I’ve read this poem, “Phenomenal Woman” years ago but I have never forgotten it ever since—such is the power of Maya Angelou’s words. Whenever I feel sad, or experience anything that blows my self-esteem to smithereens, I think about this poem—it is one of the few that can instantly make me feel uplifted and empowered. It stirs the soul and affirms the human spirit. “Phenomenal Woman” is all about feeling good about oneself.
It sends a positive message to women and is a kind of affirmation of the female identity.
Upon reading the poem, there is a shock of recognition, the recognition of the identity that all too often lies defeated under the weight of oppressive tradition. The first line, ‘Pretty women wonder where my secret lies, I am not cute or built to fit a fashion model sizes’ pretty much sums up Angelou’s message—that a woman’s true essence isn’t something that can be judged through outward appearances alone.
Angelou uses very simple and unsophisticated wording to convey a deep message: that identity and sexuality are not all about the aspects of a woman that she has no control over (her looks) but also about what she feels, and chooses to feel, and in how she chooses to convey her feelings. One can truly be phenomenal if one believes herself to be. The poem does not only apply to women but transcends gender, race, and social status.
Angelou’s message is universal, one that touches on the very basic fabric humanity: A person’s worth is not something that is ought to be dictated by society’s standards. The poem makes me love the body I’m blessed with, asserts my identity, affirms my sexuality, and paves the way to a deeper understanding of myself. A woman need not have Barbie’s vital statistics or a perfect bone structure—it’s good to have these characteristics but a “real” woman is more.
Those traits that men “can’t touch”—a woman’s “inner mystery”—however unfathomable, truly makes us special and unique. “Phenomenal Woman” is a reminder of our power to control our own outlook. We are not mere slaves to circumstance, but participants in the game of life. And the most important thing is—to love myself unconditionally, because I’m a woman. Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman. That’s me.