I was home for a few days last week and I encountered reader Ali (short for Alexandra, also my cousin) who mentioned blushingly that she was “one of those white girls with the pillows.” I decided to interview her to learn more about her pillow carrying practices, so we met on Instant Messenger, which is the preferred method of communication for White Girls Who Bring Their Own Pillows On Planes.
FtheFollowing: Okay, let me know when you're ready?
Ali: ok.. ready. how many questions am i in for?
FtF: 5 or 6
A: k cool
FtF: Or as many as I feel like asking, damn it.
FtF: Okay, so, question one: What's up with the pillow?
A: well when traveling either by plane or car its nice to have a soft place to lie your head… makes sleeping easier and more enjoyable. also it’s a bit of home when you’re away, a comfort thing. and hotels do have pillows, this is true… but sometimes they suck or they don’t give u enough
FtF: Do you ever feel bad for your seatmate when your pillow spills over into his air space?
A: hmmm.. i try to fold the pillow in half so it’s smaller. and no because they are usually jealous that they didn’t think to bring their own pillow.
FtF: I don't think they are. But fine. Do all your friends bring their own pillows too?
A: my sister definitely, and most of my friends. but only on shorter trips, I'm not about to lug my pillow cross country or to a different country.
FtF: Do you have other-than-white friends who do this?
A: one half-Asian friend actually
FtF: So, when did white girls get the word that you were supposed to bring your own pillows on planes? Is there a newsletter?
A: no newsletter. i think it comes from moms. That’s who taught me. all moms probably received the newsletter saying it’s a good way to keep your kids quiet. I think then the habit just lingers.
FtF: I would say that's plausible. You develop a dependence on the pillow in childhood and then you never kick the habit. Perhaps there was some kind of book or magazine which suggested to white, 80s moms: "If you want to keep your daughters quiet on planes, let them bring their own pillows." And now we're seeing the lingering vestiges of that advice.
FtF: We may have just cracked the case! Would you ask you mom next time you talk?
A: sure.. no problem.. i'll see where she got the idea from.
FtF: One final thing: Let's get back to your half-Asian friend. How half Asian is she? Does she speak the Asian language she's associated with? Is her name Brittany or Madison?
A: her name is Alyissa.... her mom is fully Chinese and speaks the language but my friend is not fluent. She’s very American. NYC. her dad grew up on Long Island.
FtF: She sounds pretty white-Americanized. But the mom worries me. She casts some doubt on our theory that pillow carrying derived from white, American moms reading a common publication. Was the mom a dedicated assimilator? Maybe as an FOB, she was trying to become more American and might have encountered the same parenting advice sources?
A: to be honest i don’t know too much about her mom.. I studied abroad with this girl.. she was my roommate.. and she was totally American but i never actually meet her mom.
A: I should mention that my dad is completely against the whole trend. in fact, he gets a little angry if we are traveling together and we bring the pillows. But the irony is, I'll often find him trying to steal our pillows in the hotel rooms
FtF: We, as in you and Jackie? [Ali’s sister.]
A: yes and nancy [Ali’s mom.]
FtF: Whoa. Your mom brings a pillow too?
A: she will not leave home without it
FtF: Interesting. In your estimation, would this hold true for your friends as well?
A: their moms also bringing pillows u mean?
FtF: Yes. Do most of your friends and their moms bring pillows on trips?
A: I think most of my generation brings pillows. but most of our mothers do not.
FtF: And when you do this, your dad is like, "Again with the pillows? What the hell?"
A: sounds like a direct quote...
FtF: Have you ever encountered problems as an own pillow carrier? Have you ever had anyone be like, "Move that goddamn pillow, whitey!"
A: no.. most people are understanding, you just slide it through security with the rest of your stuff
FtF: And does it ever feel weird to be walking through the airport with a pillow?
A: no. but you do run the risk of forgetting your pillow or losing it
FtF: Oh Jesus Christ no!
A: it’s scary!!
FtF: You think maybe now that we've had this chat, you'll feel differently about the pillow?
A: a bit.... i will totally think twice about carrying my pillow on my next trip. but I have a feeling I will still bring it... I was away last week and didn't have my pillow and I just wasn't quite as comfy when i was sleeping.
FtF: Thank you so much for your valuable contributions to sociology.
A: any time!! glad i could help.
FtF: Sleep well. On planes.
Hypothesis: Own-pillow carrying was spawned when a large portion of 80s moms read or heard a common piece of advice in a widely-distributed, white-targeted parenting publication.
Call To Action: We at F the Following believe this is the most penetrating piece of research yet released in the study of own pillow carrying by white women, and encourage everyone to contribute their thoughts and observations in the comments section below. Are you a white girl whose mother encouraged her to bring a pillow on a plane? Are you a non-white girl who brings a pillow on a plane? Have you encountered a white or non-white girl carrying a pillow on a plane? Do you wish to point out that the concept of "race" is a social construct and that therefore it is actually impossible for a "white" or "non-white" girl to bring a pillow on a plane? Please let us know.