff began her career at Harper's Bazaar in 1925 and became one of the most prominent women in advertising, helping transform Clairol from a small business to a huge international brand. She retired from Foote, Cone & Belding as senior VP-chairman of the creative board in 1973 and becmae president of her own agency. She joined the Advertising Hall of Fame in 1980.

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