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9 Incredible Women on the lessons they’ve learned from their mothers

Ahead of Mother’s Day in many countries around the world, we asked nine pioneering women from across the creative industries to share the advice their mothers and grandmothers have passed down – and reflect on how that has shaped who they are

Ashley Graham, model and entrepreneur

“My mother still tells me to ‘appreciate your body where it is today, because in 10 years it’s going to be different. It’s going to feel different. It’s going to look different. Then, in another 10 years, it’s going to look and feel different again’. It’s so nice to be able to have her close because she is such a great reminder of that. She’s the reason I will not pick apart my body. It would be so easy to stand in front of the mirror and smack my lower belly fat that I didn’t have before, or jiggle my arms that weren’t so jiggly before pregnancy. But it’s really about knowing my affirmations and knowing what my mother has instilled in me.”

My mother still tells me to ‘appreciate your body where it is today, because in 10 years it’s going to be different. It’s going to feel different. It’s going to look different’

Simone Rocha, designer

“I have learned so much from my mother; too many things to put down on the page. But in my creative life she has taught me, shown me and shared with me [her] knowledge, experience and research from all different mediums: art, literature, food, history, and antiques. And I still learn from her every day.”

In my creative life she has taught me, shown me and shared with me [her] knowledge, experience and research from all different mediums

Bolu Babalola, author

“My mother is the spine around which my life twines, and from which I have grown from. Words are paltry descriptors for her, but I’ll try… She is not ‘nice’ in that bland way in which one can be swayed either way with no defining characteristic. She is funny, and warm, and kind (so very, very kind) and generous and sharp and no-nonsense and tough and tender. She would go to extreme lengths to support and care for people. She is a teacher, but one whose care goes beyond the classroom; whose students pop in after school for advice or assistance; whose ex-students message me long after they have left to pass on their gratitude for helping them with not just their educational life, but with their confidence, their worth, their ambitions. I feel immensely blessed to have been given that gift constantly, as her daughter. My confidence is absolutely hinged on the lessons my mother taught me; my attitude towards people built on the reflection, ‘What would she do?’. She told me that there is integrity in kindness and self-love, too, and that those things are more important than being liked. ‘What is being liked if you’re not true to yourself?’ she would say. But it is administered with a grace and a love of people. As long as I strive towards that, I’ll be OK.”

Love in Color: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold by Bolu Babalola is out now

My confidence is absolutely hinged on the lessons my mother taught me; my attitude towards people built on the reflection, ‘What would she do?’

Cecilie Bahnsen, designer

“My grandmother was my first introduction to style and crafts. She was such a beautiful and stylish lady. I have always loved drawing, sewing, crochet and embroidery. We would spend the afternoons after school working on different craft projects together. It is still very much my meditation. When I think of it, my first fashion memory is embroidering and knitting with my grandmother in our summer house – she inspired me to work with my hands and she created the most beautiful and intricate flower embroideries. She used to make my sister and I matching dresses for school events or dance classes. I think this sisterhood way of dressing always inspires the collections, and the mood of the shoots and shows; this idea of having the girls move in unity.”

We would spend the afternoons after school working on different craft projects together. It is still very much my meditation. When I think of it, my first fashion memory is embroidering and knitting with my grandmother

Vanessa Kirby, actor

“My mother is kindness embodied. She is selflessly, beautifully kind and I’m so grateful for that quality. I hope I can carry that mantle like she has because, regardless of any situation, she always chooses to be kind first – and I really want to live by that. It’s not even noble; it’s a very humble way to live and I can’t think of one better quality in a person.”

I hope I can carry that mantle like she has because, regardless of any situation, she always chooses to be kind first – and I really want to live by that

Jessie Cave, actor, writer and illustrator

“My mother has taught me to embrace the chaos of parenthood and to be adaptable. Each morning she gets up and tries her best and has continuously supported my work and enabled me to do so, even when it feels like it’s impossible and there is no point. She encourages me to be grateful for every – and any – opportunity and is always so excited for me, which makes me feel safe and ready to take on new things.”

Jessie Cave’s book, Sunset, will be released on June 24

She encourages me to be grateful for every – and any – opportunity and is always so excited for me, which makes me feel safe

Bernardine Evaristo, author

“When I think of my mother, a white woman, I think of how she was determined to make a life for herself on her own terms. Her decision to marry my father, a Black Nigerian, in 1954, was in spite of fierce opposition from her own mother and many of her relatives. But my mother would not bow to pressure, and married my father because she loved him. Simple. She was stubborn, you see – a trait that continues through to this day, even now that she is in her late eighties. I see this as an admirable quality when utilized wisely, and I inherited it from my mother. My stubbornness manifests in a single-minded determination to pursue the life I want to lead and to reach the goals of my aspiration, in spite of the obstacles I have faced and in spite of people not sharing my vision. Stubbornness means that you stick at your ambition forever because you don’t believe in giving up, and because you don’t give up you stay in the game – and then one day it might just be your turn to shine.”

Her decision to marry my father, a Black Nigerian, in 1954, was in spite of fierce opposition from her own mother and many of her relatives. But my mother would not bow to pressure

Jessie Mei Li, actor

“I was quite little when my mum first told me, ‘When children at school are being nasty, it’s often because someone is being nasty to them. So, you should be kind to them, even if they’ve hurt your feelings, because after a while they’ll start being kind too’. And that really stuck with me. By her example, I learned the importance of finding the goodness in people – it’s always there if you take the time to look for it. I’m so grateful to have been raised by such a compassionate, patient, yet strong woman.”

Jessie Mei Li appears in Shadow and Bone on Netflix now

By her example, I learned the importance of finding the goodness in people – it’s always there if you take the time to look for it

Claire Thomson-Jonville, creative director and brand consultant

“My mother gave me confidence. It’s been the single most valuable lesson I’ve learned. When you have confidence you can do anything. It’s a natural feeling of positivity. She gave me the courage to follow my instincts. It took me a while to realize that not everyone feels that way. There will be haters and negative people, but that inner confidence just keeps you driving forward. I’m an extremely positive person, always looking for the good. That’s a quality my mother instilled in me, and I strive to pass on to my children: feeling comfortable with who you are and recognizing your self-worth. I feel so grateful that she brought me up that way.”

My mother gave me confidence. It’s been the single most valuable lesson I’ve learned. When you have confidence you can do anything

The people featured in this story are not associated with NET-A-PORTER and do not endorse it or the products shown