Does the guidebook to a perfect life exist?
Some days, holding my catalogue, I think: “Wouldn’t life be perfect if I could just be an Athleta model?”
These amazing women surf, swim, run, ride bikes, play volleyball, kayak, rock climb, practice yoga, and then, casually flinging on a cover-up, go straight to date night or world traveling. (I’d add “or work,” but it’s a narrow niche where workout apparel is business appropriate.) Their legs, unblemished by cellulite or spider veins, are about four feet long; arm muscles are gently defined; stomachs taut.
These women are perfectly strong, confident, and active. What couldn’t they do?
Swimsuits I Can Live With
Athleta is the fitness branch of Gap Inc., which bought the former catalogue-only company in 2008. I’ve been a fan of their active wear for at least eight years. How could I remember this? Because photos of me and my teenagers, frolicking on the beach in Port Aransas after my June 2008 Ironman, show me in an Athleta suit.
When the new spring catalogue arrives, I immediately peruse its pages. I’ve learned to act fast, or the perfect suit sells out. Why? They fit right, hold up well, support actual activity, and are amazingly flattering.
Yes, the clothes are pricy, but I wear out my purchases. I don’t know how many years ago I bought my SPF 50 white cover-up, but it’s gone to Greece, Israel, U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Texas coast multiple times. There’s a comfy black dress that travels from airport to cocktails with an easy change of shoes. And last year’s swimsuit will hit the beach again this summer because it still looks new and I feel fabulous wearing it. In the dollars-per-wear category, I get my money’s worth.
Models I Can Identify With?
Imagine my delight when the Summer 2016 catalogue landed in my mailbox.
Sayulita is an area in Mexico known for its waves. Because the breaks are so wonderful (ranked from beginner-friendly to world-class), it is said that everybody in the village outside Puerto Vallarta learns to surf. Seeing as Sayulita is home to many surf schools, this could entirely be true.
The Sayulita Surf Sisters are local women who support each other. Featured on the cover of and within Athleta’s summer catalogue, they look strong, confident, and active.
They look real.
I don’t know the first thing about surfing, but I want to try one day. I’m interested enough to brave watching Ride to see how Helen Hunt, a fellow 50-something woman, handles the waves (yes, I have a high pain threshold; I suffered through Robert Redford’s purely awful A Walk in the Woods simply to scope out the Appalachian Trail scenery).
From the catalogue pages, the Sayulita Sisters beckon: “You could surf like us. Come on!”
When I hit page 38, I paused, delighted again. A young woman modeled Athleta’s “Curvy and Confident” bathing suit. I looked closely: we’ve both got boobs, a bit of solid chunk to our torsos, a ripple of flesh on top of the muscles we’ve earned. Yes, my Athleta two-piece bathing suit fits me more like this.
My girlfriend shows up again on pages 39 and 40, always in a two-piece suit. She’s not relegated to the “figure flattering” one-piece, that ad image usually emblazoned with some text about “minimizing.” No, she’s one of the confident, strong, active women.
In this Athleta catalogue, my curvy, confident sister smiles: “Don’t we all look great? Come hang out with me.”
More Real, Less Perfect, Images
There’s still a lot of real estate separating me, the skilled Sayulita Surf Sisters, my curvy girlfriend, and those perfect Athleta models. The catalogue wraps up on page 99 with a young woman in a yoga position I did not think anatomically possible, her four-foot long legs perfectly straight, back muscles rippling, and hands wrapped effortlessly around her feet. Who in the non-catalogue world attains that level of flawlessness?
That image belongs in a guidebook that promises a perfect life, if only. If only I were taller, thinner, stronger, younger, more flexible.
If only I were better.
Yeah, there’s still a lot of fantasy required to live the Athleta life. But the current catalogue has brought me one step closer to model status by moving a bit further away from unattainable perfection.
I don’t have to be flawless to model confidence, strength, and activity.