I'm too young to have seen June Cleaver on prime time TV and by the time I was watching her on syndicated afterschool programming, she was already relic of another era. I much preferred Mary Richards or Sabrina Duncan as an aspirational model of womanhood.
But the question got me thinking: is there really a contemporary equivalent? What is today's archetype for the perfect woman?
Nowadays, popular culture tends to poke fun at ideals rather than create them. Reality and talk shows seem to be a continuous pageant of emotional train wrecks. Oprah Winfrey or Martha Stewart might be idolized, but few people's aspirations reach so high that they can actually identify with them.
I was ready to give up on the question and conclude that we were past the era of perfect womanly archetypes, and then it came to me.
In my mailbox.
The Title Nine catalog.
Title Nine, besides being the landmark piece of legislation that prohibited gender discrimination in high school and college sports, is also a women's activewear clothing retailer here on the West Coast.
The photos in the Title Nine catalogs show "real women" rather than fashion models.
At least we're supposed to believe they are real because their hair isn't styled, they wear minimal makeup, and have laugh lines. We are told a bit about each one: names and occupations, aspirations and childhood nicknames, favorite places to surf or rock climb, the location of their last vacation.
We see, for example, "Lida." A lovely 30-something riding a bike in her smart Haymaker vest and Samba long sleeve shirt. We learn that she's a "climber, teacher, master pizza maker and above all else, mother and teacher to her 2 kids." We also read that Lida commutes and grocery shops on her Xtracycle and "takes the simple life to a whole new level. Litte known fact: delivered both her kids at home!**"
Oh, I see. So not only is Lida thin and in perfect shape after having two kids, but she gets regular exercise while reducing her carbon footprint. No doubt that she makes her pizza from local ingredients she gets while biking to the market and look: no C-section scar! She probably also composts.
Wait, no. It's "Elizabeth" on page 47 who composts.
Elizabeth is depicted smiling in a cuddly fleece R&R jacket along side her bins of compost and worms. She also is a mom, a homeschooler and math teacher who likes to cycle.
There's "Alyson" who's training for her first triathalon and Xterra off-road Olympic distance (whatever the heck that is) and "Lita," a nutritionist who "obsesses about good food. Whole grains, sauces, fruits, dairy...you name it!" and loves climbing El Capitan.
For me, the Title Nine-wearing woman perfectly captures the new ideal: energetic and supremely confident, youthful but not inappropriately so, healthy and fit, with interesting hobbies that she can enjoy frequently due to the excellent childcare she has for her beautiful children. She's engaged in saving the world and wants to help people, but most of all, she never neglects her own needs.
And with a wardrobe of pieces like the Everywear Skort and the Back-to-Basics Zen top, she always looks great without even trying.
Unlike June Cleaver and her high-heels-and-pearls-in-the-kitchen sisters, the Title Nine women are not constructed by those old pesky Patriarchal Forces of Oppression. Nope. These new versions of womanly perfection are created by women and for women. Regardless, they still seem like just another impossible benchmark we can punish ourselves for not meeting.
Swear off high-fructose corn syrup. Sneak in a workout before the kids wake up. Take a class to learn something new. Train with all your girlfriends for a marathon. Make sure you look hot for date night. And never, never NOT have a nightly family sit-down dinner.
So why do I love this catalog, anyway?
Its aspirational brand strategy with its photos of women happily walking to yoga class works its intended magic. The trained consumer in me says, "If only I were..." as I browse the pages of the catalog imagining myself browsing the farmer's market in the Vagabond sweater and the Perfection pant.
But I know that I'm simply not the Title Nine woman, and on good days, I'm perfectly okay with that.
But what if "Christa" was featured in the catalog?
Let's see. I'm imagining lying on my sofa wearing the Izzy pant and the Synergy T-neck sweater:
Christa loves to watch Top Chef and order take out. She occasionally walks on the treadmill until she gets that shooting pain in her left hip. She lets her son read comic books at the dinner table and all in all, she'd rather be napping.
* Unfortunately, I don't remember who it was. Was it you? Let me know so I can credit you!
** I find it hard to believe that this is a "little known fact." More likely it's something that Lida announces to strangers while she's parking her Xtracycle at the grocery store.