Maya Angelou (1928-2014, writer, editor, essayist, playwright, poet, civil rights activist, director) is an exceptional, unbelievable, unstoppable energy. Her words offer not only aesthetic experience on the highest level you’ll come across but a new kind of feeling. Straight communication, without roundabouts, where every new verse is a surprise on all levels: intellectually, sensually, and emotionally. She pulls you in without pardon, so you slowly put on her skin, and her words become yours. We can all recognize ourselves, regardless of who we are and where we are from. Maya Angelou is many things, but out of her countless talents and virtues, her inspiring nature is the most amazing one. She simply has the power to instantly make us feel better about ourselves. If we had at least some of her wisdom, we would take those words and become bolder, more confident, better, more determined. In other words, you want to be in her company because her nature is contagious and after each contact with her words; you feel pricelessly enriched. And that’s the ultimate goal of poetry, right?
“Phenomenal Woman” vs. false beauty standard
I re-read Angelou’s poem “Phenomenal Woman” these days for the thousandth time, and for the thousandth time, I realized how phenomenal they are both, the poetess and the poem, and incredibly up-to-date. That is why we need to return to her words more often and keep a reminder of their meaning.
A woman or, better put, her appearance has constantly been exposed to social pressure; even her entire value is often reduced to appearance. Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” is the apotheosis of true beauty. She poses her beauty standards as superior, telling us, without a blink of an eye, that “Pretty women wonder where my secret lies, I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size” just to answer “It’s in the arch of my back, The sun of my smile, The ride of my breasts, The grace of my style,” thus diminishing all those modern-age superficial standards that are dominant in this era of social media.
Social media is overflowing with images of models, influencers, Instagrammers with beautiful photos, gorgeous outfits, and beauty products. They tell us what to eat, what to wear, what make-up routines we need, which cosmetic lines we should buy to look our best. But what is our best? What are the new beauty standards these days? Can we ever attain them? Is our best something that should look like a cloned image of somebody else, or should we still try to keep the original self?
The consequences of these false beauty standards are well known; besides bulimia, anorexia, and many other health issues, which are separate subjects on their own, we create these negative mental images about our looks, about our bodies. We make these unreal and unnecessary expectations of ourselves.
Manga-looking girls or the new trends like slim waist where women expose themselves to rib removal is something that mother nature has never intended for us, primarily because our stomach needs to contain all those inner organs in it after all. Silicones, plastic surgeries, a morph face features among women are taking over the planet. We can find various tips on the internet on how to pose, hold your camera, take photos with your phone, etc. I’m sure you have already heard of Facetune, AirBrush, RetouchMe, and on and on the list goes to make your eyes brighter, your skin flawless, your body thinner, your nose corrected, and not to mention the heavy make-up and make-up techniques that can do wonders these days.
Not to get me wrong, I have nothing against anybody doing anything to boost their self-worth and self-esteem, but it seems to me that the request for ideal beauty is focused on the wrong premises/postulates. Fruitless battle with ourselves. Are we looking for beauty in places where it’s impossible to find it? We need to address these subjects because they can harm a developing young individual.
We witness modern standards paradox – the more you obey them, the more you distance yourself from your true self both visually and mentally. On the other hand, Angelou demonstrates one essential difference – the right attitude towards ourselves only deepens that self-worth relationship which gives us a radiant and much more powerful look than any other beautification tool.
Angelou’s phenomenal woman is rebellious; she emits courage, self-confidence, and happiness. She’s proud to be a woman and enjoys it every step of the way. She defies imposed social expectations regarding her looks but nonetheless: “The fellows stand or Fall down on their knees. Then they swarm around me, A hive of honey bees.”
Maya Angelou diverts your attention from the outside to the inside, from the visible to the invisible, which in turn goes up to the surface and becomes a powerful manifestation, so attractive and fascinating.
Loud and clear, she’s telling us where her attractiveness lies, but her inner mystery still remains elusive, inexplicable to those around her. That is why we need to come back to Angelou and re-read her over and over again and make it an anthem of our own beauty.
You can enjoy Angelou’s mesmerizing voice while she reads her “Phenomenal Woman”:
or simply read the whole poem here: