Maya Angelou’s Voice Infuses This Colorful, Empowering ‘This Girl Can’ Sequel to Get Women in Sports

Watch for the fire in their eyes

Headshot of Angela Natividad

Even in death, Maya Angelou is making ripples with her poetry. After her rich and nourishing vocal cameo in Apple’s “Shot on iPhone” campaign last year, her voice returns to us as the backbone to “This Girl Can: Phenomenal Woman,” a Sport England ad meant to encourage more women to exercise.

Created by FCB Inferno and directed by Somesuch’s Kim Gehrig, the colorful, energetic spot features women of all stripes, engaging in a wealth of physical activity.

A sense of team dynamics is critical to the ad’s spirit; unlike many sports ads, the driving force here is not so much individual discipline as feelings of community, belonging and shared accomplishment.

According to a study conducted over a year ago by Sport England, sports is among the many arenas where the gender gap is most evident in the U.K.: The 14- to 40-year-old women who participate in sports regularly numbered 2 million fewer than men, though 75 percent overall say they want to be more active.

“Before we began this campaign, we looked very carefully at what women were saying about why they felt sport and exercise were not for them,” said Sport England CEO Jennie Price last year. “Some of the issues, like time and cost, were familiar, but one of the strongest themes was a fear of judgment.”

Women across the board feel an acute fear of not being “good enough” in some way—and worse still, believe they’re alone in that feeling, Price added. Some 36 percent of the least-active girls of school age feel their bodies are on show in gym class (a sensation we remember well), which makes them enjoy physical education less.

But the problem doesn’t just lie with schoolgirls. Some 81 percent of mothers with children under 15 prioritize spending time with family over getting fit. And 44 percent of mothers feel bad spending time on themselves—men often have “hobbies,” which are encouraged, whereas women have “me time,” which can strike people as indulgent.

With all this in mind, the elements composing “Phenomenal Woman” pack a powerful punch. Angelou’s words are resonant, galvanizing and conviction-laden. And Kim Gehrig’s preference for casting real women and girls for these campaigns—not to mention how she leans in to moments of major jiggle, versus trying to hide them—gives the final product both dynamism and thriving, zealous life.

The “This Girl Can” campaign launched its first ad in 2015. As of last year, the gender gap between men and women who exercise regularly narrowed from 1.78 million to 1.73 million in the U.K.

Check out the full copy of Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” below:

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.

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@luckthelady Angela Natividad is a frequent contributor to Adweek's creativity blog, AdFreak. She is also the author of Generation Creation and co-founder of Hurrah, an esports agency. She lives in Paris and when she isn't writing, she can be found picking food off your plate.