When I was growing up, I struggled with the problem of being ‘too tomboy’ or ‘too girly’. I had two older brothers you see, so life meant watching wrestling in secret (my dad is religious), not wanting to wash my hair (they didn’t need to very often so why should I?), hand me down football shirts, and playing football at any opportunity, at all costs, even when that meant being put in goal, or standing on the very edge of the school playground pitch in case the ball came towards me and I could once and for all show the boys what I was made of. Of course, like any other high pressure social moment in my life, I crumbled, kicked the ball high in the air, my shoe came flying off, I fell, and broke my wrist. True story.
Soon year 6 came around, my tits began to grow and I was becoming hazily aware that my sticker collecting, climbing trees, Pokemon cards and secret clubhouse days were numbered. Don’t ask me why, but in my 10-year old mind I felt I needed to be girly if I stood any chance of making friends at my next school. Quickly, I learnt I needed to wash my hair and anyone I considered popular, funny or important was in my narrow minded opinion, ‘girly’. So I approached the most blonde, girly girl in my class, and asked her how to be a girl. By the time secondary school came about, my female idol was Bridget from 8 Simple Rules and straightened hair burnt to a crisp, too much makeup and boys were my top life priorities.
As I’m sure you’re all thinking, there is so much wrong with the above, not least because no child should label themselves, or be labelled as anything other than a child. I wasn’t close enough to either of my parents to disclose the true reality of my feelings so they never had the opportunity to sit me down, and set me on the straight and narrow about my misconceptions on what it meant to be ‘girly’, a ‘tomboy’ or ‘popular’ and so on.
Clearly there are self-confidence and body image issues at play here too (as there are for every pre-teen/teenager), but simultaneously, at the time and on multiple occasions since, I have not felt ‘girly’ enough to participate in certain sports, activities or even events. But where on earth did I get the preconception of what ‘girly enough’, or what being ‘too boyish’ was? Did it begin with my total love of Polly Pockets, or my rejection of Barbie, was it founded in my obsession with gender neutral Sega games (Sonic the Hedgehog), soon to become PlayStation games such as CTR, or Spyro the Dragon? Is it down to television programmes I watched, enjoyment of Lego, my love for Disney but not the princesses? At what point did girly connect in my head to mean pink and pretty and boy mean batman and power rangers? How is it that I enjoyed the latter but struggled with the former, and could not find a place between the two? Why was it in earlier years I played down being clever to try and fit in with other girls my age. Why was it that for me, being opinionated and being intelligent left me feeling oversized, clumsy, boyish? And then why did my perception of what was and wasn’t how a girl should be, have such huge implications on hobbies I pursued and interests I gained as I grew up? These are questions I still cannot answer now.
I suppose going to an all girls school didn’t help either, particularly when everyone wants to be liked, wants to be queen bee, where acting dumb and being rowdy got you in the good books of the popular girls, and there was a secret unspoken quest for who could have the shortest skirt and get away with it.
As I tried to further immerse myself into ‘girl’ world, there were a few constant blockades that sabotaged my master plan. Here are a few:
1. Eczema, (I’m talking constant, regular dry-skin flurries, or blotchy skin I lied about and blamed on fake tan. What year 7 girl knows what fake tan is? Let alone where to buy it, how to apply it!);
2. Books – I loved reading, always had, but having your head stuck in a book wasn’t cool (but having your tongue stuck down a boys throat was, obviously);
3. The violin – I was quickly given the nickname ‘one man band’ as I lugged my violin around school between classes. Moreover, enjoying Vivaldi, Bruch, Brahms and better yet, actually being good for my age just was. not. cool. and attending multiple orchestras and choirs just has no place in girl world. FYI, if you have to leave Friday night sleepovers early on Saturday morning to get to orchestra, and wake up all the girls early that were in attendance in the process, don’t expect to be invited back;
4. Fake teeth. Please don’t even get me started on that one.
All in all, as much as I tried, I think this was nature’s way of telling me I wasn’t cut out for girl world. Or at least, not the stereotype and ideal I was so convinced I was supposed to fit in to.
As a 24 year old, I find myself in a similar situation; no longer am I dangling off a tightrope between the two polar characters I fought to be when I was a child. No longer do I need to choose between being a ‘tomboy’ or a ‘girly girl’, no longer do I have to support Arsenal with my brother strictly at the weekend only, or read Anthony Horowitz’s spy novels in secret. Instead, I am now faced with this dilemma; what kind of woman am I, what type of woman do I want to become?
Through personal observation (so please no one be offended!) it seems there are a few stereotypes I find myself aware of. You have: The Hipsters – they know lingo I’ve never heard of, swagger around with a casual confidence and dress in clothes I’ve never seen (for real where do they shop?!) This is probably an outrageous thing to say, but hey, here it is: all hipsters are peng. I bet you’ve never see an uggo hipster, they just don’t exist; The Boho chicks – basically, the well-travelled, chilled, yoga practising, vegan goddesses with creative outfits and elaborate Cleopatra-esque jewellery. In my eyes, they sort of float. The Sassy chicks; these girls know what’s what. Their eyebrows, eyelashes, nails, hair, makeup, tan, christ even their smiles are on point. No food is ever stuck in between their teeth, jewellery is simple, but sassy. Flawless everyday, and frankly, I’m in total awe. The Business chicks; in their smart dress, with a lip stick or blouse that has been perfectly calculated to match their casual, understated killer heels. They have the hair flick down, lips pursed, and they are in control, bad ass ladies ready for any manterrupting they’ll encounter that day; The Sporty/Wellbeing chicks – either they are in sports wear, about to change in to sports wear, talking about the gym or just heading off for a class. Not really, they care about their physique and are mindful of their bodies. These girls have the motivation and determination of lionesses.
I am totally bemused as to where I am supposed to fit into the above. It’s not that I’m not ‘girly’ enough to be any of these women, more, I am not organised enough. Where do these dear friends find the time to get their nails manicured, hair died, eyebrows plucked, tans upkept? It’s all I can do to get home from work, heat up a frozen breadcrumb fish-fillet, microwave some peas and squeeze in an episode of Gilmore Girls. Sure, I take my career seriously but you’d never catch me in heels or a suit going to work. I like the gym and I confess, I wear a sports bra most days, but I will beat anyone to eating a whole pack of chocolate fingers. Plus I tried yoga, but found myself struggling to breathe in and out when I was instructed too, and biting my nails is as second nature to me as necking a whisky is to an alcoholic. I also hopped on the Veganuary (Vegan-January) hype to kickstart 2017, and consumed more Oreos and Salt & Balsamic Vinegar Kettle Hips in that one month, than in my whole twenty-four years of existence. Safe to say contrary to belief, veganism did nothing for my waistline, and more tears were cried over baby lambs and baby chicks during that month than any other time in my life.
On a more serious note, here are a few more ideals I find myself struggling between at times. Am I working too hard, or not kick starting my career and working overtime enough? Am I not socialising enough, or when I am, should I be more professional? As a girl at work should I be dressing classier or more chilled in spite of being in a relaxed work environment. Will I still be taken as seriously as my male colleagues if I do wear relaxed clothes on parr with theirs? Does this give me equal grounding? Should I act clever or dumb down a bit? After all, nobody likes a know-it-all, or at least few warm to the clever girl immediately. And hey, acting dumb gets laughs and gains popularity (I would know all too well). Should I call out casual sexism as I see it? Or laugh it off as a joke someone made to be funny? Should I be political or not too political? Because trolls love to tell you, ‘what do you know?’ just like they did to Ellie Goulding when she posted about global warming. Silly Ellie, she’s a musician, what would she know?! Or maybe voicing political opinions is okay after all, so long as I’m not too passionate, because otherwise it can get unattractive or annoying, or suddenly I’m a man-hating feminist.
What am I trying to say? I’m not sure. In one breathe, maybe I’m failing across the board. In another, I suppose there are a plethora of potential women we can be. My interests and characteristics fall across all the loose generalisations I mentioned (as I’m sure so many women do). I am aware I do not fit in with one niche, in precisely the same way I never fully fitted in as a child either. Even now I constantly pull myself in different directions, with different passions, dreams, ideas and aspirations all bouncing around in my imagination.
What I can accept now, is I do not find it a problem or worrying, or find myself feeling any lesser if I am a part of one group and not another, or not part of one at all. As a child, it was fundamental to my survival and existence to be and act accordingly. Now, I have the space to mix it up and that’s okay. In many ways, it’s actually quite fun trying to play up to a few characters at once, see what suits/doesn’t suit, see what I’m capable of. And that is what is great about our 20s. I may have a degree, a steady boyfriend, job and flat, but we’re not supposed to have it together just yet. In my opinion, that’s what our 30s are for. There is still so much space and time to reap havoc – I’m kidding – there’s still so much time to continue recreating ourselves, explore new interests, new places, contemplate different perspectives, pursue alternative passions. I guess more than at any other point our 20s hold so much opportunity and potential. Screw the bottomless pit of cringe on the internet, ‘You’re the best version of you’ or ‘Just be you’, or ‘No one can be better at you than you’, ‘Live, laugh, love’… Yuk.
So the biggest question in all this is one I posed earlier, how do I navigate my 20s to be the kind of women I want to become? I guess this girl is straddling between the gym-goer, yoga-attempting, politically interested, career driven, multiple-necklace-wearing worlds, endeavouring to find a way to use what she’s passionate about to make waves. I think when it comes to your 20s there is no such thing as too much or too little of anything; go with your gut and don’t second guess yourself. This life is here to be lived.