First, there were hermit crabs, born with the need to carry large, unwieldy shells on their backs. Next, there were ants, destined to carry pebbles twice their size. Now, there are high school girls and their insatiable need to lug enormous, stuffed-to-the-brim purses.
A random survey of San Fernando Valley high school girls yields two trends: The need to carry an enormous bag strikes almost all adolescent females in grades nine through 12 and, within the Big Purse Set, there exist several subsets whose members seem to share various traits associated with the pack rat. (Of course, some girls can claim membership in all the subsets.)
TRASH COLLECTOR--Members of this subset have a certain fondness for trash, which they carry in their purses at all times. And they feel no need to explain their need to collect the stuff.
Among other items in her oversized purse, Lisa Demsky, a 16-year-old Taft High School student from Tarzana, totes a fistful of empty gum wrappers. "I just don't throw them away," she said.
"I put everything in my purse," said Angela Capodanno, 16, who lives in North Hollywood and attends North Hollywood High School. "I have trash, makeup, an organizer, pencils, pens and nail polish. All kinds of stuff. I didn't have a trash can handy, so I just put the trash in my purse. Oh, I also have a bow this guy gave me at a party."
In addition to her English books, index and flash cards that she uses to practice for the academic decathlon, contact lenses, contact lens solution, makeup, checkbook, postcards from Santa Cruz, comb, two brushes and a pink wallet stuffed with her calendar, addresses, pictures and foil-wrapped chocolate, Erika Hall, a 17-year-old Taft High senior from Canoga Park, lugs the following: Christmas cards from friends, a disc camera she rarely uses and lots of Ready Teller receipts.
Sara Wedman, 15, another Taft student from Tarzana, carries such necessities as Kleenex, Blistex, lip gloss, Lip Therapy with 15 Sun Block, appointment cards from an orthodontist, a Great Western Bank card, vented hair brush, compact with translucent powder, photograph of herself feeding a bottle of Coke to a stuffed tiger and copy of "A Clockwork Orange" for an English class. The granola dip wrappers clustered at the bottom of her oversized purse cannot be labeled pure trash. "I rip them up and make them into little origami bracelets," said Wedman.
TOTAL ORGANIZER--You might not think adolescents have much use for the "day-at-a-glance," "week-at-a-glance" planners, but this is an important subset of the Big Purse Set.
Roxanna Gomez, 16, who lives in Los Angeles and attends Taft, is one such Total Organizer. In addition to half a bologna sandwich, books for drama and English classes, and extensive makeup, Roxanna carries calendars for 1987 and 1988, a daily planner and an organizer in which she "writes down assignments."
Fellow Taft student Tracey Pedder, 16, from Tarzana, could win the Total Organizer prize: She carries four. "People think it's three different organizers, but it's not," she said. "In my 'Dumb Things I Gotta Do' organizer, I keep my homework. I have a lot of heavy majors. Then this one is kind of just like my business file. Then this one just keeps everything else that I have no place for or else it would just be all roaming around my purse." And the fourth organizer? "Oh, my mom got me this. It's just another date book," she said.
Pedder also carries a dictionary, sunglasses, matches for melting eyeliner, hair spray, a brush, a hair pick, sunflower seeds, umbrella, calculator and "from everything to everything."
There are hazards associated with a Big Purse. Said Pedder: "This purse is really heavy and, when you drop it on the floor, it makes a really big thud. When I'm upstairs at school, there is a history class underneath me and they work all the time, really study. This morning, I dropped it on the floor and the girl behind me said, 'You're not supposed to do that. Remember?' It's, like, really loud downstairs, and the teacher downstairs is always reminding us not to stomp on the floors and stuff."
LUCKY MEMENTO CARRIER--This is another member of the Big Purse Set. In addition to school books, keys, makeup, radio, photographs of friends, stationery and doughnuts, Bridget Cooks, 15, who lives in North Hollywood and attends North Hollywood High, likes to carry a lucky French coin. "I got this in France and it was made the year I was born, 1971."
Lisa Demsky, a 16-year-old who lives in Tarzana and attends Taft, totes a lucky rock. "I've carried it since the ninth grade," she said. "Some friends and I went to an art fair and we all bought rocks. Then, every time we took the rocks out in our math class, we all got A's." Does the rock help her get A's in math now? "No."
QUICK-CHANGE ARTIST--Carrie Mills, 16, a Sherman Oaks resident who goes to the Buckley School in Sherman Oaks, belongs to this subset. She throws a big pair of earrings in with her makeup, photographs of friends, lotions and skateboard key chain.
Brooke Kaplan, 16, of North Hollywood High, carries socks in her Big Purse. "I didn't like the ones I had on, so I changed," she said.
Lauren Walker, 16, of North Hollywood, a student at North Hollywood High School, totes clothes in her Big Purse. "If I get hot, if I take my jacket off, I can just stuff it in there."
LOOSE-MONEY THROWERS--Dollar bills and coins rattle in the bottom of their Big Purses--not in their wallets.
"I don't know, I don't like reaching in to get my wallet," said Taft's Sara Wedman. "I just like feeling in my purse and pulling out whatever. I feel freer that way."
"I LIKE TO KNOW IT'S THERE"--Big Purses may appear to be uncomfortably heavy, but many girls like the weight, and they belong to this subset.
Sixteen-year-old Karen Reyes, who lives in Los Angeles and attends Taft, said: "It doesn't bother me at all to carry around such a big purse. I love big purses." She crams hers full with English books, makeup, birthday gifts to herself, lollipops, a brush, a comb, a calendar and letters from friends. "A big purse is more comfortable. When I carry a small purse, it doesn't even feel it's there. It's uncomfortable."
Leslie Legg, a 17-year-old from Toluca Lake who goes to the Buckley School, agrees. She throws "anything I see laying around" into her purse. "A big purse is more comfortable," said Legg. "It's security, knowing that it's on my arm. If it was something small and light, I wouldn't feel it. I'd probably leave it laying around and lose it."
STYLISH--Last, but not least, Big Purses can make a fashion statement. Katie Deatreck from Los Feliz, a 16-year-old student at Buckley, sports a beautiful, hand-tooled leather bag. "My dad brought this back from Mexico and I love it. People say, 'Why do you have such a big purse?' And I say, 'I don't know. I just love it.' "