What makes a woman so amazing? Her ability to nurture, to love, to be generous, to be wise, to be courageous—just to name a few attributes. Notice I didn’t say how thin, smooth, tall, perfect, or sexy she is. Though all of those things are nice, they’re not nearly as important as the cover of a magazine would have us believe.
Somewhere along the way, we began ignoring the qualities that make us amazing. In some cases, we have even seen them as weaknesses. “I’m too generous, too trusting, too loving,” women profess through tears, as though these were sins. Since when did goodness become so bad? Why are our innate qualities so undervalued? No wonder we’re confused. We’ve forgotten what it means to be a woman. We’ve devalued the very characteristics that define us, give us character, and carry us through life’s everyday challenges and triumphs with grace.
At twenty-nine, when my mother was dying of colon cancer, I took a leave of absence from work and a new marriage to care for her at an alternative clinic hundreds of miles from home. It wasn’t by being “thin” that I was able to pull through; rather, it was by being nurturing and loving. Eighteen months later, my first daughter was born with a distended abdomen, underwent surgery at one day old, and two weeks later was diagnosed with the life-threatening condition cystic fibrosis. It wasn’t by being “sexy” that I learned to deal with this challenging initiation into parenthood; it was by being trusting and courageous.
When I look at the women who inspire me the most, it has nothing to do with the size of their noses or lips or hips, but rather the depth of their character. The most inspiring women are those I also find the most beautiful. My mother’s strength and exuberance made her the most beautiful woman to me. My grandmother’s beauty was in her generosity. My best friend’s charm is in her willingness to forgive human foibles.
The qualities that make us human, that allow us to engage with other people, to learn and to experience life, are the qualities we need to celebrate and honor. The noisy voices that tell us we need to “act like a stripper in the bedroom” to have the hottest sex ever or to “act like a man in the boardroom” to be taken seriously, are removing us further from our true selves. Since when did we all become actors on the crowded stage of life, each trying to find meaning in the lines someone else has scripted for us? When did we start allowing strangers to direct us throughout our day to respond and react to life’s moments rather than experience them? The crazy thing is we need to step out of character in order to build it. We need to be, rather than act.
We need to be gracious to each other. The face of judgment and the voice of gossip have a wicked way of robbing us of our own power and beauty. I am tired of hearing the play-by-play of the troubled lives of young starlets like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. I am sick of the over-analysis of celebrities’ physical flaws circled in magazines and magnified for all the world to see—wrinkled knees, cellulite, saggy cleavage. It doesn’t make me feel any better about myself either way whether I see the same thing in myself or not. And it confuses the heck out of my little girls, who stare at magazine covers at the supermarket checkout with wide-eyed wonder and dismay about the world, as if to say, “Is this what I have to look forward to when I grow up, criticism and persecution?”
When we look at each other—free of judgment—we find acceptance. When we accept others and see their beautiful qualities, we are more apt to accept ourselves. When we accept ourselves, we discover our own beauty. As my very dear friend Arline Malakian says, “Beauty is contagious.” Beauty is within us. We are all beautiful.
When women identify with each other with compassion and understanding, we live in amazing grace and beauty. Through the qualities that truly mean something and give our lives value, we recognize the prevailing attributes that give us substance. The woman who smiles as she watches my singing children in line at the bank and then shifts her gaze to me as though in thanks is joyful. The woman who puts her arm around my shoulders when I cry at the loss of my father is gentle. The woman who shares with me her losses and discoveries in life is generous. Whether these women are friends, relatives, or strangers, we are all sisters in life’s journey. They are all amazing because they simply dare to be nurturing, exuberant, loving, trusting, and proud. They simply dare to be …