“The Facts of Life” – Why I Still Like It

When I watched the TV Land Awards last year, I was thinking how nice it would be to see “The Facts of Life” honored one day. Well, my wish came true! This year, the show is receiving the Pop Culture Award. A couple of days ago, the cast appeared on GMA, giving a delightful interview to Cynthia McFadden. In an email I got that same morning, the person who sent it said they had to cut it short. She said the “Facts of Life” people were going to be on GMA. We have not forgotten. This show deserved honor and recognition years ago. It is long overdue.

When the show, which was a spinoff of the mega-popular “Diff’rent Strokes”, made its debut in 1979, I was in the third grade. I remember asking my Mom “what kind of name is Blair for a girl?” I was approaching my senior year of high school when it ended its nine year run in 1988. I grew up with this show, and those girls. Natalie, Tootie, Jo and Blair were like friends of mine, older sisters in a way. I looked up to them. I wanted Tootie’s mushroom haircut so badly, I could taste it, but cutting my hair was out. I wasn’t allowed to do so. I happily settled for big Tootie-like bangs instead. My Mom and I wrote the cast when I was 10. They sent me several autographed pics in the mail. I was thrilled! In addition to that, I had pics and posters of the girls on my wall. I bought magazines they were in, or on the cover of. I was a huge fan. Most of the time, especially when I was younger, my Mom watched the show with me. Afterwards, we would talk about what we saw. When my sister came along, she watched as well.

 The show did not hold back when it came to the storylines they chose. In the second season, a fellow classmate committed suicide. That same year, Jo was almost date raped. The following year, Blair’s mother was stricken with breast cancer. Natalie’s father suddenly passed away from a heart attack, while Tootie had to face her older brother’s drinking problem. Some of these stories were kind of scary to watch. They were so real. It showed that growing up is not an easy ride.

The girls had fun too, of course. They had pillow fights, double dates, got to record a song with El DeBarge, and spent spring break in Florida. Their hair and clothes changed a lot. The boyfriends came and went.  Blair and Jo graduated from college. Tootie got engaged. Natalie moved to New York City. Even Mrs. Garrett had a life outside of mothering the girls. She and the girls went into business together, first with Edna’s Edibles, followed by Over Our Heads. She later remarried, and moved to Africa. Her wacky sister, Beverly Ann, came to take her place. Beverly Ann was more of a friend to the girls than a mother-figure. I liked the relationship they shared.

What sets “Facts” apart is how realistic is was. Look at the girls themselves. In the first season, there were more girls, including Molly, played by future movie queen Molly Ringwald. Producers decided to cut the size of the cast down, keeping Blair, Natalie and Tootie- and bringing in a brand new troublemaker, Jo. Jo rode a motorcycle, was from the Bronx, and was attending the exclusive Eastland School For Girls on a scholarship. She and Blair clashed instantly. However, the two became the best of friends, although they remained hesitant to admit it. Blair was rich, spoiled, and snooty- with the most gorgeous hair. Tootie was African-American. She was never made to feel less than or beneath the other girls because of her race. She was equal with them. Natalie Green was adopted. She was smart, witty and sweet. She was also overweight. However, there were no fat jokes, no cracks about her size. She was simply Natalie, or Nat. Since each was so uniquely different, there was a girl among the group you could single out, and relate to the most.

In this day and age, finding four girls like this being best friends on a TV show would be unheard of. The young girls on TV now all have the same look, are cut from the same mold. They are beyond skinny, with long, straight hair, dressed in skimpy, revealing clothes. Many girls are not able to relate to that image, and since not everyone looks like that, it is an unrealistic portrayal. The girls on “The Facts of Life” looked like your average teenage girls. They even started putting on weight at one point. While there was intense criticism, I took refuge in it. I too put on some weight when I was around 12, so when I saw the same thing happening on the show, it made me realize I was OK. I was normal. Like them, I lost the weight.

Girls on TV these days have sex regularly. The first of the girls to lose her virginity was Natalie. I just found out that episode, which was a hot topic at school, received the highest ratings. Sure, the girls dated a lot, but they were not taking off their clothes with this and that guy. That is not cute. There was a morality involved, which is missing now.

Some people are embarrassed to admit they watched “The Facts of Life”, that they liked it. I am proud, thankful it was on when I was a young girl. I had a place to go every week where I could see what was going on in the lives of other girls growing up. I could see how they were handling various issues. In a way, it helped me along during my own childhood. It was there for me, a constant for nine years of my life. As an adult, I still enjoy watching it. I recently went to YouTube, and watched several episodes from season four. The storylines hold up very well, and the issues remain relevant today. It still makes me laugh, and brings a smile to my face.

I’m longing to hear that familiar theme song again. YouTube time!

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~ by kmnnz on April 14, 2011.

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