Growing up, I had a very clear idea of what a lady was. Six-year-old me would have told you that a lady would never wear a wrinkled blouse, would never swear, would always use niceties like please and thank you, and she would never fight for yell or else other people would think poorly of her. Twelve-year-old me would have added that a lady doesn’t let just anyone kiss her or else no one will respect her. Twenty-two-year-old me thinks that the majority of all of the rules about what it means to be a lady are bullshit. (Yeah, bullshit. I said it.)
The idea of what a lady is has caused me more stress over the years than I would like to admit. I felt as though there were times I was constantly checking in with myself; “I know I’d like to do that, but will I be still be considered respectable if I do?” I’d skip out on occasions for a pat on the back—yes, a real lady was right to sit that one out.
But these rules never made me happy. They only made me feel judged.
And eventually, the rules got in the way of living.
So, like most girls of my generation, I pressed through adolescence trying to haphazardly define a lady in my own terms. But mostly, I judged myself against this perfect prototype of the suburban young lady that my upbringing had groomed to be.
For a while, I felt like two people: the perfect young lady, and me. After a while, I didn’t even want to be both. I just wanted to be me—free from the any judgments that asked me to be a person I’m fairly convinced nearly no one is.
The unwritten rule seems to be that a respectable lady gets the American Dream—she grows up to find a good job, a stable marriage, and a nice house in the suburbs. And the girl who didn’t abide by the made up conventions of what it means to be a lady, she gets left behind. Society seems to say that this girl, who followed herself, she doesn’t deserve to be happy. A lady deserves to be happy, but she hasn’t tried hard enough to be a lady.
I tried to Google it once, to see what the Internet thought a lady was. But the answers didn’t really matter. I had already defined it for myself by then. I figure this is the 21st century; we can use some new standards for old definitions around here.
So I decided that to me, a lady is someone who knows who she is. She doesn’t have to love everything about the person she is, but she embraces it wholly.
She is confident, even in the moments which she was taught were “unladylike” (and maybe especially in those moments, because she’s being herself). She follows her heart rather than imaginary and outdated constructs.
And maybe sometimes, she flips someone off, she shows up with grass stains on her knees, or she hooks up with someone new just to see what may come next. She can still be a lady.
In fact, here in the year 2016, we have an even better word than lady.
We call her a badass.