By the age of 3 I was in a leotard and tutu learning ballet. By the time I was seven I was doing every possible extra-curricular activity available.Tap, Modern Dance, Country Dancing, Tennis, Swimming, Piano…you name it I was doing it. I was being moulded into the ‘perfect’ young lady.
Lets see how that worked out.
In my early teens I kept up appearances. I studied hard, didn’t ‘duck’ school (Play hooky). I became incensed when someone earned a higher grade than I did. When high school was over, as expected I left the graduation ceremony laden with certificates and Trophies, with family beaming, proud that all their hard work and sacrifice had paid off.
I remember my mother being particularly put out at the beginning of the ceremony. We had all come in the late afternoon. Uniforms ironed, not a hair out of place trying to look ‘cool’ by keeping the recommended distance from our parents. A classmate came running up to me and stated “But you take all de trophies!”. My mother was upset, she wanted me to be surprised. I couldn’t have been bothered. All I was thinking of was getting in and out of the ceremony as quickly as possible so I could #1 Have a cigarette #2 See my then boyfriend.
Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your perspective, in 2012 the two things I was yearning for during the graduation ceremony are still at the top of my list at the end of a hard day. Though other things have to get done they still reign supreme.
There is no doubt that the ‘lady’ I was training to be, did not turn out as planned. Academically wise the zeal to rank higher than others never left, but the drive and application changed. I became lazy, aware that I had been blessed with natural ‘smarts’, and knowing that I could get away with retaining the minimum by one read put me in a comfort zone (not very ladylike, or smart!)
By A Levels, when my mother commented on how tanned I was, I would say “We play cricket in the courtyard between classes.” In actual fact I was going to one class from 7:30am till 9:00 am, and then heading off to the closest beach, roughly 10 minutes away from school. While I should have been applying myself in class, I was applying Hawaiian Tropic Tanning Oil and lounging in nature.
Today, its acceptable for a ‘lady’ to use tanning oil :). This may be perhaps one of the traits I inherited from my mother. As a child I could never understand how my mother could just lie in the sun and do nothing. With the sea there ready to be explored, how could she just cook. Today, I always have some form of tanning lotion in my handbag, and on my last trip to the beach though I did go in the water, I spent roughly 95% of the time cooking myself. So much so that, much to the entertainment of others I looked a maraschino cherry by the evening, and was burnt beyond belief (won’t be using that tanning oil again….that’s for SURE).
That’s one lady point so far…lets keep count.
Speaking: According to my mother, I don’t speak properly. I have picked up Trinidadian traits. She regularly asks me to spell ‘the’, as at times I forget myself and use the colloquial ‘de’. I speak ‘lazily’, however, I am well aware in certain scenarios, speaking properly is extremely important. Therefore, I can reward myself with another lady point…..So i’m on two points so far.
This point may be nullified: Cursing is NOT ladylike. My mouth though not as bad as it once was, maybe looked at as a sailor in training. I stand firm at times against the view that people who use expletives are uneducated. Keeping my 2 points as I have cut down and will probably continue to do so.
Table Etiquette: Using a knife and fork properly is important. No elbows on the table, not speaking with your mouth full, waiting till everyone is finished before leaving the table (Yes at 25 years old I still ask to be excused if others are still eating ……and i’m ready to smoke). There is nothing more unattractive than sitting at a table, whether it be breakfast, lunch or dinner and hearing the person next to you chew sloppily, or to hold a conversation and see half chewed food rolling around. I am proud to say I am NOT one of those young women who sits at a table and begins to dig their teeth with their fingernails to remove food. Lady Point 3.
Dress: This is an area that is major War at times between my mother and I. Admittedly I love fashion, I love to play dress up, to the point where I can be seen going into my mum’s wardrobe for something. I love wearing what my grandmother called ‘wooly caps’ on my head. This is where the battle begins, while I may have stilettos and dresses lined up ready to be worn. I also have a pair of jeans that I refuse to get rid of. They are ripped in every possible place..seen and unseen, and I still wear them! They are comfortable and sometimes comfort is key above all. I admit, I have fallen into the category of showing butt cleavage…not intentionally though (that definitely kills a lady point).
Hair: A ladies hair is her crowning glory. My hair is so processed its a shame. Once full of curls, now through relaxer and weaving (hair extensions), my hair doesn’t fit the ladylike criteria, its always in a bun, or being taken out to be put back into a bun or knot. But hey…its NEAT most of the time. As a teenager I was asked whether I ever brushed my hair, and was told “It’s ok, you’re pretty”. I started brushing my hair after that. Not sure whether the lady point can be awarded in this scenario.
Make up: I LOVE MAKEUP! But do I wear it every single day. Not the full works. There is nothing worse than seeing a beautiful young woman walking down the road who looks as though she has pasted on a mask. Living in a tropical climate, it needs to be considered that ladies sweat. YES THEY DO! As far as i’m concerned there is no sense in ensuring you buy a foundation that is supposed to look natural and then walking around with a neck that is two to three shades darker. Admittedly in the past I have been lazy and not put my ‘face on’ and then cursed myself for not putting it on when I’m out for fear of looking a ‘mess’. But I can proudly say that when I’m in make up mode, I’m in MAKE UP MODE.. So I just got a lady point 😀
While there are other external things that present the look of a lady, a lady comes from the inside! Perhaps a reason why at times I may be wayward with jeans, hair brushing etc. Attitude is the most important criteria for being a lady. Composure, elegance and grace start on the inside. This can only be achieved through appreciating the fact that you are a woman and representing it with you chin up and shoulders back proudly.
I may smoke, use expletives, not always brush my hair perfectly, go out without make up on, but my goal is not to fit the societal standard, nor is it to ‘buck the system’ as my mother tends to say I attempt to do. Being an individual is important. This isn’t a promotion of not taking care of the physical, but its to say that you don’t have to fit the conventional criteria to be a lady, but one must also know there is a time and place for everything.
One Comment Add yours
You had me going from laughter to tears with your blog. I am a friend of your mother's so her age and not yours but not much has changed.
I too was a lady in training. My mother wanted Shirley Temple and my hair didn't curl naturally. I sat through so many home perms that to this day I loathe the smell of a beauty shop. Does that get me a minus 1 lady point? And how about that there are days I just finger comb my hair and twist it into a coil and clamp it to my head out of the way while I paint or dig in the garden?
There are so many things you described from the dance lessons to etiquette at the table I can relate to. But you have the most important lesson in that last line – there is a time and place for everything. And because of all those lady in training lessons we know what to do in all of those times.
While living in DC working for Senators and some rather radical change groups I could mix it up at a march and then sit down at an ambassadorial dinner and use the right fork.
There was an old song – The Lady is a Tramp – which I think said it all. And remember that no well behaved lady ever made history.