QUICK quiz: off the top of your head, name six famous female role models alive today.
Hmmm. I’m waiting.
OK, let’s make it easier. How about three?
I’m still here. Not easy, is it?
Well, I have an advantage in that I’ve given this some thought and came up with the following: prodemocracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, Oprah Winfrey, Governor-General Quentin Bryce, politician Penny Wong, TV host Ellen DeGeneres and US first lady Michelle Obama. And on Valentine’s Day, I was reminded of another name that most definitely deserves a place high on this list — Magda Szubanski.
I defy anyone who watched the lady come out on Channel Ten’s The Project not to have been moved. But why had this admirable woman felt the need to protect her sexuality from the public for fear of alienation in this, the year 2012?
I couldn’t care less who Magda sleeps with. Having had the privilege of interviewing her numerous times for The Australian Women’s Weekly over the past few years, the question never made it on to my list. I’d heard whispers but it seemed as important as asking whether she can roll her R’s or favours her left hand. Care factor: zero.
You see, we always had more important things to talk about; real, profound and often painful subjects delving into the dark recesses of human nature. Magda sobbed as she recalled the horror of facing a staircase she couldn’t climb. The everyday indignities her weight caused and the unbearable emotional toll they took. The fact she had been slowly killing herself with food.
I now regret not asking about gay marriage rights. But Magda had already given so much of herself, confronting her weight demons. Surely she had given enough?
Looking back, I underestimated the capacity of Magda’s big heart. On Tuesday, she proved that to me — delightfully so.
And so, in case you still haven’t put Magda on your inspiring women list, here are 12 reasons why she’s staying on mine:
1. She came out for a reason — not because of pressure from the gay, lesbian and transgender world but because she believes in equal rights.
2. She embraces grey. In the often political world defining sexuality, Magda refuses to be black and white. She allows an element of shade.
3. She’s not pressuring others to come out. She implores everyone to be proud of their sexuality, but says if gays don’t feel ‘‘ safe and supported’’ , then it may not be appropriate at this time and place in their lives.
4. She points out that the fight for equality isn’t just the gay community’s : heterosexuals have just as big a role. Her argument is for equal rights, regardless of sexuality.
5. She was honest about her weight loss. She never said Jenny Craig was the complete answer, despite being paid to endorse the company. She stressed the program provided great tools, advice and support but that the issue of obesity was complex, longterm and particular to each individual .
6. She has never wanted to be a size zero — ‘‘ As long as my basic health parameters are sound, I’m happy.’’ I have interviewed a lot of female celebrities over the years and, believe me, this is a rarity.
7. She embraced unflattering photos. When she was captured by paparazzi enjoying a dip at Bondi, she declared: ‘‘ I actually love the beach photos … I think it’s great to be photographed the way I am. My body shape is very normal for an awful lot of people. I am what I am and I’m not ashamed to be so.’’
8. She is not afraid to cry. When her emotions come up, she lets them out and doesn’t apologise for doing so. In a country dealing with depression in epidemic proportions, it’s an example worth following.
9. She hasn’t forgotten where she’s been: ‘‘ I’ll never forget what it’s like to be ostracised and how deep and dark that feeling of being trapped in your own body can be.’’
10. She doesn’t gloat about her own weight-loss success: ‘‘ Everyone has their own journey and their own set of obstacles and I’m lucky enough that I had certain resources — emotional , mental and financial — to find my way out. For some, the issue may be too deep and they may never get out. I want those people to feel as good about themselves as they can.’’
11. She allows herself to fail: ‘‘ Yes, of course, I will [fail], but I will get up again.’’ If only we could all be as forgiving on ourselves.
12. She is the real deal. I was recently asked how I would like to be described on my tombstone and the word that first came to mind was authentic. In Magda’s case, I reckon that’s a given.
Wendy Squires is a journalist, editor and author. She writes regularly for Forum.
Copyright © 2012 Fairfax Media