I was weeping over this video of Aretha Franklin singing “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2015. In the audience were the Obamas and one of the writers of the song, Carole King—who were all having emotional reactions. It gives me an emotional reaction too.
After crying over this several times, I started getting curious about what it means to “Feel Like A Natural Woman.” This song was a hit well before my time, so I’m only getting around to pondering it now. I know older readers will have had this conversation long ago, but I haven’t! The phrase “Feel Like A Natural Woman” doesn’t hold any meaning for me. “Natural woman” is not a way I would describe myself. I guess I am a natural woman, in the sense that I’m not…a robot? But I have no particular interest in the label “natural.”
I did an online search for this phrase to see if there was any official meaning behind it. I found a hilarious thread on Reddit where several women said the phrase was meaningless to them but a couple of people thought it sounded kinda “TERFy.” Pardon me while I roll my eyes!
I got curious enough about this song to read Carole King’s memoir, appropriately called A Natural Woman. What I found out didn’t surprise me at all.
Carole King and her husband (at the time) Gerry Goffin were a songwriting team who wrote hits for other artists. It was Gerry who wrote the lyrics for their songs, and Carole who wrote the melodies. They were specifically asked to write a hit song for Aretha Franklin, and they were told to call it ‘Natural Woman.’ So, the people responsible for the actual lyrics were both men—one who requested a song about “Natural Woman” and one who took that starting point and made it into a full set of lyrics.
I’m not sure what the writers thought of the phrase, but I do know that it was never a woman’s idea, and that’s an interesting point. It is men, not women, who think that a woman in love feels like a “Natural Woman.”
I really do love this song, and that’s because it’s a beautiful celebration of love. Whether it’s sung by Aretha Franklin or Carole King it sounds like a woman in love and finding renewed energy and joy because of the love she feels. The gospel chords lifting up the words “You Make Me Feel” are spectacular, and I imagine that lots of delightful phrases could finish off this thought, although not in the correct rhythm.
You make me feel complete. You make me feel like life is worthwhile. You make me feel like I can accomplish anything with you by my side. You make me feel beautiful. You make me feel joy, love, affection, excitement, tenderness, wonder.
Or, as I wrote in a poem when I was falling in love with my partner, you make me feel like a garden blooming with new colours.
These are all the things I hear when I listen to this song. Even though I don’t specifically connect with the words “like a natural woman,” I connect with the burst of joy that comes with the chorus.
And speaking of natural women, take a look at Carole King performing this song in the 1970s.
She had no makeup on, she let her hair do whatever it wanted to do, and just wore normal clothes, and looked like an entirely normal woman getting by on pure talent. Nowadays the only way to be a famous woman in showbiz is to look like a porn star every day, perform while mostly naked and gyrating, and put on a big flashy show full of special effects.
In only a few decades, being a natural woman has gone out of style. We’re expected to be consumer products now, always modifying ourselves to fit an increasingly pornified image of perfection, in order to suit the needs of the consumer, no matter how artificial it makes us. I think we’re headed the wrong way. I was taught that outward appearance doesn’t matter, and that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. I still believe that, and I find women beautiful and wondrous just as nature made us. Anyone who wants the “fake” version doesn’t know how to appreciate a woman, and is missing out on a real pleasure.