I recently read an article about how society needs to change the way we speak to girls. It focused on how the majority of us almost always refer to little girls as being cute, adorable, or pretty, which if you haven’t noticed, all relate to their appearance. While I was slightly annoyed by this at first, because let’s get real here, we often refer to most children, boys included as cute and adorable too, but I got slightly less annoyed when I realized it’s the way we communicate with little girls – how our words, harmless as they may be, lead young girls into thinking that their looks are coveted as being the most important quality about them. Instead of focusing on how cute they look, or what they’re wearing, we should be initiating conversations that ask what their interests are to get a better sense of their personality, and more importantly, their intelligence.
This article awakened childhood memories for me and how truly lucky I was to have my grandmother, my heroine, to help raise me. My grandmother was the most loving, genuine, honest, and tough as nails woman I knew. She was fierce in all the right ways. Her and my grandfather immigrated to Canada from Instabul in 1957 when my mom was 3. Without knowing a stitch of English, or anyone in the country, she taught herself how to read and write by looking at a newspaper every single day. She then taught my grandfather. While I strongly believe that she would have made an amazing political leader because of her love of knowledge and a good debate (which happens to be one of many little gems she passed onto me), she did what most women in the 50’s did – she stayed home and raised a family. This is only a glimpse into the amazing woman she was.
Despite her being quite vocal about how she wished I was more feminine in nature, and that I had a more fervent love for dresses, she embraced me for the tom boy I was, but more importantly, she ALWAYS insisted that my intelligence mattered. Along with my mom, she always encouraged me to excel in school and to go to university. I always remember her telling me that I could be whatever I wanted to be and to dream big. Her encouragement was so strong that sometimes I felt so much pressure to be smart above anything else, that I will admit, all I wanted was to be pretty. That being said, I can also remember how proud she was of me with each of my accomplishments. I was lucky enough to see her pride through a candid lense. Friends of our family made a video of my first birthday, and it was in this video that I truly saw how proud she was of me. Granted, I was only one, and toddling around smiling at everyone, but the pure joy in her face is what I remember seeing the most in that video. She was beaming. Seeing this, my eyes instantly watered, and my heart instantly swelled with love. I imagine her face being much the same had she been around to see me off on my first day of university – something she always wanted for me, and to see me do.
Being a strong female role model was the greatest gift my grandmother could have ever given me because to this day I aspire to live life the way she would have wanted me to and more. When times are good or bad, I think of her telling me to be grateful for the beauty in each moment, and when times are tough, I think of her resilience and her telling me to be tenacious in the face of adversity. I like to think that my grandmother knew I was beautiful, but a beauty that went far beyond my appearance. A precocious child, I always gave her a run for her money, and liked to challenge her which is why I think she always challenged me in return. This is probably where my vehemently stubborn nature comes from. She knew if she set a standard I would rise to the occasion, and if I failed, she had a face of disappointment like no other, but still nurtured me in a way that made me pick myself back up again. My mom often said my grandmother loved me so much that she would often say that I was actually her child. It truly was a bond like no other. I don’t speak of my grandmother often partly because I miss her so deeply that it breaks my heart a little reminding myself that she’s no longer with us, but I have been thinking quite a lot about my grandmother lately on this running journey of mine and what words of wisdom she would share with me. She always had the right thing to say at the right time. I clearly thought of her today as I read that article and realized how ahead of the curve she and my family were in valuing my intelligence over my appearance. When I think of her, I think of how proud she would be of me, not just for everything I have worked so hard for, how hard I have trained, or even how much I have overcome, but I think she would be most proud of the woman I am becoming each and everyday. Yaya, I love you more than words can say. Thank you for loving me for who I am, and always inspiring me to be great.
PS – the book is on the way.