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When I Grow Up..........

Posted by Stefanie Manhal on
When I Grow Up..........


One summer, when I was a mere 7 years old - unblemished and pristine, I entered a movie theater in Old Saybrook, Connecticut not knowing how every aspect of my world would change that day.
THERE SHE WAS. The most magical, magnificent vision I’d ever seen. Instantly, I knew there was nobody else like her in the world. Beautiful, sweet and virginal with a hypnotic voice and all the boys wanted her. Especially the hottest guy at Rydell High. SHE was Olivia Newton John and from the first note of SUMMER LOVIN, I wanted to BE her.

ONJ as Sandy in Grease (Paramount Pictures)


She was intoxicating to me. I studied her every move and damn near had the one tantrum of my childhood BEGGING and pleading with tears in my eyes for my father to let me stay for the next showing, to no avail. It has undoubtedly contributed to our strained relationship and unsettling father/daughter distance ever since.


From then on, her presence enveloped every aspect of my life. The only time the Grease soundtrack was not playing on my tiny bedroom record player was when I had her “Totally Hot” album a blastin…(that’s the name of the album, not my impression of it, although I wholeheartedly agree). After Xanadu, Two of a Kind and Let’s Get Physical…FORGET IT.

Was there any other person in the world to aspire to be? Joan of Arc? Badass, but she didn’t have the feathered hair slash headband thing going. Margaret Thatcher? Cool lady, but did she think of singing about dolphins? Mother Theresa? Amazing woman, but could she roller skate?
NO…ONJ was for me and that was it.


I remember forcing my neighbor to reenact scenes from Grease with me. My favorite was when I would have her push me into the trash can like Sandy was in the final bars of the first musical sequence. I would walk around with books in my arms and we would pretend that I was bumped and tripped rolling over the plastic bin. I would sing, lip sync, skip, cheer and dance just like her. I would do every scene by myself till I got it PERFECT. I never grew tired of it and wanted more.

XANADU was next. I couldn’t buy a pair of roller skates and braid ribbons into my barrettes fast enough. "Ya have to believe we are maaaagic….nothing can stand in our way." I secretly pretended I had 6 sisters and influenced men to chase their dreams. I made my own leg warmers and spent every day until the sun went down in the parking lot across the street from our apartment reciting Kiraaaa while tossing my head back and feeling the wind in my hair. To me, that parking lot was a place to go and practice my skating where no one bothered me. The montage at the end is a timeless testament to her unwavering talent and genius which remains a gift to us all. If you’ve not seen it yet, trust and believe and get the popcorn ‘cause it just might change your life.
Olivia Newton John as Kira in Xanadu (Universal Pictures)

Another pairing with John Travolta in TWO OF A KIND?  Then the LET"S GET PHYSICAL phenomenon?!?!  Endless offerings that I could go on and on about. Ahhh, those were the days.
I recently had a thought. Why DID I resonate with this particular person so much? Why Olivia Newton John? What about her spoke louder to me than anybody else? Another thought…HOW did she influence me and what parts of her stuck and changed my core self? HOW is my life different or similar to her characters having been influenced by this person when I was a young girl? Do our childhood icons really affect us as adults?


Searching searching….looking for something that I can say that I have taken from this influence.
Other than the fact that I have one daughter, love 80’s aerobic videos and can still join a roller skating conga line at the drop of a hat – I am nothing like Olivia Newton John or any of the characters she played. I am not quiet and sweet like Sandy, I don’t have the ability to span time and be a muse to the masses like Kira, and I definitely don’t have the balls to go in front of adoring fans and sing Have You Never Been Mellow like Olivia herself. Other than the songs and movies that still resonate with me, there is not one thing that I can say I took from these images to change the course of my journey.
Isn’t that funny? How could something that was SUCH a part of my childhood not really have permanently altered me?


Aside from the nostalgic feeling I get out of her movies now…I am still just me. The opposite of her.
The point is…I love being me. It happened long ago, but it did happen. I stopped wanting to be somebody else and started working to not just be myself, but be the best damn me I could! This person far outweighed anything I strived to be at age 10. This is one of the best realizations that I’ve made in my adulthood. How exciting it is to be whatever you that you want to be. To reinvent yourself at any age that you are and make something happen with your own power. We can think how we want, dress and act how we want…and it’s amazing! We can have nothing but positive thoughts about ourselves and our lives if that is what we choose. We can roller skate AND inspire if we feel like it. We can lay on the couch or conquer the world. It is UP TO US! That is so exciting to me at this stage. I can have whatever it is I want! It’s a freeing thought and one I hope we can all come to sooner rather than later. If I want to, I can even be more like Sandy, but at this point…I don’t want to! I want to be nothing else but me. It’s a place where nobody else can dare to go. When you think about it….it’s XANADU!


Take some time to think about it. Who did you want to be when you grew up? How has that person affected you in the long run, if at all? Consider that character and why you connected to it. It’s a fun thought and great topic to chat about with friends. So fun to learn about ourselves and each other. We’d love to hear who you revered when you were young! Who was your SANDY?? Who for you was MAGIC???

xoxoStefanie

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