I am my personal voyeur

Katie Lew, Photo Editor

Art by Ella Jiang.

I rub my neck, making sure to brush the stray hair on my neck straight. Neat.

The itching sensation never goes away anymore. It’s not so much a prickling feeling: more like when you see an ant and suddenly feel as though one is on you. You then rub your hand over your calf, down to your ankle, sensing the phantom tracks made by the imaginary creatures. Until you look down and see that nothing’s there. And even though you know none of those tiny little insects are marching up your leg, you still run your hand over your skin one more time. Just to be sure.

That crawling sensation that creeps up your arms: making you glance left and right, checking your body, scanning your surroundings. That’s what it feels like. That’s what a stare feels like.

And no, I’m not crazy or narcissistic to think I’m being watched. I know when someone is watching me and I know that someone has been watching me.

I don’t know when it started. I just know that I never stand still anymore. My fingers always find themselves running through my hair, adjusting my clothes, pulling at my tote. I shift from one leg to another, figuring out which pose makes me look the most effortlessly cool—whatever that means.

It’s grown into a defense mechanism at this point, touching my neck as a substitute for looking behind me. I’ve been too scared to even steal a glance, worried I’ll see something, see them.

They’re eternally tethered to me, stalking me so close, it’s like they’re my shadow.

It’s currently 11:45 a.m. and I’m hiding in the bathroom, my best attempt at getting away, if only for a minute.

Sometimes, I get envious of those who live without the worry of being perceived. They act so free, so uninhibited.

The ants reappear, and almost like a trigger, I rub my neck again as if soothing a burn mark from the smoldering glare of my stalker, as they scrutinize everything I do and say and think. Sometimes I think I can even hear them, snickering at my chipped nail polish.

It’s unfair. Why do I have to live in constant fear?

Why…do I have to live in fear?

I snap back into reality, having gotten lost in my own thoughts.

My lips are pursed, fists clenched, knuckles white.

I’m so tired. Tired of living like this.

For what feels like the first time in my life, I look behind me. I felt so ready to confront the creep who has been tormenting my life.

But all I’m met with is the scene of an angry woman, slightly warped and stained by watermarks. It’s me.

I am my own voyeur.

I watch myself from an outsider’s perspective. I watch myself constantly, criticizing my facial expressions, my interactions, my laughter; I behave according to this inner voice, whose opinions have no real basis other than the expectations I’ve received from other people; I chain myself down with the opinions of others, snapping the lock closed and throwing away the key.

No matter how much I tell myself that what matters most is what is on the inside, no matter how much I tell myself it’s unhealthy to compromise my mental health over my appearance, I know that I won’t escape the grasp of society’s gaze.

I mourn for the stalker-less girl I could have been. I often think about her, what she would be like. I wonder if she would have had red hair, if she would have liked fashion, if she would have quit band.

I like to convince myself that I am my own person and don’t care about what other people think about me.

But as Margaret Atwood said, even pretending that you’re not catering to male fantasies is a male fantasy in and of itself.