When I was a little girl, I remember hearing the phrase, “What a Betty!” an awful lot. I knew it meant something good and I also knew the women it was used to describe were not, in fact, named Betty. Thus, the question constantly floating about in my mind was: Who is this Betty?
My first thought was that Betty must have referred to my grandmother’s friend and colleague, Betty Jo, a very kind woman with a splendid garden. But no, that couldn’t have been it because this compliment was never given with any allusions to flora. The next Betty I encountered was Betty Grable in "How to Marry a Millionaire". She was 36 at the time this movie was filmed. She was funny and pretty. Perhaps this was the Betty we were all supposed to aspire to?
Then came Betty Crocker. She came to me in the form of frosting, devoured straight from the can on minimum days in middle school. I would be a-okay with becoming this Betty! Much later, in college, I became acquainted with a couple more Betties, Betty Page and Betty Brosmer. Could I *blush* ever imagine being THAT kind of Betty?! I’m sure that’s not what my grandmother, mother or even *gasp* my great grandmother could have meant when they called women Betties. Right?!
Now that I am older and wiser, with 26 years of experience under my belt, I think I have a bit of perspective on this whole Betty phenomena. I have come to realize the phrase “What a Betty” doesn't actually refer to any one Betty in particular but, rather, a woman who embodies all of them together. A beautiful, funny, wholesome, provocative, alluring, competent, happy, healthy housewife-type circa 1953. And that is precisely what I am aim to become. After all, Betty Page didn’t start modeling until the age of 27 so, technically, I’m ahead of the game.
Enter: The Betty Project.
This project came to mind last spring, when I had no job and no prospects of getting one anytime soon. I invented The Betty Project as a way to learn new things, feel productive and live an all around healthier, more confident and, perhaps, more fulfilling life. I set out wanting to learn to dance, cook, model, sew, and do housework. (Okay, the last one I actually KNOW how to do but can’t seem to ever force myself to get it done, so I snuck that one in there to make sure I’d do it for once).
I’ve lived on my own for many years but, like many young women of my generation, I, sadly, do not know the basics of running a household. I also find myself constantly at odds with my own femininity. In a world where we are taught that we either need to use our feminine wiles for evil (getting ahead in the workforce, luring rich men into marriage, etc) or to deny them completely (in order to be taken seriously, of course), I’ve found it very difficult to make peace with the fact, let alone embrace it, that I have boobs and they aren’t going anywhere. And, no matter what I do, other people can SEE them. And will look at them. My bum, too. And hips. And, I suppose, eventually my face. And maybe then I’ll get to talk. And, if I’m lucky, the person I’m talking to will actually be able to hear me and may even look me in the eye from time to time. Seriously. And it’s not just men. Women do it too. We all judge on appearances, thus I spent nearly all of college camouflaging my form beneath men’s sweatpants and sweatshirts in the hopes that people would take me seriously if they couldn’t tell I was a girl. That’s just twisted. Seriously. Really and truly.
And have I mentioned the fact that I can’t cook? Cause I really can’t. I just never have. I need to learn. I do. I get hungry. I eat out and spend too much money, especially given my current part-time employment situation. I also have gained ten pounds in one year. I’m only 5’2”. Ten pounds on a 5’2” frame is kind of a lot and not good. Don’t get me wrong, I am no twig and do not wish to be one. Healthy, curvy (embrace it, embrace it), content. These are the goals.
The dancing, well, I threw that in for fun, really, cause I love to do it, it’s era appropriate and it’s a skill I think everyone should acquire, to some degree. And there you have it. I’m going to become a cooking, cleaning, mending, dancing, pin-up vixen-type lady-bird who embraces all things stereotypically feminine, soft and charming.
This is gonna be really hard.
But I have further justification for embarking on this mission. Oh yes, I do.
Other than the aforementioned reasons (embracing my womanhood, blahblahblah), there are two major reasons why I want to participate in this throw back to a mid-century mindset: I want to feel useful and I want to slow down.
I have a Bachelor’s degree from a very good, private college. Not only that, I have a freakin’ Master’s degree from an Ivy League Institution and, yet, I feel like I know nothing. In all my years of schooling, I honestly don’t feel like I learned a single useful thing. Yes, I can think. It's true. I can think long and hard and well about many difficult and important subjects, but I can’t DO anything. I want to DO things because even though making a casserole or hosting a dinner party isn’t going to solve world hunger or bring peace to the Middle East or make me immortal, I get a greater sense of accomplishment from doing the simplest things (be it laundry, vacuuming or sewing on a button) than I ever got from all my years of study. Maybe it’s because an academic’s job is never done. There is always more to learn and there are no definite answers in the world of the intellectual. As marvelous as all that is, however, and without discounting its importance, (as an aside, I do firmly believe in education and would not change any of the decisions I’ve made in my life thus far) for now, I’ll stick to finite tasks and the pride that goes with completing a job well-done.
And as for that second point, well, it may be a bit obvious, but I honestly think we all have a problem. We are moving way too fast. As I said, I’m older and wiser now that I am 26 and I’ve realized that, no matter what I do, I’m going to die. (So are you, by the way, in case you hadn’t noticed yet). So, why not learn to slow down and enjoy things? There were many things about the 1950s that were not so awesome (segregation, sexism, racism, the Cold War, rampant xenophobia, that list goes on and on), but there were no computers, no cell phones, the TV was new, an amusement to enjoy as a family and not yet the addiction it is now, needing to be satiated daily. People still wrote letters, drank coffee together in the kitchen, did homework with a pencil and paper. Women wore gloves and a hat to go grocery shopping because every outing was an event, an adventure. Care was taken in the preparation of food, the presentation of the individual and the manners displayed in public and (theoretically) in private. These are the things I admire and what I aim to practice.
So, there you have it, The Betty Project: Embracing Femininity, Usefulness and the Enjoyment of the Day-to-Day Humdrum of Life since 2010.
You may be asking yourself: This all sounds fine and dandy, but who will pay for this year of self-indulgent, personal-growth-type-brewhaha stuff? The answer: I will. Yes, I will be an enlightened, elegant, emboldened, epicurean entrepreneur!!!
In keeping with the times (of this project and of the real world), I will make my way not only as a part-time shop-girl, but also by selling vintage clothing, accessories, housewares, kitsch, and so on, on Etsy. Check it out! Buy stuff! Support The Betty Project!!!
Thanks for reading. Until next time,
Betty B. Goode