Reclaim the walk of shame
The morning after the night before is in urgent need of a rebrand, says Flora Carr
IT’S NO NOT SHAME you feel first. It’s the sense of walking on a tightrope; a balancing act; a silent prayer that the audience won’t notice. Please, you think, please don’t let them see the heels, the smudged make-up, the cat costume under the borrowed jumper. For a moment, you dare to imagine they won’t. Then someone’s eyes slide over your mussed hair. A car horn blares as you cross the street. You duck your head, wondering how visible your flaking eyeliner is in the morning light. You hurry on. Nearly there, almost home, it’s virtually over.
Most women in their twenties and thirties will have experienced some kind of ‘walk of shame’. It’s a walk almost
exclusively associated with women. The Urban Dictionary defines it as ‘the course walked home after a night of boozing and f**king’, before continuing: ‘One usually wears either the clothes they went out in (eg, short skirt and heels) or the clothing of the person they slept with (eg, large white T-shirt).’ It’s the short skirt and heels, incongruous the morning after, which typify the ‘walk of shame’ stereotype. Ill-advised fancy dress, too – my own black lycra cat costume, for example, worn for a university Halloween party and then for a brief, excruciating dash home the next day.
Naturally, the ‘walk of shame’ crops up regularly on our screens – most often to signify a low point in the character’s story arc. In the opening scenes of Bridesmaids, Kristen Wiig’s character, wearing red stilettos, climbs and then straddles an electronic gate after leaving John Hamm’s bed. The 2014 film Walk Of Shame, starring Elizabeth Banks, bases much of the action on the premise that a woman doing the walk of shame could easily be mistaken for a prostitute. The tight clothing, the garish smears of red lipstick down a woman’s chin… On screen, the same visual indicators used for prostitutes are also used in walk of shame scenes.
It’s an unsettling comparison, and one that lies at the heart of my issue with the ‘walk of shame’. When women walk home after a night out – whether they’ve had sex or they haven’t – we are judged less for our smudged make-up and bed hair and more for the sexuality it connotes. The very idea of a ‘walk of shame’ reveals the tension between our knowledge that women should be able to have no-stringsattached consensual sex, and our fear of being branded a ‘slut’ or ‘slag’.
‘From my experiences, the thing that stays with me after a walk of shame is the appearance of having been up to something “naughty”, and people thinking about it,’ says Ellie, 28. ‘Casual sex is still viewed as somewhat taboo. You can have a one-night stand and your friends still jokingly refer to you as a slut.’
Emily, 34, agrees: ‘Among my friends, talking about someone’s “walk of shame” is essentially shorthand for slutty behaviour. Nobody is genuinely ashamed but it annoys me that men can roll into work in the same clothes and nobody bats an eyelid. If a woman on our team does it – and it happens more over Christmas – then she’s guaranteed to be a hot topic of discussion for the rest of the week. It’s such a double standard, it feels prehistoric.’
There’s been a recent slew of slutshaming articles centred around the walk of shame, for example, ‘41 Walk of Shame Photos That’ll Make You Give Up Drinking’. Covertly taken pictures, arranged into photo galleries for people to scroll through and ruminate on the ‘failures’ of young women. If someone taking the trouble to photograph a teenage girl clutching her heels and hiding her face isn’t disturbing, I don’t know what is.
‘I had to do a “train of shame” recently,’ says Marie, 35. ‘Legging it back to your halls of residence is one thing, but riding the overground train eight stops is a bit more sobering. I felt really awkward when some lads sitting opposite me started asking if I’d had a “good night”. Luckily they were pretty friendly, but I have a colleague who was circled by a group of guys one Sunday at around noon. She was on the train wearing a dress and ridiculous heels from the night before. They started talking to her and one was filming her on his phone – she has no idea whether that footage ended up being shared online. She felt humiliated.’
‘Walking home from a friend’s after clubbing one weekend, guys were jeering and making comments,’ adds Bethany, 25. ‘It was humiliating. No one should be made to feel like that.’
Back in 2011, Harvey Nichols faced accusations of misogyny and elitism for its womenswear Christmas advert. The ad depicted women, looking worse-for-wear and fiddling with their tight dresses, making their way home. The strapline ran ‘Avoid the walk of shame this season’, before showing a woman in a luxurious gold dress confidently greeting her postman as she unlocks her front door. Her quality clothing has allowed her to turn her walk of shame into a stride of pride.
Amber Rose’s satirical ‘Walk of No Shame’ video, via Funnyordie, also promotes this rebrand. In the video, Rose walks home barefoot with a grin on her face, greeted by passers-by who congratulate her on having sex and being comfortable with her sexuality.
Of course, true headway would mean that walking home in last night’s dress should not invite any kind of comment, whether it’s a catcall or a well-meaning thumbs-up.
I can’t forget that sense of walking on a tightrope, the feeling of dread, brought about by a walk of shame. But by writing this, by pointing out the dubious scenes on our screens, and by not staring at young women wearing hoodies over sequins, hopefully I’m taking small steps towards removing its stigma, for myself and perhaps you too.
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Walking HOME in last night’s dress should not INVITE any kind of comment
Flora’s on a mission to eradicate this ‘prehistoric’ stigma