Her Head So Proudly High: 2022 in Review

A League Of Their Own

Source: NPR

“Each girl stands, her head so proudly high…”
— A League of Their Own

For 20 years, I’ve stood 61.75 inches tall. 5’1 and ¾ .

For 20 years, I’ve told everyone I’m 5’1.

For 20 years, I’ve rounded down. I ignored the rules I learned in elementary school math class to sell myself short (literally). To make myself smaller. To take up less space.

It’s what we as women are so often taught to do. Make yourself smaller to make other people more comfortable. Downplay your accomplishments or strengths so you don’t look conceited. Don’t ask for what you want—or even for what you need—because that’s asking too much of other people. Deny yourself pleasure, anger, and any other big feeling that makes you look “dramatic.” Shrink your body down to whatever size and shape society has deemed “trendy” for the moment.

All this to fit neatly into the tiny, pretty boxes that we are supposed to live our lives in.

The tiny, pretty boxes that make us easier to define, to label, and to control.

During the process of trying to cram yourself into those small, confined boxes, one of two things often happens: Parts of you—the best parts, the unique parts, the good stuff—start to break to ensure a perfect fit. Or the pressure the world puts on you—and you put on yourself—to push yourself down tighter and tighter until there’s barely any of you left becomes too much, and you push back with even greater force; you explode, destroying the box rather than destroying yourself to stay in it.

Or to put it another way: You either keep rounding down, or you start rounding up.

This was the year I started rounding up.

And the media I gravitated toward this year was full of examples of women doing the same thing.

One of my most-anticipated TV shows of 2022 was A League of Their Own. As someone who can quote the original film verbatim, I approached the Amazon series with excitement and a little trepidation. However, I shouldn’t have worried. I watched the whole series with my sister over the course of one weekend (and to know me is to know I very rarely love a show enough to binge-watch it that quickly). And it gave me so much more than what I was expecting.

It gave me living, breathing examples of what it means to sing those beloved lyrics:

Each girls stands, her head so proudly high.
Her motto “Do or die.”
She’s not the one to use or need an alibi…

It gave me so many female characters who unapologetically take up space as their true selves—at a time when it was difficult and downright dangerous to do so. Queer women who love and laugh and discover a little corner of the world where they can safely step outside of their boxes—if only for a moment. Women who we celebrate for what their bodies can do instead of what their bodies look like. Women who get to be unique, complex, brave, and utterly impossible to define in easy ways.

And it showed me that when you come out of your box and take up space, you’ll find your people. Your team. Standing with your head so proudly high allows people to see you—the real you. And the women of A League of Their Own taught me that letting people see you is the best way to find people who love you. And that’s what a team really is. It’s the people who love you, who have your back, who remind you that you don’t ever have to do hard things—from playing for a championship to taking up space as your fullest self—on your own.

I had a special place in my heart for shows about female athletes this year. While A League of Their Own was about a group of mostly grown women (excluding teenage Esti), the second season of Big Shot continued to tell the story of a group of teenage girls who play on a basketball team together. (Yes, this is the part where I tell all of you to watch the John Stamos girls’ basketball show on Disney+.) My favorite thing about this show is the way these girls are treated as real people rather than typical teenage girl media stereotypes. They have different body types, are exploring their sexuality, have different interests and skills outside of basketball, have mental health challenges, have both challenging and supportive family dynamics, and are given a full range of emotions—from anger to anxiety to heartbreak to joy—with respect and nuance.

Each character on Big Shot is unique and is given the chance to take up space with her feelings in a way teenage girls in the media—and in reality—often are denied. And this allows the show to depict the formation of the kind of honest, supportive, chosen family that teenage girls are very good at forming, contrary to popular media portrayals. Just like the Rockford Peaches, the Westbrook Sirens create a safe space for each other to be their fullest selves and to know those full selves are seen and loved and valued. Their relationships with each other are the core of this series, which honestly has no business being as good as it is.

Important relationships between unique, fully-realized, complex women are also at the core of the best new show of the last year—Abbott Elementary. While Gregory and Jacob are wonderful characters (and the Gregory/Janine ship is kind of classic network comedy slow-burn romance I’ve been missing in recent years), the best thing about this show is its central group of female characters, each of whom gets to take up space in her own way. From Melissa’s brash, bold style to Ava’s scene-stealing self confidence (and secret heart of gold) and from Barbara’s gravitas to Janine’s energy, these women are the ones who really get things done—all by using their unique strengths and skills, as well as the myriad of things they learn from each other.

One of my favorite things about Abbott Elementary is the way it shows the beauty of the sense of self that comes with age. Barabara and Melissa are two middle-aged women who aren’t relegated to the background like they would be on so many other shows. Their age and experience makes them valuable mentors, but they are also shown to learn things from the 20-something Janine as well. And maybe even more importantly, they’re friends and a strong professional support system for each other. Just like Big Shot gives teenage girls more depth and dimension and fuller relationships with each other than they’re usually given in the media, Abbott Elementary gives its middle-aged female characters the kinds of stories, relationships, and respect they’re not often given—especially in sitcoms. It serves as a strong reminder that with age comes a stronger sense of self and a more natural ability to command a room exactly as you are—standing at your full height. And for someone in her mid-30s, that’s a really exciting thought and a really great example to see.

The strong bonds between working women continued on The Rookie this season as Angela and Nyla were finally paired up as detectives. After a season in which I felt both characters were short-changed, it was fun in the latter half of 2022 to watch them work together as strong, unapologetic leaders who know they are great at their jobs, have fulfilling love lives, and are working mothers who are shown to love their careers and their kids—without sacrificing either (but also acknowledging the struggle of balancing the two at times).

And of course I can’t talk about The Rookie without talking about Lucy Chen—my favorite character on television. This was the year her skills as an undercover officer continued to develop and we got to watch her fully come into her own in this role. Undercover Lucy is a study in self-confidence—a woman who knows she’s good at this and who shines in this professional spotlight.

Lucy’s growing confidence isn’t just limited to her professional life, either. Watching her navigate her developing relationship with Tim has been a true delight. It’s definitely not a coincidence that in both of their kisses, Lucy has been the one to grab Tim’s face and pull him to her. And finally, when it was time for them to stop beating around the bush, it was Lucy who admitted that Tim was the most important person in her life and that she was afraid of ruining that—owning both her desires and her fears. And when Tim held out his hand to her to take that risk, she grabbed a hold of it and leapt off the cliff with him.

Lucy Chen has always been a woman guided by her gut, and I love that we get to see her instincts and her trust in them serve her well. She leads with her heart, but has a good head on her shoulders too. Female characters with soft hearts aren’t always allowed to be sexy, strong, and smart, as well, but Lucy is all of those things in her own way. Her journey has been one of a woman searching for a place and a purpose finally finding where she belongs and who she belongs with—and this was the year we watched her fully claim what’s hers in both her professional and personal life.

Lucy Chen represents the journey so many women in our 20s and 30s are on as we learn who we really are, what we really want, and what it feels like to be honest about those things—even when it’s hard. And that was an example I really needed this year as I learned to be less afraid of what I want, more willing to listen to my gut, and the most honest I’ve ever been. When I look back on 2022, this was the year I learned to lean even more into my inner Lucy, and my life is better for it.

I discovered Lucy Chen relatively recently in my fangirl life, but in 2022, I was also reminded of the impact one female character has had on me for as long as I can remember.

This was the year I—and really, all of us who watched Obi-Wan Kenobi—fell in love with Princess Leia all over again.

As a little girl, Princess Leia was my idol. I was a tiny girl with brown hair and big opinions, and I fell in love with that tiny Rebel leader with brown hair and big opinions from the moment I saw her. The way I talked with a shocking amount of authority for a six-year-old (“It’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind” was a favorite saying of mine as child), the way I always raised my hand in class, the way I never flinched when people called me bossy—that was Princess Leia’s influence.

When I was a little girl and looked up to Princess Leia the woman, I took up so much space. I was short in stature but nothing else about me was small. But then I grew up—and growing up for so many of us means shying away from all that space we took up as little girls. I spoke my mind less, I kept my hand down even when I knew the answer, and I wanted so badly to be good and accommodating that “bossy” was a word to be feared rather than to aspire to.

But then, this year, just as I was starting to realize how much I was hurting myself to stay small, I rediscovered the princess who first taught me what it meant to walk with my head so proudly high. This time, though, I was a woman looking up to Princess Leia as a little girl.

Because when I looked at young Leia in Obi-Wan Kenobi, it felt a little like looking into the past in my own life, catching a glimpse of who I was before I decided that it was more important to make everyone else comfortable than to give myself enough space to breathe.

I watched Obi-Wan Kenobi during the hardest time in my life. I had reached a horrible mental health low that had me finally taking antidepressants, I was sleeping around 90 minutes a night, I wasn’t eating much, and I spent days not entirely sure how I would make it to tomorrow. But somehow the universe always seems to give us fangirls what we need when we need it most. And it gave me the most unexpected gift—a new version of my hero to love and learn from.

Just like her adult self, Leia as a child took up space. The impassioned spirit, impressive intellect, and imposing confidence were there from the start. Leia was shown to be anything but a stereotypical “good little girl.” She is adventurous, outspoken, stubborn, and bold. And instead of her being punished for those things—or those being things that are supposed to make us view her as “difficult”—they’re framed as things for us to love about her, things that help her survive, and things that make her, as Obi-Wan puts it, “exceptional.”

To see that—to see an adult look at a headstrong, confident, challenging little girl with big feelings and tell her she’s exceptional not despite those things but because of them—felt like healing for me and like hope for the next generation of young fangirls falling in love with her for the first time.

At a point in my life where I was shrinking in every possible way, I was reminded of who I was before I internalized the idea that I was too much—the version of me who was fighting to escape from her tiny little box and take up as much space as possible. The version of me who’s honest, brave, and so much more than what the world tells her she has to be.

Princess Leia has come to embody hope and the ability to keep fighting even when it seems easier to give up or run away. And in the hardest year of my life, she reminded me that maybe I still have some of her left in me.

That’s what all of these women did for me this year—they reminded me that life is so much better outside of the tiny box that has never fit correctly, that I exist beyond the stereotypes and labels given to me by others, and that I belong in the spotlight instead of in the shadows.

They reminded me that I deserve to take up space as my full, complex, honest self—a self who is bigger than I ever really let her be before.

A self I’m ready for people to see, to meet, and to love.

I’m Katie. I’m an extrovert. I have tattoos. I’m bisexual. I’m not married, I don’t have kids, and I don’t think I need either of those things to live a good, meaningful life filled with love. I ended 2022 weighing more than I ever have but loving my body more than I ever have. I have generalized anxiety disorder and OCD and take medications for them that I believe helped me save my own life this year. I am a good person who loves with her whole heart, and I finally believe that’s enough. I am a person to be loved, not a project to be fixed or a problem to be solved.

Oh yeah…and I’m 5’2.

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1 thought on “Her Head So Proudly High: 2022 in Review

  1. I love a whole lot about this but this is my favorite part and the one that made me the most emotional. “To see that—to see an adult look at a headstrong, confident, challenging little girl with big feelings and tell her she’s exceptional not despite those things but because of them—felt like healing for me and like hope for the next generation of young fangirls falling in love with her for the first time.”

    Not despite but because of. That was the story you needed to see told this year. Especially about the character who has meant more to you than any other and especially to have to be about baby Leia. I love that you got this and I love that you got this when you did. It would have meant a lot to you no matter when Obi-Wan came out but it was just before the sun started to shine through again so it was there to carry with you and make you strong and brave in exactly the way Carrie Fisher lived her life.

    I also really love this as a line and for Lucy and how it so nicely fits with her journey this year of coming into her own. And how much you have loved her since minute one and have gotten to go on this whole journey with her. “And finally, when it was time for them to stop beating around the bush, it was Lucy who admitted that Tim was the most important person in her life and that she was afraid of ruining that—owning both her desires and her fears.”

    I’m so proud of you for writing and sharing this, babe.

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