From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Is there a hairdresser in the land—from the tiniest midwestern strip mall to the toniest Manhattan salon—who has not heard the year's most oft-repeated command? Ends blown forward, sides puffed up—you know, I wanna look like her. In TV's last golden age, Mary made our nothing days seem worthwhile with her sweet spunk; Farrah needed only her fabulous feathered locks. Put them together, and you have the woman known to Friends fans as Rachel: strong-willed, scatterbrained—in short, a national obsession for the '90s. But Jennifer Aniston claims to be bewildered by all the fuss. "It's bizarre," says the 26-year-old actress. "I keep thinking, 'Wait—it's just me!' "

Five years ago, Aniston was a notch above nobody, floundering in the flop series Ferris Bueller, agonizing over (you're gonna love this) split ends. "She kept a tiny scissors in the glove compartment of her car," says Bueller costar Charlie Schlatter. "Every so often she'd pull a strand in front of her face and snip it." Today, she is only one member of the carefully balanced ensemble cast that has turned Friends into a sitcom sensation. And yet each week, Aniston rises above the confines of her character—Rachel Green, the suburban princess turned coffee peddler—to embody the spirit of her generation: quirky, confused, hopeful that a decent cup of coffee is proof enough that reality doesn't always bite. "It's not just Rachel's situation people connect to," says the Manhattan-reared Aniston. "It's her essence."

Make that the essence of Aniston as well. "Jennifer can be a little distracted, like her character," says close pal and Friends costar Courteney Cox Arquette. "But she's so warm and funny. It's impossible not to like this girl." Remotes across the country second the affection.