Maya Angelou passed away this week, her absence felt as salt in an open wound across the wide belly of the Internet, just days after a gunman opened fire near Santa Barbara’s college campus, killing six and wounding 13 others. In the tragedy’s wake, the hashtag #yesallwomen began a Twitter firestorm, drawing attention to misogyny and violence against women.

In Angelou’s memory, one of her poems was posted everywhere that phenomenal women—and those with phenomenal potential—might read it. And, I’d like to think it serves as a timely reminder that we, ladies, should remember our worth, love ourselves, and love one another. Listen to her recite this poem below (or read it in its entiretly at the close of this post).

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say #yesallwomen are phenomenal. The problem is, we’re fooled into thinking that physical beauty makes us that way. That’s a lie.

Truth be told, looking at fashion magazines has never bothered me. I understand—and you should too—that, while the Photoshopped models therein may be beautiful, they are flawed because their smoothed out smile lines, diminished pores, and impossibly slim waistlines aren’t real.

And fake is anything but phenomenal.

What does bother me, however, is this frenzy of “normal” women viewing their social media accounts as modeling contracts, with their duckish lips pursed just so, trying so hard for a face like Marilyn Monroe; with bedtime butt shots of black lace panties and high heels in the air (because don’t we all know that’s how a real woman gets comfortable after a long day of highly fulfilling, creative work).

I’m OK with physical beauty being celebrated. I’m OK with sex appeal being lauded. But I’m not OK with us being part of a very big cultural problem. I am not OK with us, as women teaching men that it’s OK TO TREAT US LIKE POSSESSIONS. That it’s OK TO REDUCE OUR VALUE TO THE SUM OF OUR PHYSICAL PARTS.

We’ve launched a Twitter takeover with #yesallwomen, let’s not negate its impact with a few cheap photos that make us no better than mindless, attention-seeking pop culture hags at whom the world laughs and rolls its eyes. Beware your role in perpetuating misogyny by portraying yourselves as a property to be desired and owned, a prize to be won, and a shiny trophy to be displayed.

I do know a good many authentic women. They may not be professional models, but their selfies are as fierce as their willpower, their intelligence as striking as their appearance, and their kindness deserves as many “likes” as their profile pictures. Simply put, they are phenomenal, not because of their abs, rack, or thigh gap—they are phenomenal because they are real.

My closest female friends are accomplished writers, pioneering artists, fearless mountain bikers, and adventurous foodies. They are mothers, grandmothers, human rights advocates, fighters for free speech, denouncers of corrupt politicians, and B.S. callers when it comes to hatred, bullying, and intolerance.

They are the phenomenal women.

I know a woman who, as a substitute for driving, bikes everywhere she needs to go, which sometimes means riding through pouring rain, over icy roads, and amidst maniacal drivers. She’s also a college instructor, a published writer, and an incredible (and generous) cook. Of note: I’ve never see photos of her arse on any social media feed (unless she’s on a bike, and the angle dictated such a shot).

I know a woman in the public eye who fights tirelessly against tired, impotent politicians, to defend the rights of constituents whom she believes deserve a voice. She is also a mother of two, a patron of the arts, and truly one of the nicest women I’ve had the opportunity to meet. Of note: I never see photos of her breasts on Instagram.

I’m going to request, ladies, that you do your fellow female race a favor: take fewer selfies. Love your body, share its beauty, but err on the side of oversharing your knowledge instead. Make it impossible for the world to ignore how phenomenal you are. If you’re wondering where to start, read the writings of Maya Angelou, Amy Poehler, and Erma Bombeck, and let them show you what a phenomenal woman looks like. Read the phenomenal biographies of Amelia Earhart or Sylvia Earle and get inspired. Then ask yourself if an Instagram photo of your duck lips or half naked booty is going to better the world.

(I don’t care how great the filter is, I’ll tell you now: the answer is no.)

You’re likely very beautiful. Every woman is in her own remarkable way. But if you’re in such sore need for approval, I suggest you first consider the legacy you’re leaving behind. If you are anywhere near or past 30, and the primary way you want to be remembered is by your thigh gap, I suggest you rethink your priorities.

And for the love of all that is holy, stop with the constant barrage of random sexts to dudes who are probably just collecting them as souvenirs anyway. If he values your brain as much as he does your boobs, it won’t matter. And if he’s worth hanging onto, he’ll prefer to explore every tangible inch of you in person rather than within the noncommittal confines of nude digital photos. So delete the Snapchat—and replace it with GoodReads.

I only request that you start with a little Maya Angelou.

 

– – – –

 

Phenomenal Woman by Ms. Angelou

 

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size

But when I start to tell them,

They think I’m telling lies.

I say,

It’s in the reach of my arms,

The span of my hips,

The stride of my step,

The curl of my lips.

I’m a woman

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.

I say,

It’s the fire in my eyes,

And the flash of my teeth,

The swing in my waist,

And the joy in my feet.

I’m a woman

 

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Men themselves have wondered

What they see in me.

They try so much

But they can’t touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them,

They say they still can’t see.

I say,

It’s in the arch of my back,

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I’m a woman

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

When you see me passing,

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,

The bend of my hair,

the palm of my hand,

The need for my care.

’Cause I’m a woman

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

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2 thoughts on “Phenomenal Beauty: A Womanifesto

  1. One of my favorite poems. While in high school, over 10 years ago, I printed it and put it up on my wall. I memorized the poem. It moved me then but I didn’t understand why. Perhaps too young still. Now I understand that a woman’s vigor is undefeatable. It can never be silenced. #yesallwomen

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