As a teenager I collected old books–the campier the better–and at a thrift shop or yard sale I came across a copy of Sex and the Single Girl. I was drawn to the very 1960’s cover and snapped it up. I was slumped in a chair reading it one day and my father happened to see the title on the fuchsia cover. He frowned and said, “That’s a filthy book. You shouldn’t be reading it.”
I laughed, because the book didn’t seem filthy at all, more like a fun peek into the life of a saucy single gal in the 1960’s. I don’t think I read the whole thing, and I scarcely remembered, let along was corrupted by, any sex talk–and I loved Helen Gurley Brown’s style.
She was companionable, conspiratorial in a just between us girls way and real-life practical. I recall the book discussing the importance of being financially responsible and getting to work on time. Something about making sure your fanny was in your desk at 9 am, even if your hair was a mess and you had only guzzled down air for breakfast on your way to the office.
Around the same time I came across The Cosmo Guide’s Girl to the New Etiquette, a hardcover book of Cosmo articles that had been published in the early-1970’s. As editor of the magazine during this time, I’m assuming Helen Gurley Brown had something to do with its great compendium of articles, on everything from clothes to budgeting to gift-giving to being a good houseguest.
Her distinctive voice is all over it…encouraging and optimistic, with lots of clever, budget-neutral tricks for the reader. There is a piece on gifts that a modest-budget girl can get for a big-budget friend (a jar of homemade preserves, a certificate to house-watch or babysit, etc) and even how to transform flying into something fun and sassy (book first class, fly at night, look pretty and don’t be afraid to sit next to a handsome stranger).
I re-read the book as a lonely post-college girl living alone in the city for the first time, and on more than one occasion was buoyed by its cheerleading, its message to go out, dig those self-manicured hands deep into your life and enjoy it, damn it.
Every in memoriam of Helen Gurley Brown I’ve seen in the last couple of days seems to focus on her book Sex and the Single Girl and its go-ahead-and-do-it message to single gals of the 1960’s. In a different time Helen Gurley Brown would have a significant effect on me, but her influence had zero, zilch to do with sex and everything to do with cultivating and celebrating the female spirit…joie de vivre…independence…taking care of your life and your self. In all, she promoted what is the positive soul of individual glamour.
RIP and Many Thanks, Mouseburger.