Shadow Boxing in the Lineup
– Guest post by Karren Knowlton, originally posted on Medium
I feel their eyes glide over the curves of my body. Their gaze evaluative, hungry.
I am being watched. My skin prickles with this knowledge every time they turn their heads my way. I feel the flush creep to my cheeks, and I make my face a mask. Eyes trained on the horizon, I pretend not to notice.
I am on display for them. I don’t mean to be, and yet I am. I don’t mean to make a spectacle of myself, yet here I am, back arched, bare skin drenched and glistening for all to see.
What they see is what I am here. I know this. It is their world I am playing in, not my own. In this world I must armour up as they do. I must show no fear, no weakness. Yet my greatest ‘weakness’ is as evident as the water we swim in. There is no denying what I am here, of all places. Of all the ways to hide my nature, a wet bikini is surely not the most useful disguise.
It’s not my game and these aren’t my rules, but I’m scrapping and striving to take what’s mine, just as they are.
They think I’m an amateur, I think. They think I’m not gonna catch this wave because I don’t have the skill. They think I don’t have what it takes. They think I’m not strong enough to catch this one, that I don’t know my timing.
They’re watching my ass glistening in the sun while I’m fighting with everything I have just to shut them out and to paddle, hard. I can’t grant their thoughts of me even an inch of space, I know this. There’s no room for that while I look back and track the wave, feel for the moment I need to paddle harder, for the moment when it catches me and, on instinct, I float to my feet.
“Nice wave” one of them says as I paddle back out, giving me a genuine grin, his face open and kind. “Thanks” I reply, beaming internally as I paddle on. I did it. They saw me. I belong here too. They know this now. Paddling out past a big set, another guy gives me a smile and a nod, friendly and concise. It feels like an acknowledgment.
Waves bigger than I’m willing to tangle with roll smoothly beneath me and it hits me full force. These guys are not the problem here, I am.
These guys are not watching me, waiting for me to mess up. I am. I am the one standing on the outside, looking at myself the very way I accuse them of seeing me.
These guys are not watching me and making me feel objectified and on display. They probably don’t give a shit about me, to be perfectly frank. They probably don’t notice me nearly as much as I imagine they do. These guys are out here to surf, not to pick up or ogle at girls. Of course there’s always one whose ‘friendliness’ feels like something different, but for the most part these guys are watchful, hungry, and fiercely focused on the water, not on my ass.
Sure they may notice a girl paddle by, maybe they’ll make a comment or share a glance with their buddy, but that’s the extent of it. They’re watching the horizon for signs of the next set, they’re watching inside to see where and how the waves are breaking. They couldn’t care less about me and my self-consciousness, they’re too busy watching for a chance to take a wave.
The problem here is not how they see me. The problem is how I have learned to see myself. I stand outside myself and see a frivolous object, not a real athlete, a real contender in this arena. I reduce myself to “hot chick in a bikini”. I do that. I believe that this is how they see me, that this is what I am to them.
I rage against this belief. I am so much more than this. I deserve so much better than this. I’m angry at the world, I’m angry at them, and then finally I’m just angry at myself. Because I let this in. Because I let this get to me. Because I let it undermine my performance, time and time again. This has happened for as long as I can remember, in every sport I can think of, yet I’ve never realized so acutely my own responsibility in the situation.
I brought this belief into the water, and now I’m projecting it onto these guys around me, as if they’re the ones to blame. I’m making assumptions about them making assumptions about me. What a clusterf*ck of wasted energy.
The truth is I have no idea what they are thinking. And there’s not a chance they’re being nearly as hard on me as I am being on myself.
And would it even matter if they were? What if some of them really are looking at me like I’m just a piece of flesh? What if some of them really do believe that I am somehow less than they are, simply because I’m a woman?
Their thoughts cannot touch me. I decide what I am.
I am a woman, I am a surfer, and I have every right to be here. And if the sight of me doing my thing is enough to make them stop and stare?
Well then let ’em look, because I am done hiding.
Thank you for this thought provocative post, Karen.
Follow Karen Knowlton and read more of her amazing writing on Medium.