I have always had trouble with walking, with carrying my body from one space to another—something about there being too much of it; long arms, longer legs. There are too many parts to make use of at once. I’ve been aware of this problem since puberty, and it’s one with no simple solution. I’m constantly reminding myself to sit up straight; to walk softer. These things are not in my nature, though I wish that they were.
Or I did, until I saw Frances Ha. It is not a movie about walking, although one can say it’s about movement. Frances, played by Greta Gerwig, is an aspiring dancer. She is not a professional by traditional standards, but she’s interesting to watch because she knows how to fill her body with meaning, how to use every part—down to the finger, down to the bone. Beyond that, Frances Ha is about female friendships and floating and Figuring It Out — all things I relate to and understand. But when I left the theater, I wasn’t thinking about friendship or floating or figuring. I was thinking about Greta Gerwig and her body and the way every part of her moved.
And for the first time, I wanted to move too.
I was always a tall little girl, but at ten or eleven, I sprouted. I gained a pair of dangly arms and a stick set of legs, all the better to tower with. And while I’d been a very cute, very outgoing kid, this change caused me to retreat a bit, to befriend domineering girls with the short statures and short strides a girl was supposed to have. Let them have the spotlight; I didn’t know what to do with it anyway.
I dreaded attention so much that I failed my Speech class senior year of high school. I just refused to show up. The thought of fourteen sets of eyes on me, watching my body, hearing my voice — I couldn’t do it. When I found out I would not be able to walk in graduation because of my failure, my first thought was, “Thank god.”
There’s a scene in Frances Ha where Gerwig runs and skips and twirls down a busy downtown street. I briefly felt annoyed by how much space she was taking up and by how happy she looked doing it, but the annoyance grew to jealousy and then to elation. Look at this tall, gawky, beautiful woman! She doesn’t even give a fuck! So why do I?
My fear of walking in front of people was not just a teenage preoccupation; it grew up with me. It was a scar, or a mole, or another thing that does not go away. I’m reminded of it even now, like the time someone told me my left arm doesn’t move when I walk and I shrunk about ten sizes. Or any time I can hear my own footsteps over whatever music is blasting from my headphones; every time someone turns around to see who owns the heavy boots behind him. It is not very womanlike, I tell myself. I am not carrying myself correctly.
While many women grow up internalizing media messages like be thin or wear makeup or shave everything, the only ones I feel inundated by are the ones that say Be dainty; Tread lightly; Be graceful. From runways to sitcoms to just… other women on the street, everyone knows how to carry herself in this pretty little way that I’ve never quite learned.
So I thought my very essence was one of bastardized femininity. But in watching Gerwig trounce around and walk too hard and use up all the space in a city, I realized that the problem wasn’t me, nor was it the way that I walk. The problem was my definition of femininity and how it wasn’t open enough to include me. Women don’t walk that hard. Women move both arms. Women go unheard, tip-toeing in high heels.
It seems the antidote was watching someone I admire disprove all of these things. Women can walk sharp, make noise, take up all the space they want. Women can jerk and sprawl and jump. And it doesn’t make them any less feminine. It makes them individuals; it makes them people and not just women.
So Greta Gerwig taught me the correct way to walk, which is to say, same as ever.
This post originally appeared on Medium.