What I learned from Peggy Olson on 'Mad Men'
“I’m Peggy Olson, the new girl.”
How many times have we said something along the lines of this? Introducing ourselves as the “new girl” or “new boy,” associating ourselves with the term new in an almost tremble, as if we were really saying: “Hey, I’m new meat.”
I began watching Mad Men my junior year of college. You would think that since it was my third year of school that I’d have already done normal college girl things like make friends and be involved in school communities, but I didn’t because I could never shake that “new girl” feeling.
Too shy to do pretty much anything, really, I would go to class and then go home. It wasn’t like I was exceptionally busy either; my excuse was that my already close friends did not attend the same school as I did, so therefore I had no friends at school at all. I couldn’t even flirt with the idea of meeting new people: I was a loner because I made myself a loner.
When a classmate who actually approached me (this was a triumph I immediately texted my best friend about) recommended I watched Mad Men, I decided to give it a go. I had heard so much about how great of a complex character the protagonist Don Draper was, but instead of falling for the dark, handsome, tormented ad man, I instead fell in love with the timid new girl with the awkward bangs and the even more awkward conversation-starters: Miss Peggy Olson.
The series begins with Peggy’s first very day of secretarial work at Sterling Cooper, the big time ad agency located in Manhattan, an unfamiliar environment for the Brooklyn gal. Self-conscious, shy, and unfamiliar with much of the flirty sexist jargon in her new work environment, Peggy felt out of place the first couple seasons of Mad Men. Overshadowed by confident beauties like office manager Joan, and feeling uncomfortable by her male coworkers’ advances, Peggy seemed almost virginal.
I immediately related to Peggy’s character; twirling my own awkward bangs with my finger as I watched, amazed that a fictional television character could emulate my feelings so well. I knew from that pilot episode that not only was Peggy the poster child of every shy person out there, but that her character was meant for something much more than just answering Don Draper’s phone calls.
The sixth episode of the first season was proof of that. The ladies of the office are asked to partake in a lipstick test, trying out all of the different shades offered by a make-up client, the girls eagerly trying on their favorite shades. But Peggy just observes, examining the faces of interest and disappointment of the girls at the office. Later, she casually hands a marketer a basket with tissues used to remove the lipsticks, and casually says, “Here’s your basket full of kisses.” The marketer is taken back by this comment, and can’t believe that a woman would come up with something so clever. She’s later given her first copywriting assignment, and the rest is history: Peggy is now an up-and-coming career girl.
This scene and the rest of Peggy’s journey from shy secretary to ad executive with her own office and team of employees gave me the confidence to not necessarily wait around to be discovered, but to always be myself, no matter if I feel like an oddball.
As Peggy’s character continued to blossom, I started to really get out of my comfort zone, carrying myself as Peggy Olson would. Like Peggy, my transition wasn’t easy or fast, but I began to speak up more in class, talk to my classmates and even join women positive internships. My major was journalism, which was ironic for an introvert like me, but after watching Peggy make her place in the male dominated advertising agency, I decided to join my school’s paper. I came in with drive and hopes, and came out of with two achievement awards and an editor position I could put down on my resume.
Though I still have a long way to go before I reach “Peggy Olson Season 7” status, I still look to her for inspiration. “What Would Peggy Olson Do” is definitely at a motto I live by.We really invest a lot of our time –and sometimes emotions- on the characters we watch on television, sometimes even seeing similarities between them and ourselves. Almost like they were growing with you, the evolution of any Peggy Olson type character is enough to make you get out of bed and say, “Yeah, I can do that!” For any of you “Peggy Season One” folks out there, you will definitely grow to be a “Peggy Season 7” one day. Maybe it won’t happen today or tomorrow, but when it does happen, it’ll be spectacular.Natalie Rivera is a freelance writer, 500 Days of Summer enthusiast, and editor at the Netflix-obsessed website Now Streaming. Follow her on Twitter. (Image via AMC)