NEW YORK — Betty Crocker, the first lady of the kitchen, has let down her hair and dropped a few years in a makeover that turns the homespun housewife into a dressed-for-success yuppie.
She looks less likely to spend the day over a stove than to whip up something with a food processor and microwave after returning home from the office.
Although she turns 65 this year, the imaginary woman who has helped cook thousands of angel food cakes and chocolate fudge brownies for General Mills doesn't look a day over 35.
Even after six face lifts, she still exudes the reliability and common sense that have kept her a popular company trademark.
The updated Betty Crocker portrait, painted by Harriet Pertchik of Roslyn, N.Y., and the sixth edition of Betty Crocker's Cookbook will be unveiled today at the National Book Sellers Convention in New Orleans.
The cookbook, which has sold 22 million copies since 1950, represents changes in food trends, said Marcia Copeland, a spokeswoman for General Mills of Minneapolis. "So we thought it was time for a fresher, more contemporary Betty as well," she said.
Other Symbols Modernized Over the Years
The Betty Crocker name adorns 140 General Mills products, representing millions of dollars in sales. However, her face has gradually been replaced with the corporate red-spoon logo on packaging. The new picture will primarily appear on the cookbook and in advertising.
Betty is not the only corporate symbol to be modernized over the years. Campbell Soup's pudgy kids have gotten taller, trimmer and more athletic, and Aunt Jemima has lost weight.
"It's about time they changed her look," said Faith Popcorn, a market consultant who criticized the old look. "She's been a little too grandmotherly looking. She's got to look more like the woman she's talking to."
General Mills hopes the new Betty will attract a young consumer but not alienate the older ones who remember her as the stern homemaker of the past. Consultant Popcorn, advertising experts and consumers all advised the company on Betty's new look.
"We wanted a certain fashionableness about her; not too dowdy, not too trendy, since she's going to be around for six to 10 years," Copeland said.
Betty would never be seen in a designer dress with moussed hair, because that may go out of style in a few years. Yet her hair now has a more casual wash-and-wear look rather than the beauty-parlor permanents of her predecessors, and her traditional red-and-white outfit is a stylish suit and a blouse with a big bow. She wears hoop earrings.
Modeled on Three Women
"She looks like somebody you feel you know, which makes her approachable to the consumer," says Pertchik, the mother of five who has also updated the pictures of Nabisco's Blue Bonnet Sue and Quaker Oats' Mama Celeste.
She modeled Betty on three women, including her 25-year-old daughter, but is quick to note that "she's absolutely a fictitious person."
Betty Crocker was born in 1921 as the pen name of a male company employee who figured housewives would have more confidence if they thought a woman was answering their inquires.
"Betty" was chosen as a friendly sounding name, and "Crocker" was chosen to honor a company director who had just retired.
In 1936, Betty got a face to go with the name, complete with pursed lips, a hard stare and graying hair. She got friendlier over the years but never dropped her reserved, prim look.
With the latest makeover, the company is expecting a flood of letters.
"People always want to know the secret of getting younger every few years like Betty Crocker has," Copeland said. "Plus, there will probably be a few marriage proposals."