Objectify Me: Debbie Millman and the Yellow Barrette
Our weekly series of guest posts where people we like discuss objects that inspire them
One of my favorite things to do as a little girl was visit my father’s pharmacy. I was dazzled by all of the branded boxes that neatly lined the mahogany shelves, and I would spend hours ogling the packaging. For me, the crown jewel was the barrette display. This was a stand of magical wonder; it was a spinning cascade of glamour and hope and desire. The stand held every possible hair accessory: head bands, bobby pins, colorful plastic clips in the shape of butterflies, a myriad of hair brushes, combs, shower caps, pretty bows in velvet, bows in gingham, and my favorite barrette of all: pony tail holders. They were sold in packages of 4 or 8 or an eye popping 20. The barrettes were of simple construction: two round baubles held together by an elastic band that was twisted around to hold ponytails in place. Each pack was organized by style: some were translucent, some were opaque, and they were segmented by color and size: small, medium and large balls of primary and secondary colors. I was allowed to pick out one package per visit to keep. I would stand in front of the stand for what seemed an eternity, slowly spinning it round and round, overwhelmed by the magnitude of my choice: what should I take? What was the most beautiful? What would make me look the prettiest? After I made my decision, I would bring home my coveted treasure, carefully open up the packs, spread out my newly obtained amulets and then I would, well…I would do nothing. I wouldn’t do my hair up and I didn’t try them on. I just stared at them in divine bliss. I was simply content to look at them and add them to my lovely, expanding trove. I felt rich with accomplishment and dizzy with glee. No one had the collection I had; no one could be as lucky as I was.
My best friend, a very sweet girl named Andrea, lived next door. We would spend hours on end imagining what we would be when we grew-up and where we would travel and what we would wear. Andrea did not share my penchant for hair accessories and while she tolerated my burgeoning collection, she had no desire to join me in my trinket worship. One day, when we were playing at her house, I noticed a small ponytail holder on her bureau. I was immediately mesmerized and perplexed. It was a pearly pale yellow, and I had never seen a barrette of that hue, ever. Whenever I went over to Andrea’s house I always looked for the barrette and it always there in the same place. Suddenly I was angry and jealous. I wanted that barrette and I didn’t know how to get it.
I continued to fixate on Andrea’s yellow barrette, and one afternoon, before I could stop myself, when my best friend wasn’t looking, I took the barrette off of her bureau and put it in my pocket. I stole Andrea’s yellow barrette.
For weeks after I completed my crime, I waited for Andrea to notice. She never did. But our friendship had irrevocably changed. I now had a terrible secret we couldn’t share, and I couldn’t face her anymore. And I couldn’t face who I became because of my desire and my greed for a little yellow barrette.
Debbie Millman is the President of the design group at Sterling Brands, a leading brand consultancy. She is also the host of Design Matters, a radio show on the Voice America Business Network and the author of How To Think Like A Great Graphic Designer. [And yes, that’s a picture of the actual barrette…]