Ever since I was small, I wanted to be a woman. Not an adult, necessarily, but a woman. I started shaving my legs when I was 10, right before I got my period. I remember sitting on the toilet and picking up my mom’s pink razor and just brushing it lightly above my knee, amazed at how it made me feel. I went to school with shaved legs the next day, and no one noticed or cared, but I thought it brought me one step closer to being a real woman.
I got into makeup at a young age and would beg my mom to buy me off-the-shoulder tops from Forever 21 like the ones my sister wore to high school parties. My mom finally caved and bought me a purple one that I wore everywhere that wasn’t school. My dad hated it, so I knew I was doing something right.
The older I got, the more books I read. Books where young women, sometimes even girls, were sexually liberated in all aspects. Naturally, I thought being a woman meant being sexy. To me, sexy had all to do with revealing clothing, desirability, money, and most importantly, how feminine you were. Nothing to do with what sexy means to you.
I was never the “pretty” or “sexy” girl growing up, and I associated being deemed attractive with being a woman. How could I possibly be a real woman if no one wanted to fuck me? I was jealous of naturally pretty girls, girls who just had that look, girls who had that effortless beauty to them. I would watch makeup tutorials like they were homework and cry when I didn’t look like a woman. And don’t even get me started on my body. Women were supposed to be small, fragile, and have flat stomachs with no cellulite. I got stretch marks at a young age, I always had a stomach, and I had a double chin. I had been clinically obese for most of my life. And when I look back at photos of myself from those ages, I want to cry. Not because that girl hated herself so much, but because she didn’t think there was anything wrong with her until people told her to.
I would fight and cry with my parents, who used to tell me I was insecure and accused me of lying about loving myself. And I wasn’t lying. I became a teenager during the age of body positivity and social media. Girls with my body type loved themselves, so why couldn’t I? Then my parents convinced me that it was impossible for fat girls to love themselves. And like an idiot, I let it get to me. By 15, I couldn’t tell you one thing I liked about my physical appearance. Even now at 19, I still hesitate when asked what I think my best feature is. This must come as a shock, but I still can’t name one.
I thought confidence could only come with looks. I would try so hard to appear confident, because faking it is supposed to help you “make it.” It was impossible for high school me to have an ounce of confidence, because even on days I felt that I looked good, I never felt like a real woman. I’d spend hours looking in the mirror and all I could see was five-year-old me.
I always thought looking older would bring me closer to womanhood. When someone would mistake me for an adult, I’d feel flattered, validated. I wore makeup nearly every day of high school, I wore “provocative” clothing, I did it all. Yet I was still a kid. Whenever I’m back in Florida, I think of middle school and cringe at how desperate I used to be. I was never a woman in middle school. Girls my age were making out and almost having sex, and there I was, being the last picked for dodgeball. They were the effortless girls. They didn’t have to wear makeup—guys just navigated to them and I envied all of them.
My view on womanhood has been distorted for as long as I can remember. I didn’t know how to be a woman because women were supposed to be confident, but not cocky. Strong, but not too strong. Assertive, but not too outspoken. It was all too confusing for such a young girl to figure out on her own.
I wish I could hug middle school me and tell her that no guy has the power to make you feel less than a woman. I wish I could tell younger me to stop seeking validation in others, because I’m never going to find it. Not in my parents, boys, or anything equally as inconsequential. I can only find it in myself. Of course, I have some growing up to do, and I don’t have all the answers, but I have realized that before college, I never felt like a real woman because I didn’t know who I was. And although my perception of myself changes every day, I’m slowly becoming the woman of my dreams. Not because of her looks or her desirability, but because she does what she wants to do and is more than her insecurities.
Sometimes being a woman is hard and I want to give up, but I think of five-year-old me and how much she wanted to be older. To be a woman. We’re finally there. I find comfort in the fact that five-year-old me would think I’m really cool now. To her, I’d be a really cool woman, and that’s all the validation I need.