So I’m post-epiphany on this one and just fed up.
Girls, stop walking with your head down.
I remember how it used to feel… Walking down the street all alone and just feeling out of place. There aren’t even real words to describe this discomfort, but your chest feels a little tight and you’re tense to get from A to B. Pulling out your phone to refresh facebook over and over does ease the tension a little bit, but not much. It feels like there’s a spotlight on you, but every time you look up, you don’t see one, so you try to shake the feeling. But you can’t help it, its like when you’ve woken up from a nightmare… You know everything is okay, but nevertheless, your chest feels hollow.
At least that’s my best attempt at describing the feeling with no name. I used to walk down the street and just keep my eyes on the sidewalk. That feeling became so normal that I didn’t even realize how crazy any of this was.
Until one day…
I was walking down the street, blinders on, when I decided to look up and to my amazement, it was an absolutely beautiful day! I was passing by a church with a small pond in front of it. The sky was bright blue and the willow trees were swaying in the breeze. And I got angry. Angry that I had chosen to blind myself because of this stupid feeling in my chest. Because I didn’t want to look at some stranger or feel their eyes on me. Why do they have more of a right to experience and enjoy the earth that surrounds us when we all got here the same spontaneous way? When I lie in my deathbed, am I really going to look back on my life and the endless sidewalks I’ve stared at?
So I made it a point to retrain my brain. Every time I was outside, I became hyper aware of my actions. I would make sure to keep my head up, facing ahead, and when others would walk passed me (especially a man or a group of men) and I’d feel that cold tight feeling grip my stomach and I’d just want to look down and walk faster, I’d force my neck stiff and walk on.
It was hard at first, but I stayed persistent and it’s been at least a year since I’ve reshaped my walking behavior. Since changing, I’ve seen how many girls and women still hold this presence on the street and it makes me sad to see.
There’s a lot of information in the feminist world about internalized social shame that women feel. We’re supposed to be small, docile, and up until really the last century, mostly unseen. It’s not surprising that remnants of these mindsets still exist in our culture today. To me, walking with your head down is the result of that. So stop it.
Today I saw a picture on facebook and was taken back. Of course, the girl posing looks happy. She’s standing in front of a fountain, her smile is radiating, and you can tell she feels confident in her tube top and skinny jeans. Good for you, girlie! But its the girl in the background that made my eyes freeze. She’s the only other life in the picture besides the grass and trees. She’s clearly walking, but one could only guess where.. maybe over to the fountain too, or passed it, onto her meeting with colleagues, or coffee with friends, or a doctor’s appointment. She’s slouching her shoulders, head down, trying to be as low to the ground as possible. Point A to Point B. Maybe she’s just having a bad day. Or maybe she is just showing the “natural” walk that many girls have when in public. My eyes freeze because my gut sinks. I’m no psychic, but it seems like the latter.
It makes me sad. So here is my challenge to any person reading this: Start noticing how you present yourself when you’re walking down the street. I’m not talking about your clothes or your make up. I’m talking about your gait. And once you notice that, notice the feeling within your chest. Is it tight and empty? And if it is, why?
And once you can’t answer that question to self-satisfaction, realize that it could just be cultural stress because you’re a girl in a world that subliminally tells you that you shouldn’t be there. But you should. So let any self consciousness about that melt away like the dying patriarchy. You belong here and have just as much a right as any other to see the world in front of you. Your presence is not insulting or intimidating. It just is. So just be.
***Very important final note: Going back to my first post, I am a cisgender feminist and can only approach issues as such. However, I care about everyone and know that many of these issues stem beyond the cisgender feminist narrative. I’d imagine LGBTQ people or people of color may also slouch when they’re walking due to subconscious (or very conscious) uneasiness in society. And who could blame them? But your body is just as worthy to be present and experience the world as anyone else. In everything that you do, your body is an act of defiance. So be there with your head high.