The Power of Posture
01.08.16 by Tabitha Olson
For most of my early life, I felt small, voiceless, invisible, and powerless. As a teen and adult, I experienced many unsettling, sometimes scary, incidents with men both on the street and in the workplace. Just walking down the street was an ordeal.
That doesn’t happen to me anymore.
Growing up, I lived in a low-income neighborhood. Most of the kids around me had brushes with the law, and I often didn’t feel safe. I learned to shrink into myself, trying not to attract unwelcome attention. It didn’t really work, but it was the only thing I knew to do. As I grew up and went to college and later to work, I still felt powerless and voiceless, and had no idea how to change things.
Eventually, I did try to stand up for myself, to make the verbal harassment and suggestive looks stop. But no one had ever shown me how, so I ended up defending myself only after I’d been pushed too far, which was emotionally taxing and just plain awful.
I took the self-defense intensive course at Thousand Waves a few months after I started taking Karate classes, and it was like being given a light after decades of stumbling around in the darkness.
I learned how to use my voice earlier in a conflict, to keep situations from getting out of control. This led to increased confidence, which made it easier to speak up when I needed to, which gave me more confidence, etc. It was a wonderful, empowering cycle.
I don’t experience those unsettling incidents anymore simply because of the way I hold myself—after all, body language speaks loudest of all. I can now claim my space with confidence and defend it with a smile. This is enough to communicate that I have boundaries I’m willing to defend, and the few times I’ve had to defend them, it required no more than direct eye contact while believing that I am worth defending. My posture does the rest. This doesn’t necessarily keep me from attracting attention, but I have found it helpful in discouraging unwelcome advances or comments.
The difference in posture is subtle, but very important. Head held high instead of down or even straight ahead. Shoulders back instead of hunched, even slightly. Genuine smile instead of a neutral or stern expression. Direct eye contact, which you break slowly instead of quickly. All this communicates confidence and comfort with oneself.
Now, as I walk down the street, I feel taller than I ever have before. I am grateful to Thousand Waves for everything I’ve learned.