Last week, we lost a great American icon, Elizabeth Taylor.  I have always had a fond respect for her – not only was she an academy award-winning actress, she was a beautiful, confident and quick-witted vixen that seemed to be generous in many ways.  I appreciated her candor and can empathize with her on many levels. She will be formally memorialized this week, so I wanted to share some thoughts and explain why, although controversial, she seemed to resonate with many. She didn’t live a perfect life by far – and never claimed to be – but, her transparency can teach us many lessons on how to live full, confident and independent lives. This could probably be a 2 or 3-part post, but I added everything (including the kitchen sink). Enjoy.

1. “I never claimed to be an ordinary housewife.”

That quote right there – it gets me every time.  It’s no secret that I am a closet feminist.  I am a fan of gender roles, but only up to a point. I am speaking primarily in the context of marital and/or long-term committed relationships, but I hate to see a union where one partner is unable to fully pursue or operate in their purpose or passion.  Likewise, I feel sympathy when one partner is unable to maintain their individuality – in addition to their shared role – that is a major problem.  There is no way that I can be the best spouse or partner to you if I have no sense of personal identity that keeps me grounded and centered. I often see relationships where one partner has sole control AND authority over the household decisions – what is this? 1950?  Loving partnerships are beautiful, but they require shared accountability and equal contributions to communication, commitment and compromise. In her quote, Ms. Taylor conveys very clearly that no, this isn’t the 1950s – I am my own woman, an individual. Please respect me as such. Yes, I know that she was married 8 times, but that’s beside the point (wink) – the lady protected her identity and never looked to a man or gender roles in a relationship to validate her being. You may not agree, but in my opinion, that happens far too often.  So many women are caught up in the ideal of the ring, the wedding, the lifestyle and the title, that they sacrifice self-identity to obtain it – only to wake up decades later wondering what happened to their unique passions.  The take home message: Ladies, please never lose yourself in a man. Live your best life, and he – if he really loves you – will love you for it.

2. “I don’t think President Bush is doing anything at all about AIDS. In fact, I’m not sure he even knows how to spell AIDS.”

Elizabeth Taylor was an advocate and humanitarian for AIDS prevention before it was socially accepted and at a time when the disease was highly stigmatized as a gay man’s disease.  I don’t know if you have ever stood for something that others shunned, but that takes a great amount of courage and confidence in your beliefs.  She even organized one of the first HIV/AIDS fundraising events in 1984, which benefitted AIDS Project Los Angeles. She was a cofounder of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) and she founded the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation in 1991 that provides direct services for people living with HIV/AIDS. Many believe that it was Ms. Taylor’s public criticism of President Bush that eventually lead to the establishment of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in 2003, which was the US’s first formal support of HIV/AIDS efforts worldwide. Up until that time, Bush’s only prevention message was that of abstinence – which was ineffective in combatting the realities of disease transmission.  I admire Ms. Taylor’s public advocacy for such an important cause.  2011 marks the 30th year since HIV was discovered. I am sure that her efforts will be recognized widely in the HIV/AIDS community. Her work should challenge us all to choose a cause and support it fully in our life’s work. She was a celebrity and, for all intents and purposes, didn’t have to care.

3. She was a good friend (Michael Jackson, RIP).

Does anyone really know what it means to be a true friend today?  I am not sure if you remember the interview that Oprah did with Michael Jackson (RIP) in 1993 (view a portion of it here), but Elizabeth Taylor was actually at his home during the interview and made a brief on camera appearance.  In Oprah’s reflection on that interview (post MJ’s death), she comments on how genuine their love and friendship appeared to be, although their pairing seemed strange to outsiders.  The older I become, the more I realize how precious friendships are and how rare it is to find friends that will walk with you for life.  I have always been very sociable and I know many people but there are very few people that I love and trust enough to be completely transparent with. That means comfortable enough to share all of my weaknesses, problems, fears and blessings – without fear of judgment. Likewise, I have challenged myself to be an even better friend to others. Even when it’s not convenient, or when I may not agree with their decisions, or when they are standing alone and criticized.  I remember going through a challenging season several years ago and the feeling of disappointment that came when one of my close friends (or so I thought), got ghost was such a harsh reality check. You know how it is – instead of being direct and honest, they never returned calls and were always too busy to talk. Now, that is a hurting feeling but I learned a valuable lesson. Good friendships are rare and Ms. Taylor stood by Michael publicly through some very tough times.

4. “Big girls need big diamonds” & “I fell off my pink cloud with a thud”

Imagine this: you are an academy award-winning actress, sought after by many men, beautiful and upheld as the standard for glamour. I don’t know about you, but I would probably be a diva-licious, attitudinal, prideful and arrogant woman. Why not? I love that Ms. Taylor was so confident and had every excuse to be a selfish B, but she never took herself too seriously.  To me, that is the mark of true humility. People that have the world going for them never have to brag or be the loudest person in the room.  Greatness just is. I met someone that reminded me of why this characteristic is so important over this past weekend. I was in a business meeting and this person just dominated our space. He interrupted people, rolled off his resume within the first 20 minutes of our conversation and always had the best solution, thereby belittling anyone else at the table. When you are good at what you do, all of those antics aren’t needed. Stop taking yourself so seriously and be authentic and humble.  I almost cursed his arrogant behind out, but I kept my religion. Thankfully.

5. She dated like a sailor and played the game like a man.

Ok – I can’t write a tribute post to Elizabeth Taylor without acknowledging her 8 marriages. She obviously married men like she was dating, but for the sake of this post, I am going to attribute that to simply being a celebrity and having the resources to do so. What has been interesting is that, despite her many accolades and accomplishments, every news report on her death mentions her marital conquests and alleged infidelity and affairs.  What makes her story even more intriguing is that her relational resume reads much like that of a wealthy man, repeatedly trading in one wife for another, younger version.  I’m not one to judge Ms. Taylor, but I have to give her props for playing the game like a man. She showed that a woman has just as many options as the man, which is encouraging. Know your value, ladies, and don’t let a man make you feel like he is the only one with options. Kudos Ms. Taylor.

6. She was always public about her health struggles and remained resilient.

The Hollywood legend has survived many illnesses and injuries, starting at age 12, when she fell off a horse. But in the end, she succumbed at age 79 to heart disease, the leading killer of women in the world. According to USA Today, she had at least 20 major operations, including surgery to remove a brain tumor in 1997, and nearly died from a bout with pneumonia in 1990. She called herself “a survivor, a living example of what people can go through and survive.” After a bout of congestive heart failure in 2009, she had surgery to repair a leaky heart valve. Health is the link that unites us all. Regardless of status or ethnicity, our health is our most precious asset. Ms. Taylor was always very candid about her health issues, many of which millions can relate to. How many celebrities do you see that are using their platforms to share their own health stories? In many ways, health issues and body flaws are often hidden or surgically reconstructed in order to maintain a facade of perfection, which is just not realistic and does such a great disservice to others. I respect Elizabeth Taylor for being such a leader in the health arena – as an AIDS advocate and by sharing her own health struggles. I am sure that it helped to endear many.

RIP Elizabeth Taylor. You will be missed.

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