I’m not sure why, but it seems many of us have a need to define ourselves. Girls from the South have several definitions to choose from: Southern Belle. Steel Magnolia. Redneck Chick.
So which one am I?
I’ve lived in the South my entire life, and I don’t fit into any of those categories. To be honest, I know very few who do. But nonetheless, we Southern girls parade funny ecards and quotes we find on Pinterest on our Facebook pages. Some wear them on t-shirts or smack bumper stickers on their cars. But what exactly are we doing? We, women from a part of the country that most people don’t understand are saying,
“This is me. Get it? No, of course you don’t. I’m a ____________________ (insert adjective-noun combination here.) You can’t understand me unless you are one, too.”
What an injustice to the glorious, eclectic, multi-faceted region in which we live.
Don’t agree? Let’s take a look.
Wikipedia defines a Southern belle as an archetype for a young woman of the American Deep South's upper class. A picture of Scarlett O’Hara immediately jumps into my head. Hoop skirts. Tara. “Frankly, mah deah…” Yeah, whatever. No hoop skirts where I live. Not a one.
So practically, how does one achieve the status of a Southern Belle today? Must she own a strand of pearls, given to her on her 21st birthday from her Mama and Daddy? And if so, must she wear that coveted necklace every day of her life? Must she know how to entertain beautifully, even serving hot dogs to her kids, kids who only wear smocked clothing until smocked clothing no longer comes in his or her size, on her fine china, wiping their grubby little smocked-encased chins on linen napkins? Must she have impeccable nails and manners to match? Must she be forbidden from stepping outside of her perfectly decorated home without making up her perfect face?
Must she conform to all of these Pinterest sayings, e-cards, and quotes?
So, if you aren’t already very clear on what constitutes a Southern Belle, please don’t worry your pretty little head. There are about 4,297 “Southern Belle Secrets” posted on Pinterest as well.
Here’s another little definition we Southern girls might well learn: “Secret: something that is kept or meant to be kept unknown or unseen by others.”
So my question is, what if that pearl-wearing, immaculate hostess who smocks up her kids until they are 15 is a meanie-head miscreant who wouldn’t know a good deed if one bit her on her ankle? What if she scoffs at the poor and complains about the playhouse that doesn’t conform to her Homeowner’s Association standards and won’t buy lemonade from the kid on the corner because she can’t bear to drink from a paper cup? Is she still a Southern Belle?
Maybe, just maybe, she’s a Steel Magnolia. After all:
I feel confident in saying that the first image that pops into your head when you read the words “Steel Magnolia” is this:
There are no words. Heavens to Betsy.
But to explore the idea just a bit, how about we define the term? According to the respectable and ever-reliable Urban Dictionary, a Steel Magnolia is a Southern woman who is strong and independent, yet very feminine.
Evidently, this is a Southern Belle who will kick your fanny if you make her mad. Perhaps she will even pitch a conniption fit, or at the very least, a hissy. Don’t you talk about her Mama and them!
So what does a girl have to do to be a Steel Magnolia? If what you believe is based on the characters displayed in the unfortunate collage you see above, then you know her colors are blush and bashful, there is no such thing as natural beauty, she doesn’t trust anyone who does her own hair, and she’s been in a very bad mood for 40 years!
Thank you, Hollywood, for clearing that up.
I do love this movie. I’ve seen it umpteen times, and can quote all the same lines you can. I don’t love the fact that Julia Roberts is from Georgia and somehow sounds like a Yankee trying to play a Southerner, which is my ultimate pet peeve when watching movies made in the South. “They” say (or at least, Pinterest says) you can take the girl out of the South, but you can’t take the South out of the girl. Guess Julia proved us wrong.
If Julia, excuse me, Shelby, is the quintessential Steel Magnolia, then we must assume to be one, a girl must destroy her gorgeous head of hair into a deplorable excuse for a Pixie cut when facing major surgery. (Truvy did that? In a salon? And who doesn’t trust someone who does her own hair? I’d take my chances with my five year old wielding some gardening shears…if we owned any.) She must also talk back to her mama, make fun of her hair (you aren’t really one to talk there, Sista...), and stand up to her in utter defiance on the subject of having babies, crushing her spirit like a bug. Now that is some independence and strength!
Moving on down the road, let’s get to my personal favorite: Redneck Chick.
And if you are still confused at all, this one will make it all as clear as Waterford crystal:
Though it would be a travesty to leave out an Internet definition of this group of Southern women, we will be left to cry in our beer. The definitions I found online were either a) written by 8th grade redneck chicks who chose to use words I find unfit for the likes of this blog, or b) completely inaccurate, as not one of them mentioned the fact that the term redneck, referring to a woman or a man, stems from working-class folks whose necks turned red from laboring in the sun. They did, however, mention trucks, mud, guns, and fightin’. So o.k.
It would be safe to say this group isn’t the classiest of broads, but they are a mighty proud crowd. They fly their confederate flags big and tall, like to boast about how many critters they can kill and how fast they can skin them. They are loud, prone to drinkin’, but they are still girlie girls. By darn, they’ve got manicured nails! Painted with pink camo.
Bless their hearts.
So after all this, I find myself in a conundrum. I was born and bred in the Deep South. I live in Mississippi, I have lived here my entire life except for a short stint in London, am rearing my children here, and will, by all accounts, die and be buried on Southern soil. But I am not a Southern Belle, a Steel Magnolia, or a Redneck Chick.
This is me: I wear pearl earrings every day. My husband gave them to me. This year. I do not always dress up when I go to Wal-Mart, the grocery store, or even to more reputable places like BabyGap. I don’t hunt, fish, or camp, but my husband and my son do. Mac, my 5 year old, just killed his first squirrel, and I was proud and disgusted all at the same time.
I don’t like to cook and I’ve never been in a fight. I do own a pistol, but I have only shot it on the range and never at someone who tried to break into my home or insulted my Mama. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t shoot it at someone attempting to steal my pearls, but the situation has never presented itself, so I’m not sure what I would do. Most likely, I would call 911.
I write thank you notes on pretty, embossed stationary, but I have forgotten to R.S.V. P. to a number of birthday parties at Pump It Up. I don’t own a deviled-egg plate, but I love my aunt Marolyn’s deviled eggs, and she makes them for me at every family function. I don’t live in Tara, but my best friend almost does, and her side, screened-in porch is one of my sanctuaries.
Coke, to me, is any carbonated beverage, and I think Pepsi should be reserved for those serving time in Guantanamo.
I have never once said, “How’s your Mama and them?” but I have asked on many occasions, “How are y’all?” meaning, “How are you and your entire family and most of the people we know in common?” and I actually want a real answer. Most of the time, I get one.
I go to church on Sunday mornings and Bible study on Wednesday nights, and my Facebook newsfeed is often full of prayer requests, and when I comment with, “Praying,” I am doing it as I type. I chose my silver pattern, Frances I, when I was in high school, but I rarely use it. I have quit saying, “Please excuse the mess,” when someone walks into my house because, in truth, it is not an anomaly that we dwell in clutter with John Deere tractors scattered all over the den; messy is normal to me. And on that note, let’s not even talk about my yard. Thank the Lord I don’t belong to a Homeowner’s Association.
I hate racists.
If I have on a full face of makeup, it is probably a special occasion, and if my nails are done, it most definitely is. I’m not a pink girl; I prefer the color blue. I come from a long line of strong women, and I was taught to buck up when times got tough, but if I talked to my mama the way Shelby talked to hers, I’d be marched outside to pick a switch off a bush, even today.
I was in a sorority in college, but it is so far down the list of accomplishments in my life, I hardly remember what I pledged. (Just kidding: I was a Chi O at Ole Miss. Cardinal and straw, baby. Cardinal and straw.) I have read Faulkner and Welty and O’Connor and Percy, but I prefer Greg Iles to any of them. If Mac doesn’t say, “Yes ma’am” or “No sir,” he gets “the look.” If he doesn’t say it a bunch of times in a row, he gets a spanking.
I love Ole Miss football, and game time on Saturdays is sacred to me. I respect my elders, even if I disagree with them. I believe in being kind. The older I've gotten, the less often I cry. Normally, tears are only shed over death, serious illness, and commercials that involve a soldier.
I know girls who love to hunt but who are far from rednecks. I know women who don’t own a stitch of china but are Belles in my book.
So who are they? And what am I? A Southern Belle? A Steel Magnolia? A Redneck Chick?
None of the above.
I’m just a girl who lives in the Southern-most part of the United States, who loves her God, her family, her heritage, and her life.
Nobody puts Baby in a corner…or a ill-fitting Southern category. Oh wait. Wrong movie. Don’t pitch a hissy fit. When I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong.
That’s what my Mama and Daddy taught me.
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