Betty Ford Taught Me To Confront Stigma Head On
“It was like going to a party you’re terrified of, and finding out to your amazement that you’re having a good time.”
That’s how Betty Ford, who passed away today at 93, described her life in the White House during one of the most turbulent times in U.S. history. I was 10 years old when she became First Lady. I didn’t appreciate until I was older how much she influenced my life.
She didn’t shy away from her struggles; she talked openly about them.
I read some of the coverage about her life this morning. I realized we shared a few things in common. Both of us were born in Michigan. Both of us had dreams of lives that didn’t quite turn out the way we hoped. Both of us talked openly about taboo topics: breast cancer and infertility, respectively.
She shocked many with her candor, and she didn’t pretend to be someone she was not. She championed women’s rights and encouraged others to overcome their personal demons. Her life story taught me one more thing: the lesson of authenticity.
It is not easy to be different, to not conform to what society expects us to be. My, how things have changed since Betty Ford was my age. Where she once had to stand up for the under-appreciated role of motherhood, we now live in a world where MOM has become the favored go-to descriptor or modifier.
It first took hold with “soccer mom.” This now prevalent turn of phrase has since become the defacto way to describe and define women. Just search the word “mom” on the ABC News website and here’s what you will find: “Atlanta mom,” “Tot Mom,” “Botox Mom,” “Tiger Mom.”
It’s enough to drive a woman to … well, fortunately, Betty Ford also taught us how to overcome that tendency, too.
The pendulum continues to swing. I trust by the time I’m 93 we’ll once again celebrate and describe women for the multitude of roles or interests they possess, and not just the one that’s in vogue today.
Meanwhile, socialized to assume my life would not be fulfilling or valued in a world where I’m not a mom, like Betty, it’s with some amazement I can say this: I’m having a really good time.