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Lessons Learned From My Grandmothers

How Do I Feel Empowered? I Put on My Grandmothers' Silk Scarves and Costume Jewelry

After what seemed like the longest January in recorded history, I felt myself becoming slightly defeated. The weather, the depressing news cycle, and the postholiday blues conspired to make me feel lethargic and subdued. On those days when I struggled to feel like the best version of myself, I channeled the spirit of my grandmothers. Their humor and elegance were infectious; it was simply impossible to be bored or uninspired in their presence. What do I do when I want to feel both empowered and feminine? I remember the women in my family who led by example every single day.

My grandmothers combined glamour with individuality, and their spirit and daring were reflected in their personal style — of living, entertaining, and socializing. They came from different backgrounds; Emma Magyar was the daughter of Romanian immigrants in Trenton and Nancy Parker was a model in New York City before marrying my grandfather. But they became very close friends with one another, even going on vacation to Alaska together, sans husbands.

What bonded them? Kindness, yes. Laughter, of course. But also: their glamour, their confidence (sartorially and otherwise), their self-respect, and their outspoken natures. Neither of these women were shrinking violets (though Nancy's favorite color was purple, and she was known to wear monochromatic outfits in entirely that shade, a feat in and of itself).

Growing up, I used to think that being glamorous was silly, that being a tomboy was a more respectable way of life. This was perhaps the path of least resistance, given my gangly limbs and desperately crooked teeth (I would spend half a decade in braces).

As I approached adolescence, I associated caring about beauty or fashion — caring about your appearance at all — to be a mark of superficiality. They helped me realize that fashion is not synonymous with superficiality, that to be glamorous was not indicative of a lack of intelligence, but rather the opposite. They used their clothing and jewelry to express themselves and assert their worth.

Emma posed for family portraits in a tiara; Nancy wore her red lipstick and dark sunglasses at all times, even indoors. They embraced fashion and beauty, cultivating their own signature style while channeling their individuality. Most importantly, their dominance as matriarchs was unquestioned. They were both uberpowerful and uberfeminine at the same time. They helped me understand I could be interested in fashion and experiment with beauty (to mixed results: my hair has been every shade of orange-blond under the sun) and still be taken seriously as a human being. How often do men get criticized for appearing too masculine? Or criticized for their appearance in general? The opposite sex is under far less scrutiny. Women should be similarly freed of shackles.

The future is female, but, luckily for me, my past was, too.

Their wisdom was not limited to the sartorial realm, however. Both my grandmothers encouraged me to always express myself, to go after what I wanted — even when I wasn't sure what that was. This applied to all aspects of my life, including my career and my relationships. When I was suffering from a particularly excruciating college breakup, I confided the details to Nancy over glasses of wine. Her response? "Men are like street cars. If you miss one, there is another one coming." I've never forgotten her words. Though street cars are much rarer these days, the message remains true. Be fearless; don't let anyone hold you back. If a relationship isn't working, there will be a better one in the future. If you don't love what you're doing, look around and switch paths. Don't allow other people to dictate your self-worth. They encouraged me to be comfortable with my own imperfections, a crucial element to empowerment. You don't need to look perfect every day. Not every outfit you wear belongs on the cover of Vogue. You contain multitudes.

In today's world, it's more important than ever to feel empowered and inspired. Now when I want to feel like the best version of myself, I channel my grandmothers. When I'm wearing Emma's oversize costume jewelry and Nancy's silk scarves, I feel some of their power is with me to this day.

So I'll be rocking my oversize earrings, leather pants, and neon outerwear, and thanking my grandmothers for giving me the confidence to believe in myself as a woman and as a human being. The future is female, but, luckily for me, my past was, too.

Image Source: Katherine Parker-Magyar
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