Growing up, I fit firmly into what you might call the ‘tomboy’ category. I had two older brothers, no sisters, and a dad who only wanted to do those outdoorsy, blow-em-up, get your hands dirty kind of activities. I played sports, built forts, shot guns, went fishing (as long as I didn’t have to touch the bait), spent days down on my hands and knees scrubbing rust off the chassis of a 1960 Chevy Bel-Air my dad, brother, and I were restoring. And I loved every minute of it. Cuts, scrapes, bruises, grime, dirt – they were part of the package, and I never complained.
In all that time, I *might* have owned a dress. Maybe.
Things didn’t improve as I grew up, and I felt very much outcasted by my peers. The girls didn’t want anything to do with me because I didn’t wear makeup, dresses, skank jeans, or low-cut tops. Or a bra. There, I said it. It wasn’t in my style niche; these things would prohibit me from getting dirty. There wasn’t a way, as I saw it, to embrace my love of getting into things and keep that feminine appearance the other girls seemed to want. I was more comfortable in sweat pants, a t-shirt, and tennis shoes. And besides, I didn’t want to let all the substance out of my brain to fit in with the popular girls. They weren’t that important to me. (Still aren’t, not that it matters.)
The boys were interested in hanging out, which was fantastic. I sat in their booth at lunch, played role-playing card games, talked about Legos and video games, etc. But I was still a girl and couldn’t be one of the guys. They’d take trips, but their moms didn’t want a girl tagging along. They’d hang out in the basement of one guy’s house for pizza and games, but it was awkward to be a girl there. It’s like they understood that on a practical level, I was more like them than a girl, but I was still…a girl.
And everyone thought I was a lesbian. It must have been the boots.
But as I entered adulthood and got some independence under my wings, I was fortunate to meet what I considered strong women. To be honest, I had always looked up to similar women in my youth – my elementary librarian, my fifth grade teacher, my middle school science teacher. They were strong, and feminine, but they weren’t overly airheaded. They were both grounded and confident, but with that finesse that made them definite role models for a young girl looking to be something more than a “tomwoman.” I really wanted to settle down one day with a husband who would cherish and love me, tell me I’m beautiful, hold me in his arms, and be the father of my children. (I still want that, so if you’ve seen my future husband, let me know.) But I also very much wanted to not lose that part of me that shoves her hands down the tank of a toilet in the bathroom at church because the flapper is offset and the thing won’t stop running. I LOVE that.
Then something strange happened. I embraced my body, my curves, and my budding femininity. I tapped into the longings in my heart for the same things every woman wants – those tender, beautiful things that make you feel like a princess. I started looking in the mirror, picking a wardrobe that emphasized the way I rock this body, and walking with greater confidence. Pinks and browns and greens and soft colors and letting my hair grow out just to make myself feel beautiful. To be that woman that I knew I was designed to be. To look in the mirror and see raging femininity and beauty…and then to kneel down in the mud and change a friend’s flat tire. To not worry about getting grime on my pretty clothes because hey, they are just clothes.
I’m fairly certain that today, I am approaching all I wanted to be. That is, I am a strong woman. I am able to balance those things that make me feel beautiful, make me feel womanly, make me feel worthy, and make me walk standing tall, confident in my identity with those things that I just love to do. In the past few years, I have ditched all but one “workin’ girl” outfit from my wardrobe (an old pair of paint-covered torn sweatpants and a mission trip shirt with all kinds of work stains on it) and am overflowing with sweaters, blouses, bootcut jeans, belted-waist tops, khakis and slacks, and yes, even a skirt. A skirt! And an awesome dress with brown tights to wear underneath. And one pair of tennis shoes, aside a couple pairs of sandals, some conservative flats, and a pair of wedges. But in the past two years, I have also: laid a new floor in the whole downstairs, replaced the windshield wiper motor in my car, put in a new garbage disposal, hooked up the new gas oven, hung and mudded drywall, painted two houses, cleaned the gutters, replumbed the toilet, put in a new kitchen faucet, built my own headboard, and that’s just for starters.
I’m thrilled to have found a way to be who I am on both ends of the spectrum, both a strong AND beautiful woman. And I get excited when I put my hands to a new project and get a little grime on me.
The only thing that’s really different now, I guess, is that I cuss like a sailor when I break a nail like a girl.