Oh how I loved Beverly Hills 90210. I was actually out of high school when the Walsh twins hit the small screen. But from episode one (which is really nothing like the rest of the series — it even had a different title and theme song) I was completely hooked. I wasn’t a twin, I had never changed schools or moved to a new state and I had never even been to California. Yet somehow I felt totally connected to all the characters, especially Brenda.
Yes, Brenda. Not the Brenda she became by senior year but the Brenda that started the series. A brunette who pined to be a blonde so she could fit in with the cool crowd. A girl who gets embarrassed in front of her secret guy crush (remember in the their first scene together when Dylan slides out from beneath Brandon’s car?), and yet connects with him because she is so real. A teen that is melodramatic (“Maybe I’m not your little girl anymore, Dad”) but just can’t help it because she feels things that deeply.
My high school experience was nothing like Brenda’s (no Peach Pit or Beverly Hills Beach Club to hang out at), and yet it was everything like hers. I related to her inner battle between being real and being popular. I understood her wanting the guy, but then not wanting the guy and then wanting him again when someone else wanted him.
Teen magazines used to ask, “Are you a Brenda or a Kelly?” I was a Brenda all the way but it was hard because the character got so much negative backlash. Didn’t people understand she was misunderstood? She was insecure! She was a teenager! But other TV viewers saw her as a brat and began to hate her both on and off screen. The actress’s antics seemed to spill over into the way the character was written. Blonde bully Kelly from season one became the kinder, more sympathetic character. Eventually even I, a die-hard Brenda fan, could no longer support her antics — like almost marrying Stuart, or letting the animals out of the lab.
Twenty years later, if asked now if I am a Brenda or a Kelly, I would say: I am a Cindy. I am the mother of the teens, a supporting player in the angst. I am the one sitting on the couch at midnight pretending to read the same book over and over again, just waiting up to make sure that everyone returns home safely from the evening activities. I am not making sundaes in the kitchen with my friends discussing our love lives. I am washing the dishes those girls leave in my sink and going out to buy more ice cream when they put the cartons back in the freezer three-quarters empty.
During the run of the show, I never gave the character of Cindy Walsh much thought. She never had a lot of storylines, and the one where she and Jim almost swapped with another couple was pretty darn gross. But now that I am as old as the fictional Mrs. Walsh, I am embracing it. I no longer want the blonde hair — I want my original brunette color (and will continue trying to achieve that while covering up the grey). I no longer want to be in the popular group. I want to be with the people that want to be with me. And I no longer want to date the bad boy. I want to embrace the good one that sticks with me through life’s ups and downs.