Stop Apologizing To No One For Existing
Today I was walking into the grocery store and a man drove by me in the parking lot, kinda glanced in my direction as I was crossing the lot to the entryway of the store, and we both went about our business. He didn't stare or cat call me or hit the brakes or do anything at all to make me feel threatened and yet, in that half second, my brain fired off a million questions. I immediately shrunk my posture as if to hide myself because what if my pants and crop top elicit harassment from this guy? From any guy? What if he gets the wrong idea? My brain immediately went into theoretical conversation escape routes – “Okay, what will be my response when he says something totally sexist to me? Think think think…” I brainstormed possible comebacks to sexual harassment comments almost all the way to the store doors. The car and the glance are long gone by this point, no real interaction has happened or is likely going to happen.
But my mind is still preparing for battle. What if he has some snide remark and I tell him to back off and he says I'm asking for it (just because of the way I carry myself?)? What if what if what if what if. What if I made a bad choice wearing this today? What if I look slutty and people feel invited to harass me? What if they think I’m seeking attention and that makes me look arrogant? All these ‘what ifs’ continue to barrage me.
By the way! Quick tangent ~ If you happen to be a man or male- presenting, let me let you in on a fun little piece of info… most women live through most (if not all) of their interactions with the same or similar thoughts and fears in mind, plus a million more. Society has taught me that somehow it is my responsibility as a woman to control the actions of others via how I choose to exist. If you are a person in this world who does not have to live with these fears and thoughts, that’s great. I hope you try to jump into other people’s shoes every once in a while just to get an idea of the injustices society has created so that you can be a part of the solution. Furthermore, imagining what it is like to live as another type of person is something everyone can do more of, not just the straight, cis- gendered, white men (although as a white person, I’ll admit we probably need to practice it most); but we all have privileges and disadvantages that others do or do not have that we should consider from time to time in an effort to make a better world. But that’s a post for a different day…
Back in my brain: WHAT IF SOMEONE HARRASSES ME AND I CAN’T JUSTIFY MY EXISTANCE? What if, what if, what if… Is it because I am young and haven’t developed enough to not care what other people think? Is it because I was sexually assaulted and now I fear any exchange with men point blank? I don’t know, possibly. Is it because I am likely an Enneagram 1 and have an inner critic that desperately needs a mute button? Is it the male gaze invading my perceptions of myself and of how people think? Is it because I am afraid of what others think of me? Is it because I have been taught I need to fear all men just to stay safe? Is it any and all of these things at one time? I don't know the answer honestly. But I am sad I've been shrinking myself, when I'm not responsible for literally anything but my own life/ actions.
First of all, I could go out in nothing but a bikini and I'm still not "asking for it" just FYI. No one is ever “asking for it” – asking to be attacked, asking to be judged, asking to be held in less value than you hold yourself. No one is ever asking for your commentary on their choices simply by how they present themselves. No one is asking for you to project your truth onto their life. My expression is not your invitation.
Secondly, if someone does feel like they have the right to harass me with words or judgement or whatever THEY PERCEIVE to be true, it says absolutely nothing about me and everything about them. It might hurt or jostle me for a minute, and if I’m being honest, when this does happen, it sticks with me sometimes and I’m trying to work on that (I have a hard time even forgetting if someone in another car flips me off for no reason at Costco! I think I have an issue with anybody having any problem with me whatsoever haha but that’s also for another day and something I’m working on as well.) Anyways, it may be upsetting, especially if it is a form of harassment, but ultimately, it is none of my business what other people think of me. PLUS it doesn’t even matter; because I know who I am, and I know my truth.
I know who I actually am regardless of who I may be perceived to be. Would it be dandy if those two beings were one in the same? Of course! But that would require every human on the planet to perceive my truth as I do, which simply isn’t possible. Regardless, I know I have a right to be and express myself however I choose to because I have a right to love myself and my life as much as anybody else does. Any thoughts or opinions other people have of me are entirely theirs. They may be true, they may not be. Hell, they may only exist in my own head! It’s entirely possible, and likely probable, that many people don’t have any opinion of me in the first place!
The truth is, moving forward in my life, I would like to spend a total of zero energy concerned over what other people’s thoughts are of me unless they tell me out loud. Even then, whether it is a positive or negative opinion, I am not going to put much weight behind it because IT’S NOT MINE. Not my thought, not my opinion, not my judgment, not my perception, not my truth, and therefore not deserving of being a barrier to my self- love or a deterrence to living my life fully as myself. At the end of the day, I am in charge of me and my own happiness and nothing else. I am responsible for my own perceptions and actions, no one else’s.
Maybe I am simply out of practice when it comes to living life. I HAVE been sheltering in place with rare human interaction for literally a year. And it both terrifies and saddens me deeply. Because I want more than anything to be OUT THERE living my life and growing. Until then, maybe I’m supposed to use these trips to the grocery store as practice in living my truth and not creating problems that aren’t actually there. I am everything that I want to be and nothing that I don’t. I am me and I can’t read minds and I will not waste any more time of my short, precious life concerned with other people’s minds that I can not read. What do I think of me? What kind of person do I know I am? Do I like my outfit today? Do I feel like myself? Well, then. No further questions your honor.
I am tired of shrinking myself. I am shrinking myself on walks around the block! I dim my light when I feel insecure and when I feel insignificant sure, but I also get smaller for literally NO reason when I am simply walking down the street. I shrink myself and hunch and walk quicker and internally apologize for taking up ANY space whatsoever because “what if they think this” and “what if that man takes my literal existence as an invitation to harass me, or worse, overpower and attack me?” “What if I’m perceived this way or that?” What if what if what if what if. What if, Maddie, you lived exclusively for yourself and what if how other people choose to live their lives isn’t your business or your responsibility at all? I’m tired of making myself small. I don’t want to live afraid and apologetic.
I have been reading a lot of personal development books lately and a common theme among the female writers is that the world doesn’t need more women who shrink themselves; the world needs more women who show the loud, hungry, ambitious, confident, creative, powerful, resourceful, intelligent, unique, innovative, aggressive, colorful parts of themselves that society has deemed shameful, and taught us to bury. We need more self- love and self- acceptance to allow ourselves to be all that we are. All that we are is SO powerful and so infinitely valuable to our own fulfillment and to building more loving, more successful communities that ultimately, have the ability to change the world.
So I am done feeling small. I don’t want to live this way a moment longer. Unfortunately, this is a deeply carved habit of mine, so it will take some unlearning. So, Future Me, when you forget how powerful you are and how little other people’s perceptions of you matter, when you go outside and want to shrink, read this again and again:
You have permission to live fully, explicitly, unapologetically, unabashedly, yourself - your bright, tall, confident, awkward, radiant, loving, messy, imperfect, beautiful, smart, limitless self. This real self? Is nothing but infinite light that attracts the most loving, open, exciting, high-vibrating people and experiences the Universe could possibly offer. You do not need to apologize for creating this version of your life.
You get ONE life. Not two, not three, not another moment past this one, in fact. You have my permission to never shrink yourself or dim your light ever again because you. Deserve. To. Be. Here. Your life is just as valuable as anyone else’s and you shining your light does not take it away from anybody. If someone tries to dim who you are, including yourself, remember it is only out of fear, it is not truth. Your capacity for light and love does not take it away form anybody else. You have my permission to take up every atom of space that you do and absolutely nothing less. So go, take up space. Take up MORE space. Take up all the space in the world! Because the world needs your light, not your apology.