I never understood the concept of corsets. The idea of metal ribs sucking every last bit of my womanhood into a cagey body burrito just makes me cringe. It also makes me hungry. Despite the tumultuous road of female puberty and identity crisis I consider myself rather unscathed in the grand process that is coming-of-age. I am not a plain woman, nor am I strikingly beautiful, but there is something about me that emanates a certain joie de vivre that is all but incomprehensible to others. Unlike the pretty women who wear makeup or work hard against nature to create beauty, I find mine within myself. I think I am just a phenomenal woman. Phenomenal women don’t just sprout overnight out of the harsh brush we call society. Inner beauty and confidence manifest themselves only to those, especially women, who truly believe in the value of such things. Being phenomenal isn’t about cockiness, it is about accepting who you are and owning it. The night I discovered this was possibly the most liberating experiences of my existence. The best part is that I did little but wake up that morning feeling more driven and attractive in my own skin that I ever had before.
I have never needed cosmetics or surgical enhancements to make me feel content with myself. Confidence is oozing from me in the way that I walk and move, fluidly without any manufactured rhythm that adds more shimmy or shake than the good Lord gave me. This makes little sense to other women who see no value in my careless abandon for convention. Sense is irrelevant to men, whose one-track minds often lead them not to care about the height of my heels or the color of my hair. Between the two sides of the gender divide, I was a prisoner of war to the ambiguous limbo of people who just don’t appreciate the showmanship of self-promotion. In fact, it wasn’t but a year ago today that I jumped across the precipice of adolescence and into womanhood, a solid amount of time into my twenties. I had arrived at my favorite lounge no later or earlier than usual, making no grand entrance with little fanfare, as per usual. Few souls ever noticed my comings and goings. But that night, that night the universe tilted. It was as if I woke up that morning having some type of out-of-body experience. I was no prettier nor more stylish or worldly, but I was me, and I knew who that was. I was a woman, a phenomenal woman, and phenomenal at being a phenomenal woman. Or at least, I would learn to be.
For the very first time in my existence, I cared very little with what I found in my closet that day. I went about my business with the same routine and deliberateness as I would any other day. But for some reason, even in my dealings, I was feeling strange. I was usually one to second-guess myself or ask too many questions to overanalyze every aspect of my decision making. I was not spectacular or particularly alluring; I waited patiently in lines where others would cut in front of me, and felt awkward in situations where I would need to address others with any type of authority or confidence. That day was a departure from that. I had no idea what had happened to me, but something in my mind clicked into place and it quieted my afflictions.
I took a long and hard look at myself in the mirror that evening, after my ritual soak. My skin was soft and malleable from the extended penetration of the warm suds. Pruned skin and all, I inspected myself with diligence. I had the same eyes, same smile, and same faint crow’s feet. My skin was taut and rosy around my cheeks, and my teeth were straight and of acceptable whiteness. What was so different about what I saw today and what I saw yesterday? I smiled at the distorted version of my former self, and she smiled right back. It felt like every nerve ending in my body came alive, and gave me chills. I am beautiful, I thought. Fearful I would lose steam on this newfound revelation of beauty and awaken from this obvious dream, I toweled dry my hair and slipped into a plain blue jumper and slid into a pair of red sling back wedges, both of which I had worn countless times out of comfort and fear of all things new. I would always forego cosmetics or perfume; it cost too much money and never felt like it represented who I was. I was not a canvas, I was a person.
When I arrived at the Peacock Lounge I pushed the opaque, hazy door open towards the lounge foyer. When I went through it, it was as if my world had been living on mute or in black and white, and that night I was the only object in color. Perhaps it had been an emotional or mental manifestation of my seemingly sudden maturity, but it didn’t matter. I was vivid and striking; I stood up straight and made involuntary but fiery eye contact with everyone who crossed my path. I walked with fortitude and tenacity towards the barkeep that would do a double take looking at me and then his own fumbling hands before he took my order. The sheepishness of my former self was long gone and I smiled sweetly at him as he nervously jotted my drink order onto a steno pad. I turned around to survey the room almost as if I were seeing things for the first time. Every detail looked different to me; the clouds of wafting cigar smoke no longer made me cough with conviction, and the dim, red low-lighting made the room feel as if I was looking at it through rose colored glasses. The women leaned shallowly into conversations, baring their décolletage and feigned laughter, faces caked with cosmetics to cover the inconsistencies of being human.
“M-m-may I, um, buy you a drink?” I had never seen him before, but I saw through him. Where he came from I was uncertain, but he was meager and anxious. I cannot remember how he looked or what he wore, just that it was the first time any man had offered me any type of libations aside from a waiter. Oh how precious, I thought to myself, he is nervous. I grinned kindly but declined him. He retreated into the crowd, sneaking glances of me as he did while the rest of the men marveled at his failure to launch. They all looked at me as if I could not see them making little if any concerted effort to covet their glances. They had surrendered to something, someone, but what and who they could not figure out. I breathed it all in like I was experiencing air for the first time.
In the following weeks and months I was even more acutely aware of the marvel people felt in being in my presence. It was not merely just romantic overtures, but ones of friendship and business. I had no reason to yell or behave like a fool for attention; people were drawn to me almost effortlessly. I spoke with unwavering poise and returned the favor by listening to others with my full attention. My opinion was sought and advice was taken. I didn’t know about lipstick or face powder. I didn’t know a doctor to prescribe medications for mood altering substances, or bodily enhancements. I wasn’t sure who would be able to do for them what had been done for me. To this day, there is not one person who believes in my story of self-acceptance; rather, they think me coy and secretive. But that I am not, I am simply a phenomenal woman, and phenomenal at it.