Review: Gracefully, by Valerie Ramsay

A word to the wise from a wise old broad.

GracefullyGracefully is a book written by Ford model Valerie Ramsay and her daughter Heather Hummel.

Ramsay, aged 68 when she wrote the book, spent most of her adult life as a full-time mother of a large brood of children. She only went to work in her 50s, then became a model at 63 and ended up working for Ford – one of the world’s leading model agencies.

The first time I read this book, I found it irritating, so I laid it aside to see if I liked it better when I was in a better mood. And I did.

Ramsay, it is true, might be an easy person to dislike. She comes from a wealthy background, has suffered only minor tribulations and spent many years living in a safe and protected community on-campus, courtesy of her husband’s job. She was lucky in love at an early age, has had a long and happy marriage, and is fortunate enough to be tall, slim and beautiful so that she finally gained the modelling career she had secretly craved. Such things are not given to most of us. 

But anyone who can carry on working through the diagnoses of a broken ankle, uterine cancer and heart failure within a few days of each other clearly has some fighting spirit, and for all her moneyed background, her childhood clearly held the kind of crushing loneliness that makes madwomen of most public-school educated people I know. Nor does any long marriage survive without a deal of compromise and human understanding. 

British readers might find this book very American – very cheerleaderish and peppy in the way that we snarky old Europeans find irritating in our more naive and enthusiastic cousins.  But Ramsay’s zest for life is very catching, and her understanding of her husband, her kids, the people she’s worked with certainly bears watching.

Much of the book is surprisingly spiritual in approach – dealing with ageing, coping with one’s fears about lack of education and work experience, and the power (heavily emphasised) of positive thinking. There are also sections on dress, makeup, keeping sexuality alive and a very good one on exercise that are well worth reading – it’s true that you could get many of these from a magazine, but really, who cuts out and keeps them? 

Ramsay’s experience of life is her own, and the book reflects that. She is not telling anyone else how to live, only how she has coped with the things that life has thrown at her. You may find her life too different from your own to make this book a worthwhile read, but it is honestly written and honestly meant, and the careful reader will find much to cogitate over.


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