Pink Talks

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The phenomenal woman is me, and you

Have you ever looked at yourself and seen a phenomenal woman? The answer is probably no because social and beauty standards shut the door to women living and expressing their humanity, power, and vulnerability. 

Pink Talks discussions, confessions, and book clubs create a space where former and contemporary changemakers and readers nowadays share the same feeling and status of the excluded. It’s the case of today’s episode, where we met with Maya Angelou’s poem from 1978, Phenomenal Woman. The book club edition functioned as a ramp to bring forward the thinking patterns we were conditioned into. True self-perception, self-acceptance, and self-celebration are not that unusual, as Maya Angelou teaches us to live and love.

Describing a phenomenon

This is how the American writer succeeds in portraying the woman. It’s not by chance Angelou chose this word, and her literary techniques make us believe that being a woman is phenomenal. The poem embodies the feminine nature with all its sensitivity and force, inner strength and its outer manifestation, assertiveness, and unity.

“I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size”, says one of the verses. She shows that beauty lies in her bodily communication, liveliness, and self-expression beyond the beauty standards. In fact, she uses the body elements historically subjected to social definitions and rules and reveals the fire in her eyes, joy in her feet, and swing in her hips. Instead of complying with and appropriating expectations that are strange to her reality, she makes us see the greatness of women’s truth. 

It’s an illustration of a way to be, act and reflect the inner character. Phenomenal woman is a powerful statement that normalizes living in our womanhood with comfort and confidence. There is nothing to be ashamed of in being a phenomenal woman and fully showing one’s humanity. Discovering the phenomenon means you don’t have to bow your head anymore, shout, jump, or talk really loud about being a woman.

Poetry: a source of strength

We can learn, understand, change, and recharge when reading literature. 

By evocating images that build up the portrait of the phenomenal woman, we can feel how power, grace, and dignity catch us. The force of the poem resides in its relatable character. It first makes us imagine this woman with her smile, walking and talking, for then to offer us the trust to enter her world. Angelou gives us a present: a new mirror to look at ourselves. We can all discover the phenomenon within us and say “Phenomenal woman,// That’s me”. The message is clear and firm, carrying us through a real, authentic, and meaningful path. She took her experience and turned it into a source of celebration, inspiration, and motivation.

We were taught by male-gaze-dominated literature to see female characters as beautiful creatures, meeting the writer’s and society’s standards, for which they deserve a place on the pedestal. In Phenomenal woman, the writing is made by a woman, one who did not conform to social pressure. Her text is a demonstration of releasing from rigid and arbitrary social constructions created by and for certain body types and persons. To still find yourself in a literary piece from 1978 shows how important the energy and safe spaces created by poets are. On the other hand, it is a wake-up call for the unchanged reality of 2023. 

Vulnerability, not frailty

The social and political discourse is based on the image of the fragile woman. Angelou challenges that speech by unapologetically showing off her soul, character, vulnerability, and courage. “I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size” is a confession that she knows the struggles of accepting yourself, of wearing your true self in society while facing objectification and exclusion. Struggles make us vulnerable. Accepting it alongside sensitivity and fear constitutes an act of courage closer to reaching ourselves and shows they actually merge in the social fight each of us goes through. The poem comforts us by reassuring we have all felt these troubles. 

We are not alone in the daily inner conflict we have between self-acceptance and the rules society imposes. She gives us a new pair of lenses to realize we should not fight for a place in a limited, restrictive, illusionary box. Our mission is to live, not to fit in!

Maya Angelou made us feel seen and listened to irrespective of our background, body type, size, and story. Enter her lyrical universe to learn how to be proud of yourself! The phenomenal woman is you!

Show resources

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.

Maya Angelou, “Phenomenal Woman” from And Still I Rise. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Used by permission of Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou | Poetry Foundation

Angelou, Maya. (1978). “Phenomenal Woman” from And Still I Rise. Penguin Random House. And Still I Rise: A Book of Poems: 9780394502526: Angelou, Maya

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