As we cautiously step into the first few days of 2022, the world is still mourning the loss of our last Golden Girl, Betty White, who died on New Year’s Eve at the age of 99.
Over the past 48 hours, I’ve read articles and Instagram tributes and am heartened (although not surprised) to see all the positive memories and glowing words about a woman who spent decades making us laugh and fall in love with her.
But I also learned that a quote that’s so often attributed to the actress and animal rights advocate—a quote that I’ve seen shared countless times on social media over the years, and especially in the past few days—never actually came from her.
“Why do people say ‘grow some balls’? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.”
According to a 2011 interview with White in The Guardian, when asked about this quote, the TV personality stated:
“That’s what I hate about Facebook and the internet. They can say you said anything. I never would have said that. I’d never say that in a million years.”
After reading that, I fell in love with her a little more. She was who she was, and she made no apologies about it.
As I continued to read more about her, I came across so many real quotes from her that struck a chord with me—wise words that perfectly explain why she was so beloved and respected by so many for so long:
>> Betty White on Love:
During an interview with Anderson Cooper when asked why she never remarried after the death of her third husband, game show host Allen Ludden, who died of cancer in 1981, White said:
“I had the love of my life. If you’ve had the best who needs the rest?”
>> Betty White on Motherhood:
While White never had biological children of her own, she become stepmom to Ludden’s three children after they married in 1963 and considered herself “blessed” to have them in her life.
When asked during a 2012 interview if she regretted her choice, White said:
“No, I’ve never regretted it. I’m so compulsive about stuff, I know if I had ever gotten pregnant, of course, that would have been my whole focus. But I didn’t choose to have children because I’m focused on my career. And I just don’t think as compulsive as I am that I could manage both.”
>> Betty White on Dying:
While none of us were ready to lose her, White wasn’t someone who feared death. In a 2012 interview with New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, White recounted how her mother’s view on death influenced her own:
“My mother had a wonderful approach to death. She always thought of it as—she said, ‘We know we have managed to find out almost anything that exists, but nobody knows…what happens at that moment when it’s over.’ And she said, ‘It’s the one secret that we don’t know.’ So whenever we would lose somebody very close and very dear, she would always say, ‘Well, now he knows the secret.’ And it took the curse off of it somehow.”
If we take anything from White’s passing, but more importantly her living, it should be to create our lives on our own terms and choose what works for us (as long as we’re not hurting others).
I’m a big believer in the idea that we can have it all—just not always at the same time or with the same level of satisfaction. There will always be a give and take, and we will often find that what “having it all” means in our 20s or 30s looks very different from what “having it all” means as we get older.
So we need to be able to adjust, to let go, to constantly redefine what happiness and success look like for us at every moment.
White lived this fully, whether it was opening herself up to love until she found the right one, accepting what her version of motherhood looked like, redefining her career over multiple decades and through changes in the entertainment industry, or fully embracing the unknown in both her life and her death.
I can’t think of a better legacy to leave the world with after almost 100 years of life.
How blessed we all were to have her.