Recently I was talking to a lady about the titles of Southern Ladies’ literature:
Being Dead is No Excuse by Metcalfe/Hayes
Someday You’ll Thank Me for This by Metcalfe
Suck Your Stomach In and Put Some Color On by Tomlinson
The last title brought a whole cache of memories to break open. There I sat, with all those memories of my maternal grandmother (Too big for My Britches). They were poured out on my lap like a mess of green beans (only white half-runners) on a tea towel.
How I loved her. I realize this more now than then. There were times her expectations and behavior annoyed me. Certainly she had an opinion about how things should be done, and for the most part she believed her way was right with little exception. As always in retrospection I understand more now. Being forty-something has given me a new perspective, and I realize she influenced me—especially in forming my definition of a strong woman.
Her name was Madelyn. And she was quite particular about the pronunciation—not Mad-lene, not Mad-e-line, not Mad-lyn. No, it was Mad-e-lyn (short e in the middle). Perhaps that is one of the reasons I tend to be so fussy about my name too; the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Mad-e-lyn had her own antidotes and she often doled them out with brutal candor.
Inevitably every time I visited her she would say the same thing to me. This phrase was quintessential Mad-e-lyn.
Hold your shoulders back and put some lipstick on.
Sometimes these two phrases were combined and sometimes they were used separately depending on her assessment of the situation. I managed to get both of them—often.
And both phrases rubbed me the wrong way. They caused my prideful defenses to kick in and my rebellious hackles to rise. I took them as criticism. Perhaps there was a smidgen of criticalness in both the words and the tone, but I understand, now, that she meant them to be constructive. She intended them to prod and motivate and maybe they did.
I have thought a lot about these two phrases, and I have developed new interpretations
Hold Your Shoulders Back.
Concern for my posture only partly fueled this command. And that is what it was: a command. Certainly not a suggestion. She, in later years, had a very rounded back and to compensate she held her shoulders up and back. Mad-e-lyn thought posture improved a woman’s appearance. She also wanted to see confidence in a woman. Slumped shoulders indicated defeat and lack of assurance.
Have a little pride in yourself, she would say.
Back then I thought all pride was bad. Hubris is the tap root of a bitter and ugly kind of plant. But this wasn’t Mad-e-lyn’s kind of pride. She didn’t want to see me (or any of her children) act like a victim. I wish I had understood this lesson far sooner than I did. Heeding her advice might have saved me some heartache. When a woman acts like a victim, they often get treated like one.
There is nothing good in me to cause me to hold my shoulders back. I look at myself, my past, my mistakes, my failures, my wiring and I understand this.
But I have every reason to hold my shoulders back because of who Jesus is.
With him I am an heir (Romans 8:17), a part of a royal priesthood, a treasure (I Peter 2:9) and more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37). Because of these truths I can hold my shoulders back. With Paul, I can boast in the cross of Christ (Galatians 6:14).
Put Some Lipstick On.
Mad-e-lyn’s hair could be askew, her clothing could be her everyday work clothes, but if she had her lipstick on she could face the world. She believed a woman ought to fix herself up. She didn’t like it when a woman (especially her only granddaughter) let herself go. She thought it was just plum awful when a woman allowed her appearance to deteriorate. A woman should take care of herself. She thought a woman should be able to turn a few heads. She did. More than a few before she married my grandfather.
When I was young I thought this mind-set was conceited and self-absorbed. And in my young self-righteous attitude I often dismissed her advice. I regret not sifting it and keeping part of it now. Once again, my own advancement in age has put new perspective on this mentality.
Lipstick was Mad-e-lyn’s soft-armor—a defense against an exacting world. For her to put lipstick on was to use every available means to improve what others saw. I realize too, this was another confidence booster. Today, I understand this and I keep my lip armor at the ready in the outside pocket of my purse. Most likely the hue would not be bright enough for my grandmother (I’m sure she would have a comment about that), but I have followed her example.
In more ways than one.
My soft armor is prayer. The best defense in the world, for me, is to be engaged in constant prayer—that slight whispering under my breath—prayer that intertwines with the rhythm of my breathing.
In Ephesians 6 Paul tells us to put on our armor, and the last piece of that armor is to pray in the Spirit on all occasions. Praying is my defense against an exacting world.
My grandmother was a wise woman. And it is never too late to heed good advice. I believe she would be pleased with my reevaluations and interpretations.
So, today I will hold my shoulders back and put my lipstick on.