05/29/2014 05:38 EDT | Updated 07/29/2014 05:59 EDT

As a Disabled Person, Maya Angelou Taught Me To Feel 'Phenomenal'

I was 16 and impressionable when I heard Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou.  The intro was made by Tupac and Janet Jackson in Poetic Justice, an unlikely place if you ask me. But then again I guess that's where you would find a poem by the great Maya Angelou, in an unlikely place.

I don't remember much about the movie. But I remember that the words from Phenomenal Woman sang to me. The Internet was kinda new in my home at the time, and I was learning to use it as a tool for every little interesting thing I could research.  Off I went and typed in words that I felt I owned "phenomenal woman, that's me."

I pored over the words; they meant so much to me as a 16 year old.  When I was struggling with body image, the poem said to me that everything about me was special.  As my friends were on crash diets so they could fit into dresses I relished in the words that told me about the range of my beauty,

 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.

Yes! She said what I felt all along. Everything about me was phenomenal! Maya understood me when magazine covers couldn't wrap their heads around me. The inner beauty that the world refused to celebrate was made up of an ocean within me.

Those words got me through so many tough times. Because really with all my flaws, there was beauty that was uniquely mine. it was in everything I did, and everything I was or wasn't.

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.

Those words secretly worked magic on me. As a disabled person, I had an extra swing in my waist that never bothered me. The joy in my feet was something far more powerful than anyone could understand. The flash in my teeth, were vicious to those that fed me negativity,  and the same flash was a brilliant smile that won the hearts of those that I cared about. I might not have known it at the time, but words of power and encouragement like that helped weed out the guys who only cared about the shell when the real power was inside.

I look back now and I can say with certainty, when I found love, it was with someone who understood the phenomenal me.

Now nearly 20 years later, I am proud as ever of my post child bearing body that brought three beings into this world. But I am continuously bombarded by mass media, a medium that keeps setting its expectations higher and higher. The perfect size 6 girl is now a size 2. She must have a squat worthy behind, a thigh gap, model hands, a pedi fit for sandy beaches, and a healthy dose of self-consciousness -- hardly phenomenal if you ask me.

Now as I watch my daughter grow, I worry about the phenomenal woman inside of her. Though as a mother I keep insisting there is nothing like inner beauty, often all it takes is one skinny girl who boldly exclaims, "I feel fat!" to ruin years of mom motivational. No matter what I say, she will not turn to my words till later in life, but I will be there to tell her what I have learned over the years. That life is worth spending with people who see her as who she is... a phenomenal woman. Because that's me.

As a friend of mine put as her Facebook status, Rest In Power Maya, you will be missed.


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