“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.
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
Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” is arguably one of the most popular poems of all time. I remember reciting it with two of my girlfriends back in Ghana at this weekly poetry event a group of us used to put on. I’d heard the poem many times before but this time I actually had to memorize it and internalize the words. “Pretty women wonder where my secret lies. I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size.” Ms. Angelou says straight up that she’s not cute. I don’t’ know about you but to me, that’s bold. Not to admit it to others but to admit that to yourself. But when you read the poem, the tone with which she writes is in no way apologetic or self-pitying. She’s matter of fact about it, she’s even proud because she knows she has so much else in place of cuteness, the reach of her arms, the curl of her lips, the stride of her step, the span of her hips! What? You can’t tell her nothin!
Ms. Angelou wasn’t always so confident with herself but she grew learned over the years that you will never be perfect by the standards of the magazines, videos, runway shows, but don’t be fooled. The message isn’t you’ll never look like that so just live with what you got. To me the message is: Those standards have got NOTHING on what God already gave you. Nothing. It’s just that those things they market in the media can be sold. It’s business. Women have been suckers for it, for a long, long time.
Tempo Femme, Forward-Thinking Woman, where does your secret lie?
Ruthie Foster sings an oh-so-nice rendition of this poem. Listen