Pop Culture

Phaedra Parks of the Real Housewives spills the 'Secrets of the Southern Belle'

Phaedra Parks of "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" provides a comprehensive guide to better living in "Secrets of the Southern Belle." Here's an excerpt.


Here’s what I expect from life: Compliments. Flirtation. Gifts, large and small. Excellent service in stores, and courtesy on the phone. Consideration, admiration, flowers, apologies when appropriate. That’s just what a Southern Belle gets from life. Now, tell me—wouldn’t you like that, too?

I believe every woman should be a Southern Belle or minimally aspire to being more ladylike, charming, and intelligent, because we should all be treated well. Honestly, I sometimes feel sorry for women of northern persuasion. There they are rushing around in their baggy, drab clothes, doing everything for themselves and looking like they just rolled out of bed. They don’t seem to understand there’s a better way.

I will say that even in the South, not every woman is a Belle. I can walk down the street and pick them out: this one, not that one, not her, not her. Maybe 20 percent of the women I see are true Southern Belles, and we all recognize one another. It’s like being a Mason without the funny handshake. (And I never actually walk down the street; as a Southern Belle, I gently glide in my skyscraper stilettos. But you get the idea.)

The Southern Belles are the women who are completely pulled together. Silver bracelets and gold earrings? Not a Southern Belle. We match metals. But we also have an aura. A halo of confidence, poise, and tranquility. The Southern Belle knows that she can handle whatever comes her way. No matter how heated the situation, you will never catch a Southern Belle sweating.

It’s a commitment, no doubt about it. The Southern Belle doesn’t have an off day. My goodness, she doesn’t have an off moment. Everybody knows if you have to have a habit, it might as well be a good one. Life is too short for unpleasant or bad behavior. How hard is it to say “please” and “thank you” and remember people’s names and keep your roots touched up?

Ultimately, the Southern Belle is about self-respect. She takes care of herself and makes sure people treat her right. Some people might think that this isn’t very feminist, but look at it this way: men have to earn respect, right? Back in the day, a lady was respected just because she was a lady. That’s all gone. Now we work the same jobs as men. However, the problem is that some men are a little confused about how to treat women. Equality does not equal a man being anything less than a gentleman at all times. I hear that up north, for instance, men don’t open doors for women or carry luggage. Well, here’s the way it works: I earn a good living, I whoop people’s behinds in court, and when I leave the courtroom, I expect someone to carry my briefcase and get that door for me. So I will stand there. I might have to glance around and catch some fellow’s eye, but it takes only a moment and let me tell you, the man who grabs that door handle first gets the biggest smile and the warmest thank-you. If he’s at all attractive I’ll add a compliment on his great sense of taste and style, making him feel like Superman for the rest of the day. That’s a win for the both of us. I establish that I expect to be treated in a certain way, and he gets a little boost, too.

Some girls are brought up to be Southern Belles, but that’s not the only way to get there. I was certainly raised right by my mama, but I have refined the formula, and I keep working at it. Southern Belles never stop learning and improving; we are all masterpieces in progress. And I am convinced that every woman’s life could be improved if she knew even a fraction of what I know. That’s why I wrote Secrets of the Southern Belle. So let’s imagine we’re rocking on the porch, with a tall glass of sweet tea and a plate of ladyfingers and cucumber sandwiches. Listen up—I’ve got a thing or two to tell you.

Don’t Let Geography Stand in Your Way

I don’t want any of you nice people thinking that you have to live south of the Mason-Dixon Line in order to be a Southern Belle. Sure, it’s easier—you’ll have Belle role models all around you. But let me tell you, when a Belle swings into action outside of the South, she has incredible impact. I guess people just aren’t used to our fun-loving package of looks, charm, and determination.

So go ahead and put my advice to work, wherever you live. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the results. And if you can’t get to the South, here are a few ways to bring the South to you.

·      Have an indoor living-room “tailgate party” for your favorite Southeastern Conference (SEC) bowl game. Get pompoms and monogrammed beer-can cozies in school colors; serve sweet tea and pimiento cheese sandwiches.

·      Wear pearls. Every day, if possible. Doesn’t matter if they’re real.

·      Smile a lot and look everyone in the eye. I know some women in urban areas find this a challenge, so you might start with just an hour at a time.

·      Use rubber gloves when you do the dishes. Belles always have pretty hands.

·      Buy something pink, even if it’s just a felt-tip pen.

·      Surprise a gentleman of your acquaintance with an innocent but sincere compliment.

·      Try a shoe with a higher heel.

·      Decorate your home for the next holiday.

Reprinted from Secrets of the Southern Belle by Phaedra Parks by arrangement with Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuste, Inc. Copyright © 2013 by Phaedra Parks.