Poodle vs wolf: How women fall into one of two groups

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Jessi Klein

A tomboy and a late bloomer, American comedian Jessi Klein grew up feeling like an outsider when it came to the rites of modern femininity. To her, there are two types of women: wolves and poodles. Here's how to tell them apart.

"There are millions of beautiful wolf women out there. It's how much of the beauty feels like work, like maintenance. ...

"There are millions of beautiful wolf women out there. It's how much of the beauty feels like work, like maintenance. It's a very French concept, which is probably why we think every actual poodle was born in France and we always imagine them in berets." Photo: Tim Flach

One late night when I was working at Saturday Night Live, I wandered out of my office for a break and saw that some random TV in the hallway was tuned to an interview with Angelina Jolie.

I wandered over to watch, as did Emily, one of the senior writers there at the time and an all-round hilarious, fabulous lady. We both stared at Angelina in awe.

She is a classic poodle ... She is effortless. She isn't especially stylish. But because she's a poodle she looks good in anything. 

"Isn't it amazing," Emily asked, "that we're the same species she is? It doesn't even feel like we are the same species."

You can feel everyone's energy shift when the likes of Kate Moss enter the scene.

You can feel everyone's energy shift when the likes of Kate Moss enter the scene. Photo: Getty Images

"I know," I said. I continued the riff: it's like with dogs. A poodle and a wolf are both technically dogs, but based on appearances, it doesn't make any conceivable sense that they share a common ancestor. We decided that some women are poodles and some women are wolves. And no matter what a wolf does (like put on make-up, or a G-string), it will still be a wolf, and no matter what a poodle does (like put on sweatpants), it will always be a poodle.

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Classic poodle-wolf moment #1

I am on my way to meet my friend Tracy for breakfast and decide to wear my new dress, which I love, a black dress with white butterflies and pockets* from Agnès B., the pricey French retail chain that represented the highest echelons of fanciness to me as a kid.

It's amazing that we're the same species as Angelina Jolie.

It's amazing that we're the same species as Angelina Jolie. Photo: Getty Images

I had never gone in to one of its stores, ever. But a couple of months earlier I was drawn in by the butterfly dress, and looking in the mirror I thought I looked really pretty and girlie, like Zooey Deschanel but from Europe, and decided to spend an ungodly amount of cash on this poodle feeling I had.

So I enter the subway in my butterfly dress and start to walk slowly to one end of the platform, waiting for men's heads to turn while I practise saying in my head, "Take a picture, it'll last longer," even though no one is looking. And then this other woman walks in right behind me, and everything changes.

She is clearly a dancer, or a former dancer, but who cares? Look at her, she has long, perfect legs that are all one tawny colour, not a speckled mixture of winter greens and veiny blues like mine are, and she is wearing short jean shorts and a plain denim shirt, and her hair is sloppily piled on top of her head with a cheap clip. She is stunning.

The Keira Knightleys of the world will always look like an ocean breeze.

The Keira Knightleys of the world will always look like an ocean breeze. Photo: Getty Images

You can feel everyone's energy shift as all men on the platform cycle through their quick glance-up/glance-away thing that they think will keep them from being caught looking.**

I then do the secret embarrassing thing of purposely getting on the same subway carriage as her so I can keep looking at a pretty person. I'm not a lesbian, but looking at her gives me a feeling of pleasure. I study her face. She is wearing red lipstick and looks basically like Mena Suvari at the exact moment in American Beauty that Kevin Spacey fantasises about f...ing her on a bed of rose petals.

This woman is a classic poodle. By which I mean, she is effortless. It doesn't matter what she is wearing, as this woman isn't especially stylish. But because she's a poodle she looks good in anything. She will always look like an ocean breeze, short of donning a Nazi uniform on Halloween (and even then, you'd forgive her just that one time because it's Halloween and she's so pretty and that means she's a good person who didn't mean it). When someone is a poodle, you just want to be near her. My own attempt at poodleness suddenly seems like a silly farce, as it is obvious I am just a wolf in poodle's clothing. My butterfly Agnès B. dress with pockets may as well be a zip-lock bag filled with old shrimp.

Does this all sound too self-deprecating? Because I don't mean it to be. It's just that I am in awe of poodles, these magical lovely women who inherently radiate femininity. They are not necessarily the most beautiful women or even the prettiest; they just seem, without trying at all, to always be in sync with their yin quality (that's the girl one, right?), like an iPhone in constant communication with its cloud.

If you're still confused about what a poodle is, just think about this: The Girl from Ipanema was obviously written about a poodle. No one would ever write that song about a wolf.

Famous poodle women

Angelina Jolie

Kate Moss

Keira Knightley

Charlize Theron

Famous wolf women

Sandra Bullock

Helena Bonham Carter

Tina Fey

Jennifer Aniston

Jennifer Aniston is actually an interesting example here. I have friends who think she is a poodle and argue that the reason she is a poodle is that she's beautiful. And she is beautiful. But being beautiful is not what makes you a poodle or a wolf. There are millions of beautiful wolf women out there. It's how much of the beauty feels like work, like maintenance. It's a very French concept, which is probably why we think every actual poodle was born in France and we always imagine them in berets.

Aniston is stunning, but I always have the impression that her beauty comes with an enormous price tag. Getting your hair to be the colour of a sunbeam passing through a lion's mane don't come cheap. And yes, in Hollywood everyone's beauty is expensive, but there are a few ladies who seem like they're running up very high tabs at every groomer in town.

And yes, Aniston would be stunningly beautiful even if she did nothing, but it's the fact that she chooses to do everything that tells me she's a wolf. If you look at her high-school yearbook picture, where she has thick eyebrows and an (ever so slightly) bigger nose, you can see she felt like a wolf. I'm certain she still feels like one. She'd probably feel like a wolf no matter what happened in her life - once a wolf, always a wolf - but nothing will really make you feel like a wolf like your husband leaving you for a poodle.

Natasha Lyonne is a wolf.

I'm pretty sure Kristen Bell is a wolf.

Sofía Vergara is a poodle, duh.

I have always clearly been a wolf. I grew up knowing nothing about manicures or pedicures or embellished bras. When

I got my period at the age of 13, my mother gave me that crazy elastic belt thingy that women used in the 1950s, with a weird pad that had extra fabric at both ends so you could tie it onto the plastic clips that dangled from the belt.

Most of the readers who would know what I'm talking about here are probably dead. Somehow, my mother - who despite having two daughters failed to pay attention to advances in menstrual technology - completely missed the fact that there were other options.

So I wore the belt for about a year, until I discovered modern maxi pads. Then I used exclusively pads until I was 27 because my mother never said anything about tampons. And this only changed because of a trip to the beach with my then-boyfriend, where I had to choose between not going into the ocean and exploring this newfangled tampon technology. I finally bought a box of tampons and looked at the diagram and pushed one in, no problem, no fuss no muss ... and felt a flash of anger at my mother that I had wasted more than a decade walking around wearing a mini diaper every time I menstruated. But when I think back on it, really, it was unavoidable. We were a wolf family.

Poodle characteristics:

• Poodles are confident.

• Poodles are always late.

• Poodles laugh a lot!!!

• Poodles always wear matching bras and underwear.

• Poodles lose their virginity in high school.

Classic poodle-wolf moment #2

I live near a very nice park that runs along the water. There is a cluster of picnic tables where I will occasionally go to write if the weather is nice. The other morning it was brilliantly sunny out and I grabbed my laptop and headed over.

I was hunched in front of my screen, enjoying an iced coffee, when I noticed a kerfuffle at one of the picnic tables about 10 metres away. Seven or so people were setting up a fashion shoot around a female model, but they didn't seem to be asking anyone to move, so I went back to my writing.

Ten minutes later, the photographer, a handsome Frenchman (male poodle?), came over and gently asked if I could move over about a metre, because I was in the background of the shot. I looked around and saw that there were a few other bystanders who looked as if they might also be in the background of the shot. But I was the only one who had to move. I understood. I moved and watched them take pictures of the poodle.

You can't have a wolf in the shot.

Wolf characteristics:

• Wolves need to eat more than poodles do (both larger amounts and more frequently).

• Wolves wear lip balm.

• Wolves can't deal with G-strings.

• Wolves sweat a lot.

• Wolves are funny.

• Wolves show up 10 minutes early to everything and are always the first ones there and then have to fake a conversation on their phones so they look like they know other human beings on this earth.

• Wolves usually own two bras in total, and neither of them matches their tattered old underwear.

I often wonder, if I could wave a wand and magically transform myself from a wolf to a poodle, would I? Most of me says no. I'm proud of being a wolf. My wolf upbringing is responsible for my personality, for my compassion for the rest of the pack. As a wolf, I'm a diamond in the rough. I crack jokes. My whole life is about trying, about speaking up in order to be seen, howling with laughter or howling out how I see the world.

But there is another part of me that immediately yells "Yes!" I would give anything to feel that poodle confidence, to feel comfortable as a woman, like my body is my perfect home, to be the girl from Ipanema and sway down the street emitting an intoxicating hormone, like a female deer spritzing the air from under my perky white tail. I'd love to be one of those women who sleeps naked, who never has to buy her own drink, who wears make-up only when she feels like it, who took ballet for years and still carries that motion in her bones, dancing down the street, never a bad angle, completely unselfconscious. •

* Seeing pockets on a dress is now the sartorial equivalent of finding out that a guy has a giant dick. When women show up at the Oscars with their hands in their pockets and get interviewed, Giuliana Rancic is like, "Oh my gawwwd, look, pockets!" And then Amy Adams is like, "I know, I love pockets!"

** We catch you looking. We always catch you looking.

Edited extract from You'll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein (Nero), out this month.