Athleta Brings Me One Step Closer to Model Status

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?”

Athleta Dream March 2016
I don’t know how she got there or what she’s doing on top of that van, but man, I want to be this 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?

I dream.

Swimsuits I Can Live With

Costa Rica hermit crab sized
Enjoying the beach in Costa Rica with a friend, wearing my white Athleta cover-up.

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?

Athleta Summer Catalog Cover

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!”

Athleta Sayulita Surf Sisters Spread

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.”

Athleta Curvy Swimsuit Model Spread

More Real, Less Perfect, Images

Athleta Curvy Model PageThere’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.

Beach Friends Photo Collage
My friend Holly (to the left) and I (in the hat) love a good beach vacation. Yes, that’s my current Athleta suit, last year’s reversible Hypersonic, in St. John, USVI. Photo Credit: Carey Dietert
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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

6 thoughts on “Athleta Brings Me One Step Closer to Model Status

  1. Love! Love the recommendation that you give the company (I\’ve never bought their clothes before but now I\’ll look into them). Love that Athlete uses real women as models. As a mother of a daughter, I so appreciate that women with curves, women of color, women with muscle, strong women who are capable of doing kick ass things are being depicted. I find it inspiring.

    1. Thanks, @mymusinglife. Yes, it\’s so wonderful to see images of women enjoying their bodies — \”kick ass things.\” I\’m glad they\’re moving in this direction (it\’s a start).

  2. This is absolutely a great post! I might have to try one of their bathing suits. I have a *very* hourglass figure, and I can\’t remember a time I particularly enjoyed wearing a bikini in all honesty. I always wear short on my bottoms, because that area never looks good. I probably would often still wear shorts while swimming, because I don\’t feel comfortable with my ass hanging out, even if it did look good.

    I also hate how too many women\’s bathings suits are so loose, and you can\’t do much in them. I\’ve wasted so much money on bathings suits either from looking cute (but being too loose for real use), or seeming like they would be secure (and they just aren\’t in reality).

    I just got a Lululemon top (I\’m biased since I\’m obsessed with the brand), and am somewhat excited to see if it will stay. It\’s also reversible, which is a bonus.

    I would love to find board shorts that were flattering, didn\’t dig in to my love handles too much, and didn\’t ride up–especially if in the water. Since my hips are so much bigger than my waist, this happens to me a lot.

    Guess I\’m not asking for much, right? Ha haha.

    1. Ah, boy shorts. This is a garment that, in theory, I really like. In actuality, boy shorts just don\’t fit me well. I am very hippy, with big, strong thighs and short legs. I love wearing a two-piece suit because I can buy the top and bottom in different sizes and configurations.

      Do you ever do a sarong? I have this beautiful scarf that a friend brought me from Paris, and I love to wrap it around my hips when I\’m walking around. That way, I wear a pretty minimal bottom and don\’t feel self conscious.

      Glad you liked the post, @missjamiekaren, and thanks for your comment. Happy swimsuit hunting!

  3. I noticed the new models in the catalog and shard with my strong and athletic family… \”Cool\”!! Yes, cool indeed! Not just curves for curves, but strong, athletic curves of a woman who works hard and enjoys life! Yeah, Athleta!

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