By the age of four, my mother taught me everything I know about being a woman.
As a little girl, my first memory was of her in red lipstick, stepping into a garden abloom with yellow miniature roses, purple orchids and dainty West Indian jasmines – the perfect picture of grace.
She passed away when I was four.
Later, I learnt from my father that she’d been struggling with respiratory problems all her life. But nobody seems to remember how weak she’d become. Staring into her coffin, what I saw was a poised and beautiful woman. And throughout my confused teenage years, I struggled to emulate her beauty and grace.
Thus I grew up in a confused and complex world, and like so many other, floundered through many moments of fear, self-doubt and heartache, seeking wisdom in books and forgetfulness in films.
But whenever I felt like I’d truly hit a dead end, I’d hit the road again and meet many amazing people through my travels – poverty-stricken India women with the most vivid dresses I’ve ever seen, a 70-year-old Japanese woman with the brightest purple hair, a breast cancer survivor finding love and intimacy after mastectomy…
Only through their eyes did I finally begin to see my mother’s true legacy –
her parting advice to me was not merely how to be beautiful, but one of enduring strength and hope in the face of pain, uncertainly and death.
She was the first person who helped me understand that a woman without breasts is no less beautiful, bright purple hair on an old woman can still turn heads, making the effort to wear lipstick when you’re very ill is a final act of defiance, and planting flowers that you may never see is the greatest leap of faith.
Beyond all the designer dresses and makeup, that is what it means to be a beautiful woman.