Remember Those Steve Madden Ads With the Girls With the Big Heads?
In the latest installation of Fashion Fan Fiction, Steve Madden's niece, writer T Kira Madden, tells us the almost entirely true tale of America’s favorite bobbleheads.
Courtesy Steve Madden
In our Fashion Fan Fiction series, we ask a writer to take inspiration from fashion images from the past.
Wide legged and pigeon toed worked best for us then, a pose that slimmed our ankles, calves, too, with hips cocked for Johnny. America’s Model-Bobbles, they’d called us in Seventeen, a full glossed cover story—framed now, of course—because we’d meant something to people, our colossal heads magnified across billboards, tabs, that one commercial on MTV from 1999 we still replay every Christmas. Maeve gets hammered when we do that. She plops down at the VCR nodding her head to The Commercial’s jingle, the staticky way our young bellies move on-screen. She holds down the rewind button until our bodies squiggle backwards down the street and we all say, “Play it again, Maeve, you dumb, lush bitch. Give us our song!,” and strut in the living room, barefoot and face-masked, a fun-house mirror of true beauty, the Bobbles we once were.
Johnny Camera said we’d be set up for life, retired by 16 (in Bobble Years, mind you) with full health and dental, living some beach postcard by now. But Johnny Camera is a liar and a Reg Head. He set us up in a duplex shared condo in a retirement community called Boca Tiki for Bobbles in Southern Florida; no car, a big fish tank, a pet chicken named Judy Garland, one television. There are seven of us original Model-Bobbles left—Maeve, Wanda, Elna, Caroline, Babs, Sheila, and Troy—and we’re sticking together, cross our hearts, like sisters. No use even memorizing our names. We are the Bobble Girls, no lives before or after that title, no life other than this one.
We called that wide-legged, skinny-calved, pigeon-bent “Who me ?” pose The Miranda on account of Miranda (may she rest in peace/it was brutal) doing it first. It’s hard to stick now. Our bones aren’t up for it; our joints, good as gone. Sometimes, in the bathroom mirror, we still try for our catalog eyes, a squinty squint look like “Come at us, baby! Buy our love! Take the shoes, take the girl!” But it’s moot. Once, we’d considered a future in Hollywood romances, leading ladies with on-screen tongue kissing and tearful monologues sharing the same credit scroll as the Regs. We’d walk a red carpet with real jewelry even, ball gowns even, and steal the mic from Joan Rivers (who should have been a Bobble/our queen): “Why, yes, Joanie, big-headed girls can be loved, too.”
We saw it on a commercial before word arrived in our mailbox: “Bobble Girls in Person! Where Are They Now? ” Elna was watching reruns of One Tree Hill (she’s still after that Chad Michael Murray) when our faces surprised her on-screen. “I’ll be damned,” she screamed. “Drag yer asses in here!” We dropped our fish-feeding and Jell-O molding and back-stretching and lovemaking, respectively, to creak into the living room, where Elna’s head was propped on both elbows. Even Judy Garland flapped up onto Sheila’s shoulder to watch. There we were. The old jingle of our song, so much sass and sway, our feet magnified and youthful. It was a montage of our most popular 1995–2005 ads, Judy Garland as a fluffy Bobble Chick on a leash, with a man talking over us (aren’t they ever), and each one of us got some airtime (Miranda, too; they mustn’t have known), before the words appeared: “Meet the Bobbles! Boca Town Center Mall. Coming at you SOON !” The man blabbered on, and though we cannot agree on the premise of his talking, we all heard the words “once beloved.”
We spent the rest of the day preparing for our usual dinner at The Fried Flamingo. This occasion called for some extra primping, unusual efforts. We wanted to deliver the news, this special announcement, with unassuming elegance. Casual grace. Moxie. Maeve and Wanda took turns fastening each other’s hair around lampshades for voluptuous waves. Elna used sharpies to rim her eyes black and mysterious. Sheila and Troy, together since they were Teen Bobbles, wore garments from their wedding—a doily tablecloth veil for Sheila; a punk leather vest for Troy—and if you squinted at them with one eye closed, it was as if they were young girls again, freakishly in love, ready for a Future. We helped each other pull on python pants and skirts, button buttons. We lifted each other’s breasts from our bra cups. We said things like, “I’d do you right here on the ironing board!,” and, “Watch out, world—she’s ripe!”
We supported each other by the armpits as we practiced walking down the hallway rug, finding our balance, clenching forgotten muscles
Of course, this also meant an opportunity for The Shoes. We kept them pristine and leather oiled, the insides stuffed with delicate balls of paper so they’d always keep shape. The Shoes were lined up in color-coordinated rows in the upstairs closet, with small masking-tape labels of whose were whose on their boxes. “Maeve, 1999, Times Square Billboard.” “Caroline, 2001, Coney Island, Teen Vogue.” Things like that. We each chose a pair and slid our feet in, massaging our ankles, slicking our bunions with a stick of butter. We supported each other by the armpits as we practiced walking down the hallway rug, finding our balance, clenching forgotten muscles.
Outside the condo, we loaded into our golf cart with great care. With our toenails painted, our necks free of their braces, we felt something like wildness. Elna drove us toward the Country Club faster than usual, the cart bumping and lifting over the hills of the golf course, our hair crisscrossing in the thrill of wind. We even timed ourselves to arrive late—5:07 pm—just to make a real entrance.
Everyone inside The Fried Flamingo Country Club had already heard the news; they, too, had seen the commercial. As we made our way to our table, the whole room boomed with it. “Where are they now!” Leonore screamed from the buffet line. She clacked her dentures out onto her plate. “Boca Tiki babes, living the high life!” She elbowed her husband, cackling. We’d expected some envy, of course. Some degree of sting. Every Bobble Woman before our time made a life in phone operations, house scrubbing, pharmaceuticals, a Key West Ripley’s show here and there—any opportunity for a life of anonymity or a life in which our very otherness became spectacle and focal point. A test for humanity. It wasn’t our fault that Johnny Camera came around when he did, saw Miranda (God bless her soul) flipping fish filets behind the window at a drive-thru and said, “Let’s work with this. I’m going to make you a Someone for Something, Big Headed Betsy ,” and the rest of us caught her wave.
Everyone at The Fried Flamingo mocked in our direction. The oldest Bobbles (we privately call them Wobbles) pursed their lips like us, pulled back the skin of their faces until it was taut. Jealous, certainly. Their neck braces, foamy and crusted with years of makeup, squished like trick bunnies as the Wobbles swiveled their heads around for laughs, supportive recognition. Their Reg Head husbands patted their backs as if to say, “Very funny, Shirley ,” but really those men were cocking their eyebrows at us, tonguing their upper lips, mouthing things like, “Nice toes,” and, “Lookin’ sweet, Miss thang.”
Every Bobble Woman before our time made a life in phone operations, house scrubbing, pharmaceuticals, a Key West Ripley’s show here and there—any opportunity for a life of anonymity or a life in which our very otherness became spectacle and focal point.
None of us fuck with men, as a general rule. Elna gets the worst of our teasing as the only out-heterosexual in the house, what with her television husbands, but she still knows better than to bother with real men. Reg Head men (what other kind are there?) are all weaklings. Our guess is they all have Reg Head wives (maybe even plural) out there somewhere (Palm Beach County, we’d bet). Back when Bobbles started getting born (early 1980s, far as we know), back when the Regs started marrying us—for what? bigger BJ mouths? bittier waists? a fetishization of the freakish?—they didn’t know we’d age in Bobble Years. That’s twice as fast. (“Bigger the brain, bigger the pain,” we say. “Hahaha!”) Now even the youngest of our generation are back-braced and neck-supported, with loafered Reg Heads on their arms who visit Boca Tiki on the weekends for pity points and Instagram hits. “This here’s my dashboard doll, my charity case.” What a guy!
“Look like you’re all pranced up for your Bat Mitzvah,” Gemima hollered at us from her pile of roast beef at the adjacent table. “Pathetic whores!”
“Your Reg husband fuck you from behind exclusive?” Wanda responded. “Let your big ole head rest on the pillow while he clams up his eyes and does the deposit?”
“Bobblin’ Boca Bitch!”
“You got the face of a matzah ball!”
That’s more or less how the night went. After six or so glasses of merlot, Troy tried to step up on her chair to ding-ding her glass, to rub it all in, but what with The Shoes and her heavy head feeling all wavy she slipped off her chair, Bobble face first, and the whole room cheered like hell.
The mail notice came the next day. Maeve and Wanda were washing Sheila’s hair in the bathtub, a wooden backscratcher propped as a support beam under her skull, when Elna screamed, “She’s here!,” from the living room. Sure enough, the mail spat right through the front door slot like any other day. No special telegram, no knock. When we all arrived at the living room (except poor Sheila, her hair too wet and heavy to walk right then), we found Judy Garland shitting all over the catalogs and coupons on account of excitement, so we figured. Elna was replaying My Best Friend’s Wedding on the television (she loves that Dylan McDermott) and as the whole wedding party sang, “I say a little prayer for you!,” Babs lifted the lone white envelope from the floor and slit it clean with her front tooth. “Who gets the honors?”
We passed around that sweet sheet of paper while Wanda fussed around for our reading glasses, lenses we made from two grandfather clocks (Boca Tiki yard sales are abundant/everybody dies). She lifted the glass clock faces to her left and right eyes (respectively) as we held the letter to her nose.
“Dear Bobble Girls,” she read.
“Louder!” Sheila screamed from the bathtub, critically unsupervised.
“Dear Bobble Girls!” Wanda continued. “It is our greatest wish! In this country of America the Great! In the year 2019! That you will join us for an evening of ‘Where Are They Now?’ at the Town Center Mall! Valet service for your golf cart will be available!”
“When, bitch, when!” screamed Sheila.
“Next week! July 4! Four pm! Crowds anticipated, it says! Live broadcasting!”
Wanda paused just then, her lenses misting from the inside. Judy Garland twitched her chicken head around, waiting. On-screen, Dylan McDermott smiled at Julia Bobble Roberts with a cockeyed pertinence. Wanda, now softly, read from the bottom of the paper, hand at her heart: “Says nobody has forgotten you.”
So here’s how the next week went: We polished and re-polished our toes; we slept with socks soaked in lotion; we did our neck exercises every morning, as a group—6 am—left right, up down, all around, etc.; we scrubbed the stains from our teeth with steel wool, used pipe cleaners for floss; we ordered Judy Garland a rhinestone dog collar from Amazon with a tag that read, “Not Quite Over the Rainbow !;” we plucked our eyebrows with pliers; we cleaned our ears with tennis balls affixed to a stick; we skipped The Fried Flamingo every night because diets and because fuck those Wobble Wenches !; we crushed raspberries for rouge; we rolled out our backs and rotated our ankles; we ironed our hair on the ironing board (except Troy, of course; for her, we twisted it up Elvis-like with a bucket of Dippity-Do); we watched reruns of You’ve Got Mail on behalf of Elna (she’s hot for that Tom Hanks); we spent late nights in our Bobble Bags, our heads propped on couch cushions, whispering like girls again (Who’s Got the Smallest Head on Earth game still being our favorite; George W. Bush / Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson / Rod Stewart / John Cusack / What’s His Face from Sugar Ray); we fed our fish; we watched The Commercial; we wiped our favorite framed 1995 ad of Miranda with a slip of silk (because who else could have cosmically rearranged our fate but our Goddess Miranda, amen) until our faces appeared in her shine.
By 3 pm on Thursday, July 4, 2019, we loaded into our golf cart, The Shoes strapped and zipped, ready.
As promised, a valet was waiting at the front entrance of the mall—a Reg Head, but young, cute, “Travolta-like,” Elna remarked. Our golf cart beeped dramatically as we situated it at the curb for the boy to take our key. "Get’er detailed while we’re in there!” we winked, feeling more pleasant and warm to the world than usual—and would you believe that boy winked right back, said, “She’ll get the Bobble buff, pretty ladies,” like he’d meant it?
The seven of us walked inside (eight if you count Judy Garland; nine if you count our framed ad of Miranda, which Troy carried under her arm with great butch pride), rushed by the sound of The Shoes clicking on the tile floor, the shell-like reverberation of the crowd, the smell of Auntie Anne’s cinnamon pretzels, a sensational current of our collective girlhood, our golden years spent signing shoeboxes in this very mall.
In the center of the atrium, a stage with a giant banner of us Bobble Girls stretched out like giants. Television cameras zoomed around on dollies, and a skylight cast fuzzy halos atop everyone’s regular-sized heads. No other Bobbles were here, of course; we hadn’t expected anyone to make the drive from Boca Tiki without the promise of free food. We clacked our heels past Claire’s, past Sephora, past plastic palm trees, all the way up to the side of the stage. A few teenagers in the crowd pointed, then hushed, as they stretched their arms out wide above them as if to say, “Look how big those heads actually are, how round, how sublimely beautific.”
Troy approached the backstage steps ahead of the rest of us, Miranda in her arms like an offering. Under the spotlights, the toy handcuffs we’d hooked onto Troy’s earlobes (Sheila’d picked them out) glinted like an accessory both gothic and sexual. A few Reg Heads with earpieces and walkies scrambled around the backstage platform, peeking behind the banner saying, “Crowd’s lookin’ good,” before we saw him, microphone in hand: Johnny Camera.
“Well, look who’s right on time,” he said to us (the shmuck). Looked like Johnny got the real Boca treatment: a face Botoxed like saran wrap over pink meat. He wore white jeans emphasizing his groinial region, patent-leather studded boots, and we gazed with vague awareness at Johnny’s bedazzled desperation. “You ready for the stage, my Bobble Babies?”
We each took turns climbing up, careful of our ankles, careful with the steps. Judy Garland bopped around like a grain of rice on a frying pan, elated, so we presumed. Johnny spoke through his teeth without budging his camera smile: “If you bitches do anything crazy, I swear to Moses I’ll void your golf cart licenses. I’ll repo your fish tank. This is live television and I could have Mr. Bradular Pitt out there, scouting.“
We stood behind the banner nodding like, “Okay, what now?” The walkie people lined us up in a row and told us to wait for the countdown, the cue. Johnny Camera moved around the side of the banner to make his big entrance onstage, and we heard the crowd go wild for him, truly. We heard him yammer on like an auctioneer as we adjusted our posture, fingers shaking out our hair. Troy and Sheila wiped their hands dry before getting a proper grip on Miranda, clutching the left and right sides (respectively) of the frame. Even Judy Garland in her new collar looked nervous, jellybean eyes looking up at us for affirmation. We heard the jingle then, the one from The Commercial, and just like that we all felt a push.
The walkies pushed us to break the banner in unison. We tripped through it, really, stumbling to find our footing, our Bobble balance. We adjusted to pose in The Miranda, our muscle memory kicking in, our legs spread wide and childlike. The audience howled and whistled, impressed, we thought.
Johnny Camera worked the stage from corner to corner. He said, “Believe your eyes, America, how the greats have fallen! How they’ve rot!”
The cameras pivoted like telescopes. The crowd now began to laugh. We noticed right then that Johnny was reading from a teleprompter situated behind the audience, and though we could not make out the words what with our eyesight, we heard some facts about us: Boca Tiki for Bobbles! / reruns of Days of Our Lives ! / Clean their teeth with a toilet brush! / Husbandless! / Childless! / Butterface or Butterhead?
“Whaddya say,” he continued, “shall we give these Bobble Broads some makeovers?”
A surfer-looking Reg Head in the audience shook his Pepsi bottle for a spray of emphasis. “Clean those bitches up!” he yelped. The crowd caught on; then Johnny, too. “Clean them up! Clean them up! Clean them up! Clean them up!” they chanted stupidly.
Maeve (a little sloshed, admittedly) slipped off one of her pumps, without leaning over, of course, and kicked it right into the audience. The crowd went crazy trying to catch it, beating one another to the ground. It was then that I stepped over to Johnny Camera, surprising him from behind, grabbing the mic. He looked genuinely astonished at my gameness, my focus. “Well, if it isn’t cocksucking Caroline.”
“I want to tell you a story,” I said into the mic, surprised that the tiny thing could carry my voice. The audience quieted. “I want to tell you the story of what happened to Miranda.” As if on cue, Sheila and Troy stepped forward with the picture, the light bouncing off the glass like holiness itself. Judy Garland squawked up on top of the frame, clamping her chicken toes around it. I went on. “Miranda Dean Casey was born on January 27, 1986, in Love Valley, North Carolina. She was the first Bobble of her family, and one of the first, if not the first, Bobbles in the state. She was borne of a Reg Head mother and father named Julia and Julian, respectively; no other siblings. Apprehensive of their daughter’s rare condition, Mr. and Mrs. Casey sent Miranda to an all-girls boarding school at the age of—”
“Dyke!” the surfer yelled, to mediocre laughter.
Johnny Camera scampered offstage. Embarrassed, we thought. Boo him.
“Miranda Dean Casey’s earliest hobbies and pleasures included cross-stitch, Bobble Baton, Shrinky Dinks, calligraphy, tortoise rescue, and Judy Garland, after whom she named our beloved pet. Her waist, at her 5-year-old Bobble Booking, measured 11 inches round. Her head, 106 inches.”
“Camera’s off, Caroline,” Elna said, and it was true. The cameras all faced down now, looking defeated. A few girls with matching blonde highlights drifted off from the crowd, making their way to Claire’s. “Is this thing still zappin‘?” I said into the mic, but I already knew it wasn’t. I dropped the mic in a clunk.
“Nobody gives a fish fuck about Miranda!” screeched a red head in a visor. “Show us yer old Bobble Tits!”
I pinched my earlobe between my fingers. I carried on, louder. Rapturous. “Miranda Dean Casey was lactose intolerant. She was a bitty six years old when she was picked up by Johnny Camera in the drive-thru line on Palmetto Park Road. She liked a good mailbox. She met the two boys, boys who would eventually drown her in a bathtub, at a shaved ice stand by the pier. Johnny never checked into that. No funeral, either.”
The crowd had all scrambled now, the stage lights ticking off. The girls all made a circle around me, helping one another sit down, unbuckling their shoes and pants, breathing. Elna lay Miranda’s photo on the stage, face up, and stroked it with a swift tenderness. “She always wanted, just once, to get her hair done,” she said, “head all up in that robo-dryer, reading a Nat Geo, like a lady.”
Above us, Judy Garland perched on a stage light, dumbly blinking.
“You looking for Miranda?” we said, though we knew that was it. Judy clucked, waiting. We figured it so.