About the Author
Jennifer L. Scott, the author of Lessons from Madame Chic, is a contributing writer for Huffington Post Style. Her fine living blog, the Daily Connoisseur (dailyconnoisseur.com), has had over one million visitors.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Amy Rubinate has narrated over 140 audiobooks and has won multiple AudioFile Earphones Awards. She has a degree in oral interpretation of literature and has won national awards for poetry reading. Amy has also narrated many interactive children's books and provided character voices for toys and video games.
Polish Your Poise with Madame Chic Chapter 1
MADAME CHIC KNEW THE POWER OF POISE
Madame Chic, my host mother as a study abroad student in Paris, looked presentable and elegant on a daily basis. It was her default way of being. When she was in the kitchen preparing breakfast in her dressing gown, she had a calm contentedness. Every day, whether at home or in the outside world, she presented herself beautifully, with flattering clothes; natural, age-appropriate makeup; and excellent grooming. She had great posture that seemed to come naturally to her. She was well-spoken and highly intelligent. She cultivated her love of cooking to an art and made our nightly dinners very elegant affairs in everything from how she set her table to how she presented the food. She had a very pleasant demeanor and was an advocate for etiquette and manners, which was evident in the way her entire family behaved. Madame Chic was a beautiful example of a poised and powerful woman.
I had never really thought much about poise before living in Paris. I was a twenty-year-old California girl who loved cutoff shorts, flip-flops, and snacking all day long. Self-discipline seemed like something boring I never wanted to have. Observing formal traditions seemed stuffy. As far as etiquette and manners went, there was just too much to remember! But all of my perceptions changed after living in Paris. Madame Chic helped me see myself in a new way. Observing what a passionate and fulfilling life she and her family led, I became open to the concept of everyday elegance. I allowed myself to believe that even this casual California girl could be graceful. I began to see that I could actually have style and learn to express myself beautifully, whether through speech or action. I learned that I too could have poise.
5 CHARACTERISTICS OF POISE
1. Confidence: Feeling comfortable in your own skin; a genuine self-assurance.
2. Composure: Keeping a positive perspective while maintaining calm self-possession.
3. Compassion: Thinking of others and practicing selflessness.
4. Presentation: Appropriately and stylishly dressed, with good posture.
5. Present: Poised people live passionately in the present moment.
Poise is defined as a graceful and elegant bearing. Madame Chic’s graceful and elegant bearing certainly laid the foundation for the gracious way she lived, but it was allowing this grace and this elegance to guide every choice she made throughout the day that truly solidified her poise.
Here’s the good news: she’s not the only Madame Chic in the world. There are millions more. You’ve probably seen them. The woman who is stylish, self-assured, grounded, and poised. The woman who presents herself with grace and dignity, speaks elegantly, who lives every day as though it were a special gift. The woman with the air of mystery who cultivates her mind and seeks out the arts. The woman with the lovely home, who is not a slave to shopping. The woman who walks through her day as though she knows a delicious secret.
We are all capable of living with style, grace, and elegance. It doesn’t matter what your past was like. It doesn’t matter how you grew up. It doesn’t matter how you behaved yesterday or even in the last hour. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. It doesn’t matter what the people in your family live like. It doesn’t matter if your circle of friends are not interested in this subject. It doesn’t matter if your family doesn’t understand you. The only thing that matters is that we are all capable of change—of transformation. No one is born a Madame Chic. Dignity, grace, style, and elegance are all learned behaviors. Anyone can cultivate these attributes. It doesn’t matter who you are or how hopeless your situation may seem. You can elevate your life with poise.
Poise has always been a subject of fascination in the entertainment world. Take George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion or the musical adaptation, My Fair Lady. Take Gigi, Pretty Woman, The Princess Diaries, and Sabrina. We love a good transformation story. We love watching the caterpillar turn into the butterfly. Why do we love this story? Because deep down we believe that we are all capable of a beautiful transformation, and that gives us hope. We don’t have to say, “I wish I could be like that,” or “Too bad I’m just not that way.” No. We can be inspired and say, “If she can do it, so can I.”
There is nothing more powerful than a changed mind. The moment you change your mind and decide you’d like to pay more attention to your appearance, you ignite that power. Once you change your mind and decide you’d like to conquer shyness; when you decide to turn your smartphone off for a while; when you catch a glimpse of yourself in a store window and decide you want to stop slouching; when you decide you’d like to remain levelheaded during disagreements; when you decide you’d like to have confidence when presenting your next pitch at work; when you change your mind and decide to clean up your language—amazing things can happen.
A voice in your head will try to stop this transformation. It will make you question yourself: “Who do you think you are?” “You are a phony.” “You are a fraud.” “People are going to think you’re pretentious.” “You are going to lose your friends.” “Everyone is going to think you are stuck-up.” “No one is going to like you anymore.”
Pay no attention to this voice. You have made up your mind to be your own version of Madame Chic. You will stand out with your grace, with your elegance, with your chicness, with your poise—for poise is a very powerful thing, indeed.
Poise is silent. It is intangible. It is under the surface. It is mysterious, but we intuitively know when someone has it. There is something attractive about that person. If you meet a poised person, her confidence and friendliness put you at ease. Being poised is not about being a robotic Stepford wife who looks perfect and acts perfect and doesn’t show emotion. Being poised is being aware of oneself and one’s surroundings and being flexible and adaptable.
This is not to say that the poised person never gets flustered, or that the poised person never loses her temper. This is not to say that the poised person never steps out of line. But the poised person is self-aware. She is driven by faith, inner peace, and high standards. These are the tools she uses to get through any situation in life.
This book discusses cultivating poise rather than attaining or acquiring it. This is because poise is something that one works toward for the rest of one’s life. Poise isn’t something you can simply acquire like an item you buy in a shop and then never think about again. We’ve all heard that expression “money can’t buy class.” Poise, also known as class, is not something you can acquire. It’s something you practice on a daily basis. Poise as a way of life is an art form. Just as an artist strives to perfect her art throughout her life, we will work on our poise.
Not So Poised
Has good posture
Makes eye contact
Has shifty eyes
Is dressed presentably
Is sloppily dressed
Is well groomed
Needs to wash hair
Is quick to argue
Is well mannered
Is a good listener
Would rather talk than listen
Has an ordered home life
Has a chaotic home life
Is kind and forgiving
Is argumentative and aggressive
Maintains an air of mystery
Shares life story on Facebook every day
Accepts compliments graciously
Puts screen time in its place
Addicted to the smartphone
Uses clean language
Cultivates her mind
Is done with learning
Seeks out the arts
Is content with reality TV marathons
Savors her food
Eats on the run
Takes pride in everything she does
Sees what she can get out of a situation
Savors the good times
Waits for the other shoe to drop
Keeps the faith in difficult times
Believes the worst
This is not to say that when you cultivate poise you handle every situation that comes your way with calm perfection. No. Just when you think you’ve mastered the art of poise, something unexpected will happen that will test you. A driver will cut you off on the road, and, overcome with rage, you might shout an obscenity and shake your fist out the window. These things happen. But the key is you will catch yourself. And because you catch yourself, you might choose a different response next time. Poise is keeping your wits about you so that when you have a negative experience, you can learn from it and handle the situation better next time.
You can cultivate poise from the moment you wake up until the moment you sleep. You can choose good posture when you’re exhausted and feel like slumping over. You can pause before snapping at your spouse. You can remain firm when teaching your children common courtesy. You can take the high road when a coworker makes a snide comment. You can avoid the office lunchtime gossip session. You can have the self-respect to say no when someone is taking advantage of you. You can accept a compliment graciously. You can be a powerful role model for your children, your family, and the people in your community. You realize that you are a significant part of society and that your poise has an impact. You can do all of this and still enjoy your life, because this challenge is fun! Poise adds vitality to your life, and that is attractive.
The Scarcity of Poise
You can see that poise is scarce if you step out in public. But you might have to adjust your thinking first. Practicing poise is a forgotten art, and therefore we take its absence for granted. Is it really okay for your neighbor to ignore you as you pass each other on the sidewalk, or for a person to walk up to a store clerk and shout out a question without greeting the clerk first? What do you think when you hear people cursing loudly on their cell phones while they wait for the bus or see someone walk around in public sloppily dressed, with posture to match? Most people today have forgotten about poise. It’s not their fault necessarily. They might not have had good role models or perhaps they weren’t introduced to the concept. Society certainly doesn’t help. The celebrities who pass as role models do little to provide inspiration.
We used to have high standards of behavior for those in entertainment, for example. During the golden age of Hollywood you would never have seen people grinding in thong underwear on stage at an awards show. Movie and television stars now strip down to their underwear or beyond for magazine spreads. Pop stars wear skimpy bathing suits and writhe and jiggle their oiled up backsides as close to the camera as possible. Can you imagine Audrey Hepburn’s reaction if she saw such a thing? The scary thing is, we’ve gotten used to it.
And if we’ve gotten used to it, just think about our children, who have known nothing else. This vulgarity is the new normal. So while many people might think that this book is just a sweet little etiquette book, I urge you to take its contents seriously. Because the principles discussed in this book just might save our society from slipping into the oblivion of crassness.
While you may feel a bit hopeless right about now about the scarcity of poise in our society (especially after envisioning Audrey Hepburn’s reaction to twerking), I am here to tell you that there is hope.
The Commodity of Poise
Because poise is scarce, it is also a commodity. A commodity is described in the dictionary as “a useful and valuable thing.” Poise is certainly useful. You’d be surprised by the doors that will open for you when you employ even just a little bit of poise. People will want to help you. You’ll leave a good impression at job interviews. You will attract the right kind of romantic partner. You’ll be treated with respect. Poise is useful.
And because it’s so useful, it is also valuable. Getting the job you want or the promotion you’ve longed for is valuable. Attracting high-quality people into your life is valuable. Receiving help from others is valuable. These things elevate the quality of your life. When you practice cultivating poise on a daily basis, this valuable commodity will enrich your life.
That is not to say that you should cultivate poise to see what you can get out of the deal. No, you should commit to cultivating poise because you long to make a change in your life; because you are ready to reach your full potential; because you no longer wish to go through your life looking as if you don’t care about yourself, avoiding real connections with people and suffering from insecurities. You should cultivate poise because this is your one life and you are finally ready to bloom. You are ready to be present and to live fully. You are ready to adorn the amazing body you’ve been given, in whatever shape you’re in, with clothes that express your true style. You’re ready to enhance your beauty by doing something special with your hair or applying natural makeup. You’re ready to stand straight as you walk down the sidewalk. You’re ready to make eye contact with the next person you have a conversation with. You’re ready for whatever conflict comes your way and aren’t afraid of confrontation. You’re ready to feel chic. You’re ready for inner peace. You’re ready for poise.
If all of this sounds enticing but impossible, don’t worry. I felt the same way as an awkward student in the home of Madame Chic. One thing that has helped me tremendously is observing role models, whether fictional or real.
One has to look hard to find good role models these days. Behaviors that were considered shocking in the past are now considered completely normal. It used to be that you could watch a movie or television show and be inspired by the poise and inherent elegance of the stars. Take any film with Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, or Cary Grant. Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh. The characters these actors played had poise, and their poise was representative of the time. Who could forget how Grace Kelly’s Margot Wendice responded when she was on trial in Dial M for Murder? Or how Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly maintained poise even throughout a case of the mean reds in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? What about Cary Grant’s Johnnie Aysgarth’s elegant handling of money woes in Suspicion? For anyone who is not familiar with these actors or their classic films, I suggest taking a night or two each month to watch one of them. You’ll be charmed by the stars’ mannerisms, the way they dress and the way they react to stressful situations. Their behaviors might seem antiquated to you, but they don’t have to be.
In addition to finding role models in classic films, you can also find them in today’s society and entertainment. It’s not so hard to spot them. People with poise shine like gems, and we become fascinated with them. The Duchess of Cambridge is a prime example. Why is the world so enamored with the future Queen of England? It is because she is a young person with poise. She is well...
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