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Common Misconceptions About Life In The 1980s

Hit shows like Stranger Things and The Goldbergs have shown that nostalgia for the 1980s is at an all-time high. There’s just something about ’80s pop culture, music, and extravagant fashion choices that gives us that warm, fuzzy feeling. But what if we told you our modern impression of the decade might be pretty far removed from what it was really like? If anything, a lot of what we think of as quintessentially ’80s is actually a myth; even those of us who lived through that time have misconceived ideas about it!

1. Myth: "Giant ’80s hair damaged the ozone layer."

In the ’80s, bigger was better. Giant shoulder pads, oversized blazers, and, of course, big, big hairdos: these were the staple fashion statements of the decade. So what did every style icon need? Hairspray — and a lot of it. But then in 1985 came a big blow for fashion fans everywhere: a hole was discovered in the ozone layer above Antarctica, and what was to blame? Their beloved hairspray.

The public learned that chlorofluorocarbons — found in refrigerators, air conditioners, and aerosols like hairspray — were a major culprit in damaging the Earth’s natural sunscreen layer. Widespread panic ensued: the craze for big hair had doomed us all.

Reality: Hairspray hasn't damaged the ozone layer since the '70s

Much of the publicity surrounding aerosols and the ozone layer happened in the ’80s, so many of us still think the decade’s bouffant hairstyles were to blame. However, scientists were way ahead of us and had figured out the dangers of chlorofluorocarbons back in the 1970s. Manufacturers had actually stopped using them in their products, including hairspray, and then the U.S. government banned their usage in anything except medical products like inhalers.

All this is to say, by the time most of the country was spraying the heck out of their hair in the ’80s, the offending gases had already been removed. So giant ’80s hair didn’t punch a hole in the ozone after all!

2. Myth: "Kids were kidnapped all the time by strangers."

Being a kid back in the ’80s was pretty fun: all-day bike rides out with your friends, walking to school on your own, way less parental supervision. But then “stranger danger” began to take hold. Several child abductions in the early part of the decade got unprecedented amounts of media attention, including the infamous disappearance of young Adam Walsh.

Over the next few years, the press terrified parents everywhere by reporting that as many as 50,000 children were being kidnapped every year by strangers. It didn't help that pictures of missing kids became mainstays on the side of milk cartons, which meant that kids and adults alike were reminded of "stranger danger" at breakfast every morning.

Reality: The media frenzy caused an undue panic

But was there really an epidemic of child abductions in the 1980s? No. While cases like Adam Walsh’s were undoubtedly tragic and horrifying, the media coverage made it seem like this was far more common than it really was. For instance, in 1985 the Los Angeles Times reported that the FBI had said there were 67 stranger abductions that year, while the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children claimed 142.

Of course, these numbers are still unnerving, but they’re a far cry from 50,000. The stats also tended to reveal many missing children were either runaways or taken by family members — and most likely safe — not abducted by strangers.