By Jacque Reid
It broke my heart to hear that poet, activist and author Maya Angelou had died. I did not know her personally, but I did interview her more than once over the years and like most people, I was inspired by her words and her wisdom. Much of Dr. Angelou’s most impactful work was inspired by her own painful life experiences, which took a toll on her self esteem and left her feeling unattractive earlier in her life. But eventually, Dr. Angelou discovered her confidence and beauty, which she reveals in her poem “Phenomenal Woman”.
Dr. Angelou’s death made me revisit a blog I’ve been wanting to write… about women who feel unattractive. It can be stifling to not see yourself as beautiful in a society, that excessively celebrates beauty… albeit a narrow definition of beauty. By these standards, I’ll never end up on People Magazine’s Most Beautiful list or ever be labeled the ‘prettiest girl in the room’. But that’s okay. I freed myself of society’s beauty standards a long time ago. Therefore, I know and appreciate my beauty. I think that is what Dr. Angelou wants us to take away from her poem “Phenomenal Woman”… that we determine our beauty and society responds to our confidence in that.
The world is definitely responding to actress and producer Lena Dunham’s confidence. She has graced many top magazine covers, Vogue included. Yet she doesn’t come close to looking like Hollywood’s mold of beauty, nor does she try. Yet she proudly flaunts her ‘blobby body’ (as one critic described her slightly extra curvy physique) often in the episodes of the hit HBO show “Girls”. The show, which just wrapped it’s third season, catapulted Dunham to super stardom. Along with that fame came harsh criticism for her confidence with a body that is harshly criticized for being less than desirable. Dunham shares she has a very ‘Zen’ philosophy about her body, as she told Gothomist.com, “I’m sort of like: we’re one weight one day, we’re one weight another day, and some day our body just doesn’t even exist at all! It’s just a vessel I’ve been given to move through this life. I think about my body as a tool to do the stuff I need to do, but not the be all and end all of my existence. Which sounds like I spent a week at a meditation retreat, but it’s genuinely how I feel.” Dunham added in the interview that it is rewarding to know that the her attitude about her ‘not so perfect’ body gives other women comfort about theirs.
When news broke of Dr. Angelou’s death, Lena tweeted this:
“Thank you, Maya, for your power, your politics, your poetry. We need you more than ever. Rest in peace.”
And then she also tweeted this… “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/Phenomenally…”