Three years ago my evil eye was caught by That Cosmopolitan Girl, a lithe, if empty-eyed little thing, with an exposed chest, who was declaring in a full-page ad that among the blessings for which she was thankful that year (it was a Thanksgiving Day ad) were an apartment full of wicker and ferns, a grey suede coat, "three new accounts directly traceable to me " (she spoke with emphases ), a boyfriend with a magic tough, and, of course, Cosmopolitan magazine, which made all else possible. Other than seeming a nincompoop, there really wasn't anything offensive about this year's Cosmopolitan Girls, she was a darling.

This year's Cosmopolitan Girls are not darlings -- at least not the two I've seen. One was in an ad for Christmas, the other for New Year's; and the two of them together suggest that That Cosmopolitan Girl has trod a rough, mean road these past three years.

The new Year's ad shows a beautiful young woman in a ceramic hairdo, wearing the traditional Cosmopolitan outfit of a something-or-other open to the waist. Among the lady's New Year's resolutions are: "to grow fingernails, to learn Italian, to bake really good pumpernickel, to finish my short story, to be gorgeous and maybe even a little brilliant at my job." What her job is, she does not say, though it must be unusual if she has the option to be brilliant at it or not. We would know better just how brilliant she can be if we knew whether by finishing her short story, she was referring to writing or reading. In any case, her dual quest to master Italian and bake pumpernickel seems to show a commendable international breadth; and if growing fingernails will help (we assume she isn't starting from scratch), more power to them.

The revealing parts of the ad, however, are the lady's first two resolutions: "to go limp (and silent) when my mother says something really horrible, and to listen to every word my husband says as raptly as I do my boss (even when my beautiful spouse is a little wordy)." Here, clearly, is where the lady's true character resides. We can see her drumming her nail-less fingers silently on her short story while her husband stupifies the air with tales of the office. She is not thinking of beautiful him, nor of her big-mouth mother. She is thinking of her office, and of her boss -- perhaps a German-Italian, which would explain two of her resolutions -- a boss whose future must also be considered precarious in the fingernail-growing hands of a woman like this. Here is no ordinary go-getter. Here is a woman who can turn her own gorgeousness and brilliance off and on at will, and who masks her ambition in bread and Italian. A hard pumpernickel is ms. New Yearhs. And yet a cream puff compared with Ms. Christmas.

The Christmas ad for Cosmopolitan shows a woman who looks quite different from Ms. New Year's, quite different from anyone, in fact. Her face is lethal, straddled by diamond earrings the size of Roxy chandeliers, and a horde of blonde hair that seems to be trying to eacape from her head. She has on even less than Ms. New Year's, though one is not drawn to the parts that show. She says:

"What do I want for Christmas? Let's start with the unimportant things: gold loop earrings even through gold's gone out of sight, still another pair of boots -- burgundy this time. As for the heavy stuff, I'd like a week in the Caribbean with Jess alone (the children can stay with their real mommy), another assistant in my department... if I can be the boss of six, I can manage seven, and we're drowning plus... well... plus some political leaders both local and national I can really put my girlish fait in."

No mere boss-snatcher, she. Obviously she wants gold earrings, not "even though," but because gold has gone out of signt. What else is one to conclude about a woman who would cavalierly leave Jess's children fatherless at Christmas, and their "real mommy" Jessless. Naturally, her use of "real mommy" is meant to imply that she is a worthy surrogate, which is hard to believe of a cynic who cites her "girlish faith" in local and national politics. A week in the Caribbean, that's all she's thinking of, with "heavy stuff" Jess along for the functional ride. Can there be any doubt that she'd chuck Jess in a moment for that seventh assistant? And what exactly is her "department" anyway -- the police? It would explain the boots.

What we have here, in short, are two tough cookies, ready and eager to take take take. Is this what has happened to That Cosmopolitan Girl in a brief three years? I this -- dare one ask -- what is happening to That American Woman, for whom That Magazine purports to speak? Could not the sweet child of three years ago have been content with her ferns and three accounts? Did she have to take over the boss as well, and the department, to say nothing of Jess?

It may be the way of the world to see a woman go from ferns to gold, my friends, but it's not a pretty sight.