On Tuesday night I had the extraordinary pleasure of hearing the one and only (and my personal favorite designer) Diane Von Furstenberg speak at the Harris Center’s Public Forum at Harvard Business School. While the Harris Center Forum is typically a discussion about the fashion industry, body image and the resulting eating disorders it can produce, Diane’s speech was more about female empowerment rather than the shrinking waist sizes of runway models. While at first this bothered me, with eating disorders being a very personal cause for me, once she started speaking about her life and career I was completely enraptured. And empowered. And that sense of empowerment is one of the best ways to begin mitigating the self-mutilating thoughts and behaviors of an eating disorder. I had to share with you the experience of hearing Diane speak in person!
Diane’s life story is a phenomenal one (I ordered her biography on Amazon yesterday). Her outlook and approach to life was strongly formed early on by her mother, who was a survivor or Auschwitz. Even when brutally abused to the edge of death, she never let her captors make her feel like a victim and she told Diane something that she still repeats to herself today- “Fear is not an option. Ever.” So when Diane told her mother she was scared of the dark when she was little, she had locked her in a dark closet for 10 minutes. She joked with the audience (chock full of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals) that this story was not exactly PC, but that after a few minutes in that closet, not only was it no longer dark, but she was no longer afraid. And that experience stuck with her for her whole life. I am always scared of things- making life decisions, my health, living up to my potential- but when I consider that story, that when you embrace your fear and sit with it, all of the sudden it no longer looks so scary it helps me immensely.
But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t understand that all women struggle with self confidence and fear. She said something that really hit home with me, which was that when you are somewhere and see a woman across the room who you think has it all together and is so confident and beautiful and who makes you feel insecure about yourself, remember that to someone else YOU are the other woman across the room. Brilliant! I feel this way all the time, always comparing myself to other women who seem to have it all together or have a different kind of life that I see as “better” or “more meaningful” than mine. But I need to remember that to another woman somewhere, perhaps my life seems charmed and to be grateful for what I have. As women I think we are quietly but ferociously competitive with each other and easily get down when we’re feeling like we aren’t able to conquer everything. As long as we are doing our best we need to be at peace with where we are in life, and if we desire something else then do everything in our power to try for it!
As she stood up at the podium, I kept thinking how beautiful she was- not just her physical being, but her poise, attitude and life itself. Clearly she has not had any “work” done, and wears very little makeup and lets her hair be frizzy and wild, and yet at 62 she looks phenomenal. Six weeks ago she got in a skiing accident in which her nose was broken and face damaged and her friends said it would be a great time to get a little face lift without anyone knowing. She said she looked at her friend and said “I don’t want a new face, I like my OLD face!” I loved this! When women are running to their dermatologists to be pulled, plumped and carved in their 20’s and 30’s, this woman’s attitude was so refreshing! Health is beauty, she said, and while I have some argument for her considering the painfully thin girls that walked her runway this season, I will embrace her attitude for myself.
She makes no bones about having always wanted to be an independent woman. One who makes her own money, pays her own bills, has children or doesn’t, is married or not, but loves her career, is confident and happy and afraid of nothing. She said she became the exact woman she always wanted to be through fashion and designs her clothing with that woman in mind. As I’ve said many, many times over- the wrap dress is my favorite article of clothing I own. If I was sent to an island I would bring my favorite leopard wrap dress, my computer and some sunscreen. Why on earth would I bring a wrap dress to an island populated by only me? Because the wrap dress has an honest to God power about it-an uncanny ability to turn a “fat day” into a sexy one and somehow manage to instill a sense of power and confidence while also making you really glad to be a woman. This is why I never hesitate to spend $300+ on one, because not only do they remain the most worn articles of clothing in my closet for years and years (I still wear my first from 2003) but they ALWAYS makes me feel pretty. And as I found out, this feeling was the exact one Diane wanted the dress to instill in women with that article of clothing. It’s as if when you slip on that slinky fabric, her intentions envelop you and seeps into your being.
wrap dresses currently available (hey stripey, you’re coming home with mama)
I have to say, Diane’s speech truly had me ready to kick open the door of that auditorium, swath myself in a wrap dress and karate chop my way through life. A silk jersey swathed ninja ready to fight the good fight and turn lemons into lemonade (with a shot of vodka for good measure). She loves being a woman. Loves creating beautiful clothing for women and supports causes that empower women to be forces to be reckoned with. She is an icon, a mother, a boss, a wife, a philanthropist and an artist- and when I grow up, I want to be just like her.
MORE DVF GOODNESS:
Diane’s 10 Rules to Live by (from Elle Magazine)
- Trust yourself. “The secret to feeling attractive, and to being attractive, is the confidence that comes from knowing who you are and what you believe in.”
- Accept the passage of time. “The older you get, the more you should learn to love life and appreciate the beauty that comes with age.”
- Document your days. “Carry a camera and create an inspiring visual diary of your life.”
- Your suitcase symbolizes your life. “The best way to know a woman is to open her luggage. If she knows how to pack well, it means she understands , and cherishes, how to live a simplified life.”
- Fashionable friends. “Choose fashions that make you happy. I hope the clothes I design will become my clients’ best friends. That way, when they open their closets, they will always encounter someone special.”
- Dress your personality. “Always choose styles that also accentuate your personality. Don’t use fashion to try and project a different persona. Authenticity is key.”
- Use your feminine power. “My mother taught me that being a woman is a privilege because the world revolves around us! It is a precious gift, and its power should be used in a subtle and respectful way.”
- Your handbag is your guide. “Before leaving home, check your agenda and organize your bag according to what you have to do that day. Keeping everything in order makes life easier.”
- Indulge yourself. “If you are like me, and don’t want to resort to Botox, book regular massages. I’m sure it helps to keep everything firm and in it’s place!”
- Lead a balanced life. “The best regimen is to keep moving! Never stop working, travelling and seeking adventure. Drink plenty of water, limit alcohol and sugar and get to your yoga class!”
Diane has floor to ceiling bookshelves! With library ladders! As if I could worship her more!!!!