I'VE BEEN seeing an ad recently where a perky little woman is doing absolutely everything: She's coming back from working all day at an office to cook her kids a hot meal at home, then running off to load a gigantic pallet of canned goods, or maybe hair-care products (you can't really tell from the ad), for distribution by FEMA.
The television commercial informs us that this is part of her busy yet balanced life as a productive, working, devoted mom who is also committed to giving back to her local community.
Committed will be just the right word for this poor lady, as far as I can tell, because it's going to end up being used as a verb instead of an adjective to describe her life. Personally, I'm exhausted from watching her. No human being can do what she's doing and remain sane.
She's on something all right, but it isn't a multivitamin. I take multivitamins and I still fall asleep during afternoon meetings and any movie in which somebody isn't yelling Let's get OUTTA here! every 12 minutes, a habit that cuts down on my appreciation of many of the more dramatic and romantic films. Mostly we watch reruns of 24 because we still can't figure out what the hell went on anyhow.
The lady in the vitamin ad – I use lady because this is a character and not a real person and because she probably also crochets her own doilies while canning her own pickles (if indeed that is how pickles are made; for all I know, they are born in the wild and captured by hunters) – does us all a disservice.
She makes women defensive. And most of us don't need a lot of help in that area, being pretty defensive already. Hey, we try very hard to do what's best, and don't need somebody who's whacked out on super-strength Vitamin D to be making us all self-conscious of the myriad ways in which she's doing it better.
Sure, I, too, want to give back to the community. I want to have balance in my life and make it not just one big orgy of me, me, me. Barbra Streisand and I are a lot alike that way. But I'm not going to a loading dock after racing home from work to feed a brood of ungrateful teenagers homemade tacos, even if I had them (the teens, not the tacos).
My way of giving back to the community is, for example, going to a neighborhood craft sale, where I linger among the hand-sewn oven mitts. Or I'll attend a bake sale; isn't there a self-help book called Zucchini Bread for the Woman's Soul? If I purchase even one item made with stone-ground flour (and I have no more idea what that means than I have about the true origin of pickles) and flavored only by all-natural seasonings, I've given back for weeks. I've also gotten my exercise for a month, since even those all-natural muffins weigh at least 65 pounds and have the density of iridium.
The fact that I will then go to Walgreens and purchase Twinkies to remove the taste of all natural seasonings out of my mouth in no way mitigates my feverish devotion to virtue. It simply means that nature doesn't taste very good without outside help.
If it did, we wouldn't have to take all those vitamins, now would we?
We'd be getting all those vital nutrients from chomping away on gourds and legumes.
Ever notice just how few human beings get all their bodily needs met through gourds and legumes, especially if there's a good deli nearby?
True, even little bits of legume go a long way in terms of taking care of the whole roughage business, but there's more to life than fiber. There is, for one thing, taste, or what some might see as the yummy or fun factor.
It's precisely the fun factor that the lady in the vitamin ad seems to be missing. Everything she's doing, she's doing for somebody else. Sure, the voice-over insists that swallowing a pill is what she's doing to look after herself, but where's the fun in that?
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut, a feminist scholar who has written eight books and a columnist for the Hartford Courant. She can be reached through her website at www.ginabarreca.com.