When I was younger- around third grade or so- one of the things that people loved to ask me was “Are you a tomboy or a girly girl?” It was just a normal part of third grade that everyone went through. You had to pick a side.
The problem was that I couldn’t pick one.
I’d come from a really sheltered environment. I had attended an independent study school through second grade, and then my family and I made the decision to switch me to public school. The change was… difficult, to put it lightly. Most of my life then was spent with my family. I was mostly taught by my wonderfully feminist mother, and the school I attended twice a week was also very liberal. So when I switched to public schooling in my largely conservative city, it was bizarre and I had no idea what was going on.
Not long earlier, I had been perfectly content catching lizards with my bare hands and experimenting with bizarre fashions (I was preferential to funky sunglasses, overalls, rainboots, and sundresses) and being a general wild child.
One day, I would cover myself in mud and catch bugs, both the pretty ones and the not so pretty ones. The next day, I would throw a rainbow unicorn birthday bash.
But then, all of a sudden, people wanted me to choose one or the other.
I was confused and lost. I wasn’t even ten years old. How was I supposed to know who I wanted to be?
So I kept up my wild lifestyle, determined not to care what other people thought. But it got harder and harder. I became a bit of a loner, not quite fitting in but not an outsider enough to find solace with the other weird kids either.
So I gave up. I decided to try and fit in. I labelled myself as a tomboy, because girly girls were supposedly vapid and stupid and didn’t care about anything but nail polish and frilly pink clothing. I turned away from my love of eclectic clothing, choosing jeans and t-shirts over the dresses that I had used to love because those things were girly and therefore weak. I shunned the company of the girls who had coined themselves as “girly,” and in return, they shunned me.
I forced myself into a box that didn’t really fit because I wanted to belong.
The box was too small, too confining, but it gave me a sense of security in the tumultuous world that is school and society in general.
Over the years, the labels evolved, but the general connotations stayed the same. To be girly in any way was to be weak, and I wanted to be strong, so therefore, I acted “boyish.” I refused to brush my hair, I made rude jokes, I played with bugs and Pokemon cards while turning my love of fashion design and pretty bows into some kind of hideous secret.
All of that was incredibly harmful to me and my self esteem. I buried myself so far away that even today, years later, trying to find myself is nigh impossible. I’m trying, but it’s hard.
Recently, I’m trying to stop hiding. I’ll wear floaty floral skirts with my big black boots. Band t-shirts and grungey jeans with pretty bows in my hair.
I don’t want to care what people think. I don’t want to fit into a box anymore.
But I’ve lived in the box so long that it’s hard to leave.
What I’m trying to get at here is that we need to stop telling little girls (and boys!) that they need to be one thing or the other. It hurts. It forces you to be someone you’re not- because nobody is fully “girly” or fully “boyish,” whatever those words mean.
Imagine crawling into a box when you’re little. It seems to fit just right. But then, as you grow older and get bigger, the box starts to get more and more confining. You don’t leave, though, because people tell you that the box is safe, that you need to pick one box or another, and besides, it’s too late to leave this one for another. So you get bigger, and the box gets smaller, until one day, you’re hunched over, misshapen, because you grew up in a box that was too small for you, and now there’s no going back.
You don’t need to be one thing or the other, so you don’t need to change yourself to be that thing.
Always strive to be yourself, fully and completely. Leave the box before it’s too late.
Don’t be afraid to color outside the lines. It gets easier, I promise. I’m not going to pretend that it isn’t hard, because it is. And it’s a lifelong process.
Try to find who you are, beyond the labels and stereotypes. And in the meantime, stop forcing other people, younger people who look up to you, into boxes of their own.
It’s okay to label yourself by your gender, sexuality, passions, interests, hobbies, or whatever else you choose to label yourself by- but you should not change to fit these labels. The labels should change to fit you.