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Creating community with “Blank Woman, Phenomenal Woman”

“The BWPW Movement is for any woman with a story to tell.”

These words from McKenzie Dawkins structure her site ”Blank Woman, Phenomenal Woman.”(BWPW) Dawkins, a 23-year-old Princeton University graduate from Hackensack, New Jersey, created the site to build a community for women from all walks of life. BWPW Movement is in its early stages of development, but it’s well on its way to reaching and connecting more women on a global scale. Dawkins reveals the inspiration behind the movement, self-love, as well as why women should uplift and support one another.

Itsawritestyle: What is your definition of a phenomenal woman?

McKenzie Dawkins: I could never give a definition of a phenomenal woman, because “phenomenal” takes many forms. Any woman who recognizes her worth, who confronts her darkness just as much as her light, or who fights to remain herself in a world which constantly tries to silence or package womanhood, is a phenomenal woman in my book. A phenomenal woman doesn’t have to have it all figured out, but is relentless in the pursuit of herself.

What drew you to the poem “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou as the basis of your site?

I did not initially plan to base the campaign or the website off the great Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman.” The idea surfaced in my mind late one night during a routine freakout abut my future. I knew I wanted to help women learn themselves, and phenomenal was just the word that popped into my head. The concept was still fuzzy when I grabbed the nearest pen and paper and began scribbling out half-formed ideas that would be the basis of the site. I vividly remember walking into my kitchen after maybe an hour of brainstorming, and looking up to see Ms. Angelou’s poem hanging on the wall. I had gotten the framed poem years ago as a gift from an old dance teacher. It made me laugh because it was truly a “the stars have aligned” type of moment. It could have been “Amazing Woman” or “Remarkable Woman”, but it wasn’t. Maybe God knew that it was supposed to be “Phenomenal Woman.”

Rereading the poem only solidified the name and my excitement because it embodies everything I want women to feel through this project. Maya Angelou is so fierce and unapologetic in the poem; the words seem to ricochet off the page and I feel the same power in the words of every woman who submits a story. I didn’t choose to base the project off the poem, but I think the poem chose me and it all just kind of fell into place.

Describe the process of creating the Blank Woman, Phenomenal Women Movement.

The process of creating the BWPW Movement was (and still is) exhilarating and intimidating. It was exciting to be starting something that I am truly passionate about: using the power of words to create community among women. It was also wonderful to have something over which I had agency. In my never-ending job-hunt it can often feel like I have no control over anything, but this project gave me a goal to work toward, duties to check off my to-do list and purpose.

What challenges and triumphs did you experience?

As for challenges, one of the greatest difficulties was getting started and off the ground. I am by no means technologically inclined, so here I was with the idea for a website, and no clue how to create one. It took a lot of asking around and talking to friends to get the site up. Thank goodness for 24/7 tech-support!

Aside from technical difficulties, the greatest challenge was just having to talk myself out of quitting. I can get very down on myself and sometimes, I wondered if it was worth pursuing, if I could really do it, if anyone would even read or participate. In the beginning, a lot of my energy went into just convincing myself that I should move forward with the idea. I’m glad I did.

The biggest triumphs were seeing the site finally go live after so many hours of troubleshooting, receiving my first submission, and receiving the first submission from a stranger. If I had to pick the greatest triumph, though, it would be finally getting to share some very difficult truths in my story, and talking about them with my mother. In my story, I wrote about being crippled by fear. It’s something I’ve always wanted to open up to my mother about, but have never worked up the nerve to do. When she read my story she left a comment that touched my heart and made me cry immediately. We talked later and I breathed a sigh of relief knowing she had gotten to know me a bit more.

Explain the concept of the BWPW logo.

The concept of the logo is very simple. I wanted something clean, and aesthetically, I liked how the hexagon looked. A hexagon has six sides and six points, and the words “phenom”, “female”, “sister” and “mother” all have six letters. It seemed a perfect fit.

Women need to uplift each other.

What do you think is holding some women back from doing this?

I think some women have trouble uplifting other women because they’re hurting, and hurt people hurt people. I believe that very few in this world are malicious just for the hell of it, so if someone is dealing with her own insecurity or resentment, it may be projected on the next woman. I think when we seek to heal ourselves, we’ll see a lot more support among each other.

What are your thoughts on the praise of black women on social media?

I am 110% here for #blackgirlmagic, #carefreeblackgirl, and every other social media hashtag uplifting black women. Representation matters, and that’s exactly what these mini-movements do. It may seem silly or small because at the end of the day, they’re just pictures and hashtags, but in reality, they’re so much more. It creates sisterhood, community and celebration of our unique perspectives and the vast array of our beauty.

You focus on self-love. Why do you believe this is important in today’s society?

I believe self-love is the most important thing. We’re taught, to an extent, how to recognize love from other people (friendships, familial, romantic, etc.), but not really how to love ourselves. It’s not a given, it’s something that must be worked at everyday.

We lose sight of ourselves trying to keep up with all the bonds in our lives, but no one will ever truly know you the way that you do. No one is guaranteed to put you first, the way that you should. An investment in yourself and self-worth is really an investment in everything else you’re connected to. If you make sure that you are flourishing your mind, body and spirit, your relationships will flourish as well.

Why is it important for women to accept their flaws/insecurities?

I think it is important for women to accept their flaws and insecurities because they teach us how to forge new spaces for ourselves. You will always break society’s mold in some way: either your nose will be too big, your hips too wide, your body too fat or too skinny. If you will never be enough for “society”, you’ve got to learn to be enough, or more than enough, for yourself. The moment you can begin to appreciate what makes you different is the moment you begin to live by your own standards, and not those that are imposed on us by others. I absolutely have a long way to go in accepting my insecurities or embracing my “flaws”, but I long for that feeling of freedom. It must be so refreshing not to constantly apologize for the way you look. I want to get there and think it starts with choosing everyday, to love myself unconditionally.

What do you want the public to know about the BWPW Movement?

I want the public to know that BWPW is for every woman: any race, sexual orientation, religious belief, cisgender or trans, young or old, college educated or not. I want people to know that they should feel a certain degree of fear in writing their stories, but that out of fear comes growth. I want people to know that I don’t accept anonymous submissions because the point of the project is to embrace your story in its entirety, and not to be ashamed. I want people to know that every woman is a part of the BWPW community whether she chooses to write something or not. My email is always open to talk to girls and women should they need to reach out.

What are your goals for the movement?

My goals for the movement are to increase visibility as much as humanly possible!I talk about it constantly and email everyone I know (and many I don’t know) not to be annoying, but to get people talking. The site depends entirely on submissions of other women, so more women means more content. I want people to hear BWPW and know what it means and pass it on to family and friends.

Long-term, I would love to have BWPW featured in a major women’s publication for increased exposure. I dream of expanding to incorporate other content including video diaries where brave women will offer a face, voice and color to their stories. I fantasize that women will reach out to other women about their posts and gain new confidants, mentors, friends and sisters. My goal for the movement is to last and inspire.

Do you reach out to your contributors or do they contact you?

Both! As Blank Woman is still in the early stages, I reach out a lot asking people to consider participating. Sometimes they are women in my personal circle who I know have a powerful story, othertimes they are professionals in my field that I admire and respect. As the site has gotten more entries, I have begun to receive submissions from women I have not asked, and that truly feels like a success. I want people to find the site on their own and submit stories without being asked, because that means that people are talking, sharing and inspiring others to learn about the movement.

How can women contact you if they would like to contribute their story to the movement?

If anyone wants to send a story, they can do so through the “Contact” page of the website: Through the site, submit your story but also email a high-resolution quality picture of yourself, or something relevant to your story to! I encourage people to visit the “How it Works” page to learn all they need to know, but of course if you have a question or comment, feel free to shoot an email over to the address listed above!

Contact information?

I’m all about connecting with other phenomenal women! Find me on Twitter and Instagram @kenzie_kenz1 for my personal accounts. Follow “Blank Woman, Phenomenal Woman” on Facebook, or on Instagram @bw_pw. Of course, be sure to visit the website!

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