Portrait of a Lady

lady, n., a woman who is refined, polite, and well-spoken.

I'm in my mid-forties.  I am a babe of the 60's, gawky 'tween of the 70's and came into my time of young adulthood in the 80's.  I suppose you could say that none of those time periods spoke authoritatively of what it meant to be a lady.  Perhaps the 60's, but I was certainly too young to pay heed, I'm sure.

I always thought of my mother as a lady.  And her mother, as well.  There are others I have known to be ladies; my friend Cherrie at the large church I attended for a while is a lovely and poised lady.  As was my beautiful co-worker, Ann, who was originally from West Virginia.  Oh, and another young woman, who was absolutely stunning, that worked with me at the mall - she was from North Carolina, and most definitely a lady.  I have a good friend in Louisiana that I most certainly consider a lady; and she has quite a few lady-like friends, as well.  Which brings up a point; I wonder if the South has the market sewn up on cultivating lady-like behavior...

So, what determines a lady?  My daughter recently read an article that posed this very question, and had her own opinion about it, as well.  Upon reading these, it urged me to think about it for myself, as I must consider myself a lady, as evidenced by the fact that I am offended if someone suggests that I am not. *smirk* Pride, eh?

I learned about being a lady from my mother, of course.  I suspect every real lady does.  To sum it all up, in my mother's view, a lady is well put together and poised.  Her appearance speaks of her attention to cleanliness and detail. Modest, well-fitting clothing is always worn with the proper foundations, stockings sans runs and shoes that are kept in good order. Her hairstyle and makeup are in keeping with the current fashion, but conservative and attractive. She smells nice when you get close to her, but not overwhelmingly so, as to not offend.

Beyond her appearance, a lady is comfortable and easy to be around.  She is aware of etiquette and cares about courtesy.  She understands the ebb and flow of conversation and makes every attempt to include all those present out of politeness.  She is a loving wife, attentive hostess, accomplished cook, and has well-groomed, well-behaved children (at least in public!).  She, of course, volunteers for the needy and is always available for friends in crisis.

But over and above all of those qualities, a lady is poised.  She knows how to carry herself with confidence and easy grace.  Yes, she is aware of how to present herself, which shows as she makes her entrance into any situation.   She carries herself with purpose, especially when going about her work.

A lady, in the strictest of definitions, would never smell in public, exhibit bodily functions (!!) or make others feel awkward while in her presence due to impoliteness.  Having said that, there is definitely the place and occasion when the lady can 'let her hair down' and just be natural, so to speak; with her best girlfriends or in the intimate setting of her family and closest friends.

So, do I consider myself a lady to this standard?  Oh gosh, I don't know - that's a pretty tall order - probably not, but I do try.  I guess it is my ever-present need to please my mother, an urge that will never leave me, I'm sure.  I well remember her coaching me on how to walk in heels and correcting me in manners of appropriate courtesy. I'm very glad she did, as I have her to thank for the fact that I can present myself in just about any situation feeling confident that I know how to act appropriately (not that I always do it, however). I'm not so sure that I've passed this gift onto my daughter, but I certainly made the attempt.  Somehow belching seems to be an issue...

Being powerful is like being a lady. 
If you have to tell people you are, you aren't.
~Margaret Thatcher


Ari C'rona said…
You most certainly are a lady, my friend! You are so right, belching is not okay... just sayin'!

My mother did her level best to train me in ladylike behavior as well. Needless to say, I have to work hard at it - that training is in there!
Sue KuKu said…
I think your definition is good but a little too constricting for this decade.

Though it wasn't considered an option in the 60's, now I think we can be ladies in jeans. (At least, I hope so!) It's what you talked about: being aware of people, making them feel at ease.

The first time I remember it being mentioned was overhearing my grandmother. She said, referring to someone, "She was a woman, but she was no lady."

Of course, for my grandmother, part of being a lady meant your shoes and purse matched, which cracks me up now but was a serious consideration then. I remember a two tone purse, white with a purply band -- and shoes that matched! And a picture of Grandma showing it off!! =O)