Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Lifter of My Head

I’m a little unsure of how graphic & descriptive I need to be in giving an account of what it’s like to walk on the street in my town as a foreign female, so I’m going to take it easy on ya & hope we meet on a close-to-mutual level of understanding.

Per the name of this blogging endeavor, I dress both conservatively & modestly. You can ask my roommate—we just ooohhh-ed” & “aaahhh-ed at [what I would have previously called “pregnancy”] shirts that I got today. You know what I’m talking about. The ones that make anyone look like they’re expecting—or at least look like they wish they were expecting—with the sleeves coming either to the wrists or a more scandalous design of just three inches past the elbow. [Yeah, this is our life. Maybe yours, too.] Bottom line—I’m not trying to get any numbers out there on the streets. But somehow I get accosted, invited, complimented, insulted & nearly unlawfully assaulted by men’s words & stares during the entire span of my travels from building to building, be it across town or across the street.

Top Three Tactics for Finding Your Happy Place on the Street:

I’ve gone back & forth on keeping my hips & butt covered. I find that it rarely makes a difference—and it only makes a difference for me, personally. Regardless of my shirt, my assets will be seen, with seemingly x-ray vision, despite the length of my top. Never cleavage—of course. And arms? Well, I always have a long-sleeve cardigan with me in my neighborhood, but when I get to work, I’m free to wear short sleeves, praise God. But in the end, as long as you’re not overtly advertising what you’ve got going on, it’s pure subjectivity.

I used to be way against iPods, until I found that I was nicer & less tense walking down the street or sitting in a smoke/B.O./painfully loud, Koranic-singing filled taxi. Now I’m all for them. When Laura Taylor’s “Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder” comes on, my heart smiles & love releases. Sometimes I go for the angry Adele. Regardless, it makes me feel better & I am now a full supporter. [I only have one working ear phone, so I am confident that I am aware of my surroundings while providing myself with a soundtrack for the city.] It’s pure beauty.

I’ve always been an utter & complete supporter of sunglasses. Really huge & dark ones, actually. Having sunglasses allows you to watch things & people you wouldn’t normally be able to watch, while also being able to stare down men staring you down. Right now, I have none. Some kid I know broke them as he jumped on me. But I will surely pick some up soon, because when I have them, I experience pure freedom.

But with being in said circumstances for months & months, and with making many personal & material accommodations [often against my own will or better fashion-judgment], I have found that I have problems. Specifically, serious posture problems.

Upon arriving to this region, every American woman is strongly advised to not make eye contact with men. Well, if you’re a strong & highly-communicative woman like myself, this is just a ridiculous recommendation. And while I’m rarely caught without my sunglasses & having perfected the art of staring right through men without making eye contact with them, I’ve noticed that my posture has changed. For the worse, of course. When I’m trying to hurry through a part of town, or if a group of teenage boys approach me on the street, I’m likely to put my head down or watch the road. If I’m the only woman on the street & a man is walking towards me on the same side, I’ll cross the street just to avoid any possible forbidden proximity to him. [It’s really actually dramatic, but quite playful & sometimes necessary. I amuse myself with it, always bargaining & playing chicken with him non-verbally. I usually lose.]

A few months ago, I had had enough. I was done being docile & “weak,” always succumbing to a passive posture. [Insert many-a-tantrum & rant here.] I hated who I was becoming & Who I was drifting from just in my walking. I felt like I was giving into shame & fear, letting these lost men & the voices in my head speak into my life. I was done. I wanted to claim my identity & worth & walk in manner worthy of my calling, of my status, as a daughter of the King.

Psalm 24 really speaks to me… knowing that my Father is the Lifter of my head. I’m not to be ashamed & duck down, cowering in darkness, but to be a door which He may pass through.

“Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors.
That the King of glory may come in…”

He, too, lifts my head.

I sought the LORD and He answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to Him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed
[Psalm 34.4 & 5, ESV.]

And while I had a Relational, mental & emotional grounding for a turning point in my posture, I knew I had to do something physically. So… I borrowed a 10-minute Yoga Solutions DVD from a friend.

Yoga is, like, supposed to elongate you & strengthen you & support a healthy posture, right?
Well, in my case it sent me crashing to the floor three times in 30 minutes,
produced bruises & left my ego wounded.
I wanted to strangle that skinny, chipper girl on the DVD
as she held poses way longer & better than me,
while talking,
when I’m clearly stronger & prettier than her.
I hate Yoga now.
[But totally respect it, since it completely schooled me in the privacy of my own home.]

Here’s a picture of me dominating the directions of a different annoying & skinny girl
during a charity-like Yoga class in a ladies’ gym here:

I’ve since given up on Yoga… Fail.

My friend, Margie, told me about the Bar Method & took me to a class.
I liked it—it was low-impact & I walked away feeling great & also like I hadn’t really worked out—
double bonus.
[We’ll see if I can walk tomorrow.]
The Bar Method is pretty much like ballet meets Pilates, who used to date Yoga.
[I think I might be in love.]

The only comments I get from my local friends here regarding exercise
is how I need to do it so that I can lose weight so that someone will marry me.
[This, of course, is said while they’re feeding me
too much rice, yogurt & cups of sugar with some tea in them
And also that I’m crazy for exerting physical energy
when not in a life/death situation.

I can’t win. But I’m enthusiastic.

It’s so important for me to work out—my rage & my body.
Endorphins are a must when living cross-culturally.

And so as I seek to improve my posture, from the inside out, I just have one last question:

Is it okay for me to say that the things I did for Love this week
involved Yoga in my living room
and a free Bar Method at a co-ed
[???] gym?

Because that’s what I’m claiming…

Right before the [all-women] Bar Method Class with Margie.

[P.S.: Please disregard the really bad sunburn & tan-lines.
I was a tourist earlier this week,
so the sun was introduced to my skin… Don’t judge me
This picture also serves as proof that I wear sunglasses. Often.]


  1. Sarah, you are a daughter of the True King. Hold your head high. We follow the One who was both meek and regal. It is our legacy and witness. Sending love and strength of Spirit your way...

  2. Thanks for your words, Charis! I've noticed myself cowering & then consciously deciding to roll my shoulders back & lift my head. It's been therapeutic. (Physically & spiritually.)

  3. Thanks for this humorous, bitter sweet post. I also avoid eye contact on the street, but don't have to deal with the hijab! Just "modest" dressing.

    I don't get cat calls and pick ups too often now at 47, but once in a while it happens, which cracks me up totally.

    Grace to you! I like the "keep your chin up" spirit you display.

  4. Just stopping by to say I. Love. Your. Blog. =) And I totally get the whole ashamed of Americans thing in your other post. And I'm right with you on epically failing yoga. Thanks for writing. We may live in two very different countries, but I feel like we have a lot in common.


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