Today, after being called into my sister’s home office to admire her new computer desk arrangement, I started browsing her bookshelf– and I found the best book e.v.e.r. tucked away among the classics. It is titled, How to Be a Lady.
Now, normally I am very wary of these types of books. I’ve had a scarring experience with them. In high school, I was part of a mother-daughter book club that read some silly, completely backward book on how to be a lady. It was titled something about beautiful girlhood or ladyship or whatnot.
Anyway, all I remember about the book was that it was full of harmful, totally nonsense advice that came straight from the Victorian Era. For example, they said that a lady should never be alone with a man until she is eighteen and that a woman should always follow the advice of her father (and when she is married, the advice of her husband) because men are the head of the household. A lot of the author’s ideas really irritated me, but it was easy to brush those notions away as old-fashioned.
It was the comments about how a woman should carry herself that really interested me. I wanted to learn how to present myself as a lady to other people, so I avidly read the self-improvement sections. I soaked that part up, until one day, I read that a true lady has a soft voice and tinkling laugh.
Well, let me tell you… I’ve never had a tinkling laugh. Never have, never will. I’d liken it more to a cackle or donkey bray before I’d liken it to a little bell. See, my laugh is really loud. I just don’t see the point in being quiet about it. If you’re gonna laugh, it should be a big belly laugh. And anyway, laughing is good for your health.
I’ve come to accept my way-too-loud,-super-embarrassing/annoying-to-my-friends-during-movies laugh. For better or worse (or fewer movie dates), it’s a part of who I am. But in high school, I was really self-conscious about everything. So I would get so embarrassed when people mentioned how loud I was or told me to be quieter. Once, before going on a first date, my mom tried to tactfully tell me to not laugh very much during the movie. I think her exact words were, “You don’t want to embarrass him, do you?” I was, of course, immune to the reproofs of my siblings because they were always “shush”-ing me, but criticism from my mother was rare indeed. Words to be heeded.
So to top off a month in which my laugh had progressively increased in decibels (or I had received an usually high number of admonishments), I read that passage in Beautiful Girlhood stating that a true lady never raised her voice or drew unwanted attention toward herself. Horrified that my laugh was making me less of a lady, I instantly resolved to be a quiet person. What followed was a sad time in which I laughed little and tried to speak in a whispering voice (which just meant people had to continuously ask me to repeat myself because I was barely audible). I decided after that that I wasn’t interested in being a lady. And I went back to talking too loudly.
Naturally, after reading a book like that and going through such a scarring experience, any book telling me how to be a lady was immediately returned to the shelf for the rest of high school and most of college. Sorry, but I’m not interested in someone telling me about their particular brand of lady. I can be who I want to be, and as long as I’m polite and remember which fork to use at fancy dinners, I figure I’ll do just fine.
But today, something drew me to open that book. And I was most definitely rewarded. It’s great. So much fun. And full of practical advice, to boot. I’ve included the best ones here for your enjoyment…
A lady knows that false congeniality is
as obvious as bad false eyelashes.
A lady does not just order a salad at a
restaurant when she is on a date if she
really wants a hamburger. She realizes
the men who would not want her
because she has an appetite are not
worth the trouble.
If a lady doesn’t see well, she wears her
glasses or her contact lenses. She doesn’t
let vanity stand in her way of seeing all
life has to offer– including traffic signals
and turn signals on the road.
A lady knows that she is at her best
when she is in good health. And for that
reason, she doesn’t ignore her health.
A lady knows whether she has the
figure to wear tight clothing. She knows
that just because an item of clothing
comes in her size does not mean she
should wear it.
A lady does not feel the urge to wear
eight rings on one hand.
A lady does not crunch her ice.
A lady does not raise her voice when
angry. It is only proper to shout at
someone when he or she is in danger or
about to score a touchdown.
A lady makes it a point to know
the names of the teams playing in the
When a guest behaves less than
mannerly, a lady endures the actions of
her guest, but she remembers those
actions the next time she makes out her
In the event a lady attends a party at
which someone is wearing a dress
identical to hers, she simply smiles and
compliments the other lady on her
excellent choice in clothing.
A lady realizes that the office
refrigerator is not the place to conduct
scientific experiments. She remembers to
dispose of her leftovers before they
begin to smell.
A lady is careful how she acts at the
yearly office party.
How to Be a Lady
by Candace Simpson-Giles