MODEL CITIZENS MAGAZINE WOMAN OF THE YEAR 2021, LIDIA SZCZEPANOWSKI.
Did you ever notice how some people naturally seem to shine and make great friends? They’re well-liked and seem to light up a room just by walking into it, and everyone wants to be around them. You catch yourself pausing for a moment and wondering what is their secret? What gives them their superpowers of charisma, confidence, and positive energy?
If there was ever a person who possessed the qualities described above it is Lidia Szczepanowski, Esq., Model Citizen’s 2021 Woman of the Year. She inspires and brings hope to others the way a beacon of light guides ships at night. Lidia exemplifies the real-life embodiment of the words success, independence, entrepreneurship, and glamour and she does so with humility, integrity, and passion. Lidia acquired a plethora of knowledge over the years as a litigation and business development attorney, business strategist, entrepreneur, black belt in karate, and international spokesmodel. More importantly, despite her extraordinarily busy schedule, she has always been most passionate about “giving back” through proactive “hands-on” participation in philanthropy and philanthropic activities.
Philanthropy and playing an active role in the improvement of the human condition have long been Lidia’s most consuming motivations. In 2007, she founded the National Organization for Women’s Safety Awareness (NOWSA), a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit that helps raise awareness about the frequency of sexual assault and other forms of violence and harassment against women and teens in our society and initiates calls to action that help stop it. The charity does this by focusing on education and advocating for social change through educational outreach programs, awareness initiatives, and events.
In 2020, NOWSA collaborated with Tori Belle Cosmetics to raise money for individuals who were severely financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, they raised over $87,000, every penny of which was mailed directly to those in need throughout the country. Despite spending countless hours helping to create and promote the fundraisers, then hand-writing hundreds of checks and mailing them to the recipients, Lidia never asked for anything in return. Indeed, Lidia has never asked for nor received any compensation, fees, or monies for the time and services she has dedicated, not only to the NOWSA but to the multitude of charities and organizations she has volunteered at over the decades. Lidia feels very strongly about giving 100% of the funds she helps raise to the people who need it, something she knows does not always happen. “There is nothing more important in the world than doing whatever you can to make a positive difference in the life of someone else,” says Lidia.
Lidia has spent years volunteering her time, conducting celebrity and other interviews, presenting women’s safety awareness and other seminars, emceeing and speaking at fundraisers and other events including the Long Island Hospitality Ball benefiting the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Foundation, PinkTie.org, Long Island Beauty Ball presented by Mondays at Racine’s, Long Beach International Film Festival, New York Sportscene Children’s Foundation, Hofstra University, St. John’s School of Law, Molloy College, Nassau Suffolk Dental Societies, National Association of Women Business Owners, Girl Scouts, just to name a few.
Lidia is also the owner of Everything Lidia, Inc., a multi-platform luxe lifestyle enterprise that celebrates smart, stylish, stiletto-clad women & all their fabulousness. The company is devoted to providing practical and thought-provoking information, insights, and ideas through seminars, speaking engagements, social and other media offerings, and products which encourage women to live even more successful, passionate, fulfilling, confident, safe, and glamorous lives. Through this company, Lidia recently launched the award-winning SCULPTURA® [Sculpt-It-Your-Way] Shapewear clothing line which is a physical manifestation of the decades of unique experiences and useful information Lidia picked up along the way.
Lidia’s shortlist of accolades is super impressive but what is even more remarkable is how she overcame challenges in the face of adversity and learned how to make some kick-ass lemonade out of the lemons she was given.
She began her journey as the daughter of two Polish immigrants, growing up in a small cape-cod-style house in Huntington Station, New York. Lidia’s father was a muscular, Elvis Presley look-alike construction worker and her mother a blue-eyed brunette beauty who, according to Lidia’s dad, was more stunning than Elizabeth Taylor. The central theme that was indoctrinated into every family member was that a person’s value was based almost exclusively on looks, smarts, athleticism, and money. If you had these things, you were golden. You would be happy.
Lidia’s childhood experiences can best be described as “unique”. When she was a little girl, Lidia remembers how her dad slaughtered and butchered their pet rabbit, not an unusual event in light of the fact that her father was raised on a rabbit farm in Poland. Of course, the meat was then cooked by her mother into a “Hasenpfeffer” type stew for the family. Aside from Lidia’s regular chores which included cooking, cleaning, and sewing, she was also responsible for other household obligations like digging a large hole in the backyard and burying fish entrails that were left over after her dad filleted the fish he caught that day.
Lidia and her two brothers also painted the house, chopped wood for the wood-burning stove, and went clamming during low tide in the mud using either fingers or a pitchfork. They also collected oysters and mussels, dug sandworms, bloodworms, and tapeworms for bait, caught eels using a large net attached to two wooden poles while wading with crabs in a black mud hole, with horse flies the size of 747s bit them in the back and shoulders. They trapped lobsters and caught every kind of local fish imaginable in the Long Island Sound. This is what allowed them to bond and as with most immigrant parents became the way children contributed to their own household and the success of their family.
When Lidia was 13, she and her family took a vacation to their country of origin. Lidia and her two brothers were excited to finally meet their paternal grandfather and several aunts, uncles, and cousins for the first time. Unfortunately, the trip did not turn out to be the happy family reunion that Lidia expected. Sadly, it was during this vacation that Lidia was sexually assaulted by an adult relative. Lidia did not tell anyone for years and she recalls feeling unbelievably embarrassed and ashamed because she felt it was her fault it happened. She lived her teenage years and beyond covering up her body and “intentionally downplaying her beauty” because she did not want to look or feel like she was “asking for it”.
Lidia’s father often voiced his opinion that “children should be seen, not heard” and he believed in corporal punishment. This included traditional striking with a belt, “hands-up” punishment while kneeling, spanking, forced ingestion of cod liver oil, and other acts that were meant to punish misbehaving children. This behaviour was not only her father’s choice of “spare the rod and spoil the child” but a way of life for many Americans in that era before parents knew better.
When asked to describe her thoughts about her atypical childhood, Lidia recited a passage by Charles Dickens from a Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
What does Lidia say is the secret behind her positive outlook, motivation, and overall intoxicating energy despite the trauma and confusion of love and consequences of the result of her childhood? She says it’s “kryptonite”, it’s all about those adverse events in life that most people view negatively. “Most people view these as weaknesses because they can give rise to self-doubt, insecurity, discomfort, and they make one question your self-worth. But the beautiful thing is that once these perceived weaknesses and flaws are discovered, analyzed, processed, and honored, they can develop into your superpowers.” Lidia learned later in life that vulnerability is often the catalyst for living a happy, healthy, and successful life filled with purpose and meaning.
Lidia was proud to share a vulnerable moment in her life that she says was also very liberating. She said, “it was not until I walked out onto a stage in a swimsuit during a beauty pageant at the age of 41 that I was finally able to let go of all the guilt, fear, and shame that I acquired since childhood. That day, I realized I had fallen in love with all my imperfections, and I decided to celebrate, instead of hiding everything about myself. This included my perceived shortcomings, my body, and my true self. This ideology set the framework for my willingness to be open-minded, courageous, creative, compassionate, and authentic. Everyone experiences struggles, but in order to live a happy, fulfilling, and successful life filled with purpose and meaning, we need to believe, really truly believe in our heart and soul, that we are worthy of being loved for being exactly who we are, just the way we are. Our value is not contingent on looking a certain way or behaving and performing well.” As it is commonly now referred to – Living in Gratitude means forgiving and loving unconditionally, cherishing the present, and never allowing ourselves to become a victim again.
Lidia feels strongly that although superpowers are created from within, they can be enhanced in different ways. For example, studies show that wearing certain clothes can affect emotional states. The strong link between clothing and mood states suggests we should put on clothes that we associate with happiness, even when we are feeling low. This phenomenon, also known as “enclothed cognition”, was part of Lidia’s inspiration when she created her SCULPTURA® [Sculpt-It-Your-Way} Shapewear clothing line.
Lidia believes that “when you are wearing beautiful, high-quality, well-fitted and styled clothing, you will not only feel extraordinary, but you are more likely to treat yourself and others better and have more energy and success.” “Just look at Superman’s cape”, she said. “Although he can fly without it, in early versions of his costume, not only did his red cape make him look regal, but it also contained a small hidden pouch where he stored his Clark Kent suit when he was done being super. The cape was functional yet stylish.”
Lidia created SCULPTURA® [Sculpt-It-Your-Way} Shapewear clothing, with the first garment being a stylish little black dress, to honor, respect, and pay tribute to the feminine form while positively changing the wearer’s body image which can, in turn, exert a powerful influence on someone’s self-perception and confidence levels. SCULPTURA®, with its patented customizable features, (the dresses have pockets in the bust and derriere areas that cradle curve-loving accessories) can help anyone look and feel even more empowered, confident, and comfortable.
At the end of the day, Lidia knows it is not about what happened to her that matters. It is about who she is and the person she has become because of, not despite, what happened. Lidia Believes “Our flaws and imperfections are what make us who we are, and we should be proud of and embrace ourselves and love ourselves just as unconditionally as we love others.”