I’m not girly enough. I always veered toward all things prescribed as male activities. As a child, I loved Lincoln Logs, Matchbox cars, and action figures. I played video games. I wanted to be an archaeologist and travel the world digging up dinosaur bones and discovering lost civilizations. I raced with the boys in the neighborhood, easily outrunning them with my long legs. I enjoyed watching football and hockey, often lamenting the fact that when the boys played those sports, I couldn’t’ play along. They feared I’d get hurt, but I didn’t care. The scars didn’t bother me; scars were the evidence of a good time, a game well played.
When I started going through puberty, and the other girls my age traded in their Barbie dolls for lip gloss, I tried to follow along. It seemed apparent to me that they all knew some secret and I wasn’t privy to it. I watched as they primped in front of mirrors, fixing hair, adjusting tank tops, clad in booty shorts, and glittery sandals.
Then I looked at my reflection, my perfectly executed ponytail from years of wearing the same hairstyle, the oversized tee shirt with the spaghetti stain on it that never quite came out, pedal pushers, and a very worn out pair of Reeboks. I wanted to be like the other girls, but I didn’t know where to start.
“It’s okay,” they would tell me, “You’re just a tomboy.” My mother would lament with a neighbor over my lack of girlishness, and they would console her with the same phrase, “It’s okay she’s just a tomboy, she’ll grow out of it.” Unfortunately, I never grew out of it. Much to her dismay and perhaps to mine as well.
What exactly is a tomboy? To me, it felt like a pejorative phrase, something that when I was younger, it was okay to be but as I aged into puberty and adulthood became code for something else. People began to liken it to my sexuality almost to the point where I questioned it myself. In the end, I would figure it out. But the entirety of my teen years were filled with self-loathing and pain over a simple label. One that defined me but wasn’t the entirety of me.
The word Tomboy has had many connotations over the centuries, yes; the word is that old, it was used to describe a girl who exhibits the typical behaviors and characteristics that are considered typical of a boy. It included wearing masculine clothing and engaging in games or activities that are physical and were considered in many cultures to be unfeminine or the domain of boys. When the term originated in the 1500s, it meant a woman who desired to wear sensible clothing and eat a wholesome diet.
Why should it be considered anti-feminine to want to be active, healthy, and wear sensible clothing? But it was and to some degree, still is today. Sure our society has come a long way. The thoughts of when I grew up in the 80s where all tomboys if they never grew out of it where surely lesbians have changed greatly. Our knowledge of gender issues and sexuality have come a long way. But in my case and the case of all self-described tomboys out there, it hasn’t. We still feel the pressure to be feminine, but femininity is as unnatural to me as trying to write my name with my non-dominant hand.
In college, I tried.
I had several roommates who attempted to teach me how to be a girl. They took me shopping, they painted my face with makeup and did my nails. All that did was change my outside. I was uncomfortable and not just because they had me wearing a thong. (Who wants to walk around with a string shoved up their crack all day anyway?) I felt like a man on Halloween that gets roped into dressing like a woman and has no desire to do it. It was not me, no matter how much I desired it to be. I put it all away and just assumed that a life of being a pretty girl was not for me.
I married a man who loves pretty things; he’s pretty himself. Our bathroom sink is filled with various face creams, cleansers, colognes, and hair products. His clothing takes up three-quarters of our walk-in closet. He is extra in every way that a man can be extra. He wears jewelry, he loves bracelets, wearing a few at once. Every day he wears a dress shirt, heavily starched, perfectly pressed jeans, and Stacy Adams shoes.
He is the walking definition of metro-sexual, and he always looks amazing. Contrasted with me who on my best days can achieve the look of homeless chic flawlessly. When we go shopping, something he loves to do, he picks out my clothes because I hate shopping and will always default to tee shirts and jeans. All my sexy dresses, he’s bought. I don’t feel sexy in them, and no matter how many times he tells me I look amazing, I feel awkward.
I often find myself asking questions like, “Why do I have put on a sexy dress, makeup, and adorn myself with jewelry to feel sexy? Why can’t a tee shirt, sweatpants, and a messy ponytail be considered just as appealing? Why are my feelings of sexiness tied so strongly to my appearance?”
Maybe it’s the media, people like to blame the media for everything, but I don’t think so. The media isn’t responsible for how I feel about myself. I am. I learned to feel that way because of how society views me. The idea of feminine perfection is a woman who is put together. From head to toe, she has long shiny hair, her makeup is perfect, she’s wearing a cute outfit that hugs her body in all the right places, and she’s wearing heels. I know these ladies exist, I see them all the time in Target, perfectly stylish. I see my husband staring at them and sometimes when I catch him out of the corner of my eye, I wonder, does he secretly wish I was more like them?
I know he’d say no.
He’d tell you that he thinks I’m just as pretty if not prettier. He’ll tell me; I look better than that when I try. But trying is hard. It requires hours of time that I just don’t have to stand in front of the mirror. When I’m done, I see a person who only vaguely looks the part they are trying to play. I feel like a failure at the most basic of things, being a woman. I find myself googling things like “sexy sweats” in a vain attempt to be comfortable yet pretty. I’ve come to find that comfort and pretty are an oxymoron.
Now I watch my daughter, an enthusiastically active girl who loves all things girly as much as she loves all things, boy. I’m careful not to label her; I encourage her to buy as much nail polish and Pokemon cards as she wants. I don’t want her to have the same hang-ups that I do. I want her to look in the mirror and feel beautiful, even when she’s covered in dirt. I can’t teach her how to do the perfect smokey eye, but that’s why there’s YouTube.
But what I can teach her is to be herself and love herself as she is even when I can’t do it myself.
Years of being told that I’m different and that my differences are wrong have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I feel different; I am different, I am wrong. I don’t know what the answer is, I’m almost forty years old and I still think, when I grow up, I’ll be a pretty woman like her. But am I grown up almost to the point of being past my prime and I still feel uncomfortable in my skin. I straddle two worlds never completely a part of either one.
Deep down every woman wants to feel beautiful and sexy, even us tomboys, we just want to do it in sweats.