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What Does It Really Mean To “Be A Lady?”

By: Hana Tilksew

Girl in The Car

At some point or another, all of us have been instructed to “be a lady.” Whether we hear it from a mother, a teacher, or someone else, it’s typically an instruction to change something surface-level about yourself. The way you sit, talk, eat ... these are all things we’re supposed to do in a “ladylike” way. As a result, a lot of us see being a lady as something to perform superficially. The online obsession with looking like “old money” has only added fuel to the fire. But are good table manners and sitting properly really all it means to be a lady?

I recently watched the 1956 rom-com High Society starring Grace Kelly, who plays the beautiful but aloof Tracy Lord. Tracy’s character is what most people would think of when they imagine a proper lady: she comes from a wealthy family, she’s well-versed in etiquette, and she dresses impeccably. But even though she seems flawless on the outside, her inner life is full of dysfunction. She struggles majorly when it comes to maintaining healthy relationships.

At one point in the movie, Mr. Lord calls Tracy out on her problem. “You have a good mind [with] a pretty face [and] a fine, disciplined body ... you have everything it takes to

make a lovely woman except the one essential: an understanding heart.” If you’ve seen High Society, you know that Mr. Lord was the last character who should have been lecturing other people about morals, but this is a case of the right message from the wrong messenger. His diagnosis for Tracy was spot-on.

Even though she had the looks and the charm, Tracy wasn’t a warm human being. While she may have seemed like a lady from afar, up close, she didn’t have a ladylike heart. She was detached from other people and cared about her own feelings more than anyone else’s. Any dynamic where she wasn’t being put on a pedestal was one she didn’t want to be a part of.

Tracy High Society

Like Tracy, a lot of us can be more preoccupied with how we present ourselves than with actually being a good friend/partner/relative to the people in our lives. This character did eventually get her happy ending, but only when she let go of her obsession with being worshiped and learned to open her heart. Which Tracy seems more ladylike and aspirational: the cold, bitter woman she begins the movie as, or the warm and loving person she becomes? Her outward style and manners never changed, but the posture of her heart did.

At the end of the day, we can wear “old money” clothes and cross our ankles all we want, but a lady who doesn’t treat other people with kindness isn’t really a lady at all. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to level up and become more elegant on the outside — it’s actually a good thing! — but don’t forget to level up on the inside too. A heart of gold is a million times classier than any outfit ever will be.

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