When Hillary Clinton conceded the 2016 presidential election, a majority of news headlines used the same word—a word we had not heard or seen much of during the campaign—to describe her speech. That word was “graceful.” Both sides noted that the press conference on November 9 was one of her finest hours. It got me thinking: What is it to be graceful, exactly, and where does it belong in modern society?
I’ve always looked up to women who seemed to embody grace—you know, the Audrey Hepburns and Kate Middletons of the world. Something about how they dressed and behaved just seemed so ... ethereal. And even though I am not an advocate of comparing yourself to others (especially not the Duchess of Cambridge), I always felt that I wanted to be more graceful, whatever that meant.
I guess I always assumed (or feared) that grace and beauty were intrinsically linked. I thought that to have grace you had to have that magazine-worthy beauty we've come to let dictate our self-worth. As someone who is often rather goofy, sometimes clumsy and easily flustered, however, I felt that being graceful was out of the books for me. Or that, if I really wanted to be graceful, I had to essentially sacrifice who I am to appear that way.
I recently heard from Jennessa Terracino, author of The Princess Guide: Faith Lessons from Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, that beauty is really simply grace. When I heard that definition it resonated with me, even if the meaning of grace still remained elusive.
We know beauty is more than our physical appearance because we see it in people like Mother Teresa, the most photographed woman in the world (literally). While not a runway model or glamorous actress, her radiance is undeniable. Looking at our political scene now, even Clinton—a women consistently categorized based on her appearance—wowed despite it all in her penultimate campaign moment. So what is gracefulness then?
I turned to Google (as one does), and the first definition that came up was this: “Simple elegance or refinement of movement.”
OK. So basically I have zero chance of being graceful (as anyone who has seen me dance can confirm). Right? Maybe not.
The more I thought about it, the stronger I felt that there was more to being graceful than that definition or what my mental representations allowed. So I decided to ask real, live people what they thought in order to see if I could get a better understanding. I sent out a tweet, and here's what I heard.
Jeannie Gaffigan, writer and producer of The Jim Gaffigan Show, said: “Graceful = Grateful for every moment of life.”
Leah Darrow, public speaker and former contestant on America’s Next Top Model, said it means “to be humble and thankful.”
Grace Atwood, fashion and lifestyle blogger, said it means to “always be kind, even when it’s hard.”
All these answers suggested that grace really is much more than outward beauty. In other words, being graceful is deeper than a personality trait or way of walking (like, without falling, for example). I think it is both an attitude and way of being that can be developed and integrated into our daily lives.
Following Gaffigan’s advice, we can practice ways of being grateful and, in turn, graceful. After all, happiness and gratitude are closely correlated. Internal gracefulness allows us to be kind even when we’re tired/stressed/irritated. It allows us to ask someone how they’re doing even if we don’t really feel like chatting. It also means we can be kind to ourselves, forgiving ourselves for mistakes or shortcomings. Whether it’s toward yourself or others, kindness isn’t about being a doormat or spoiling someone; it’s about expressing compassion in little ways daily toward yourself and others, making the world a better place in the process.
A huge part of Hepburn's legacy wasn't her beauty or movies, it was her selfless work as UNICEF ambassador. Likewise, the Duchess of Cambridge is all the more radiant when she uses her prominence to support children's charities or defend the importance of mental health. If we really stop to think, it's obvious: grace isn't how we look, though a regal posture and mastery of dress is nice. It's much more about who we are on the inside. Luckily, that's something we can control.
These definitions of gracefulness appeal to me so much more because I feel they’re within my reach. Now that I have what I feel is a more accurate idea of what being graceful looks like in real life, I’m working toward it daily. I’m writing lists of what I’m grateful for, and reminding myself to accept compliments with a thank you instead of a self-deprecating remark. I’m feeling more graceful by the day—and my dancing definitely has nothing to do with it.
Photo Credit: Ian Schneider