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Friday, January 16, 2009

Comfortable in My Own Skin

I'm a tomboy. If you know me personally, you've probably noticed this about me. I'm not sure how much of my tomboyism comes out in my blog, if any at all, but if it doesn't, now you know. Basically I'm more masculine than your stereotypical girl, and maybe even more masculine than your stereotypical effeminate gay man. I've always been this way, for as long as I can remember. If you ever visited my Flickr photostream (see thumbnails at top of page), you may have noticed this photo, which I call "My Element", with the subtitle "This is who I really am":


I'm probably about 5 in this photo. I've got my boyish haircut, free from bows and ribbons and other disgusting frillies that other girls put in their hair. And I've got my boyish polo shirt, and Puppy Love, my puppy doll. No baby human dolls that make gaga noises, blink their creepy little eyes, or wet their diapers for me. No, no. For me it was Ninja Turtles, Legos, Star Wars figures and GI Joes, and maybe a little Rainbow Brite and Care Bears for good measure.

I always hated wearing dresses, always. During my Mormon years from about 13 - 16, I got accustomed to wearing skirts and dresses to church, and I didn't seem to mind it at the time. But I think about it now, and it kind of gives me a sick and uncomfortable feeling to imagine wearing a dress again. Ian and I went to the opera a couple years ago, and I wore a dress over some slacks, which was a bit of a fashion trend at the time. I felt ok like that. I actually felt pretty. And I think I could do something like that again, but mostly I'd rather just not think about it. It's just not my thing to dress like that.

Anyway, this tomboyishness is my nature to the core, and there was a time when I was completely comfortable with it. But it's harder to be comfortable when years of outside opinion and disapproval chip away at that comfort layer by layer. It occurred to me recently that I may not be comfortable with who I am when I realized that I was ashamed of others seeing my short, stubby, chewed nails. I've been a habitual nail biter for most of my life, although I did manage to control the habit for a few years in high school and college. Even then I kept the nails short. Ian tells me I shouldn't worry about it; I should just be who I am and not worry about what other people think about my nails. But even he, at the beginning of our relationship, told me he thought I should grow my nails longer. I told him I have to keep them short so I can play the guitar. After that I started to bite my nails again. And now, a few years later, I find myself curling my stubby little chewed fingers into my palm to hide them from others in public. I have never been ashamed of my nails before. Why the sudden shame now?

Well, I think the outside criticism has taken its toll over time. Sometimes the criticism is direct. I remember being asked point blank why I was such a tomboy by a girl being tended by one of my friend's parents when we were about 6 or 7. I didn't have an answer for her. I am what I am. I remember a kid at recess asking me whether I was a boy or a girl when I was about 5. I had just had my hair cut short, and probably did look a little ambiguous. I remember an exboyfriend complimenting me on my watch, which was elegant, unlike me. (Not the first back-handed compliment I've ever gotten, and probably not the last.) I remember during college eating in the dining area at Wendy's with a couple of my roommates. One of my roomies, K-T, had short, spikey, but still feminine hair, and my own hair style was similar at the time. A couple dudes at a neighboring table yelled out that we must be dykes because we had "short hair, n shit". My mom called me Spike after I got that haircut -- which I loved, incidentally -- and I got mad at her for the passive-aggressive criticism. She would say it wasn't criticism, but that's exactly what it was. She has always been good at subtly communicating her disapproval of me. Not that I'm bitter or anything.

So I guess I just want it to be ok to be myself. Why do I have to feel ashamed of who I am? My old roomie K-T is the type of person who never seemed to give a damn what anyone else thought about her. And I think she genuinely didn't give a damn, too. Probably still doesn't. I've always admired that about her, and wish I could be like that. I wish I wouldn't let it bother me when other people don't approve of me. I wish I could just shrug my shoulders and say whatever. But deep down I get hurt by it, and then I feel like I should be ashamed. But I just want to be the tomboy that I am, you know?

This is something that's been bothering me lately, and I guess the best way to start processing it is to get it out. Then maybe I can do something about it.


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16 comments:

Natalie said...

man. i just wrote this long, eloquent comment and then lost it somehow. whew...ok...here we go again.

i think you are adorably cute for whatever that's worth. maybe the tomboy in you doesn't like to hear that, but it's true. also i can understand how you feel. i have never been one to care so much what others think about me...sometimes to my own detriment. sometimes when i don't care what others think i don't take care of myself. also i have learned over the years that the times i have struggle the most with what others think about me is when i have no idea who i am. when i am in my moments of introspectiveness and am searching my soul i also feel that need to please everyone else.

i guess what i am trying to say is don't hide. be who you are. don't worry what others think. your real friends will love you no matter who you are.

the people in your life who count don't care, and the people in your life who care don't count.

Dena said...

We are our own worst enemies. After 32 years of struggling to be accepted by everyone else, I still find myself struggling to be accepted by my own self. I haven't been succesful. One day, I will be.

sovknight said...

@Natalie: Sra's blog eats comments like no other blog. It's weird. I find myself doing the highlight and copy thing as a rule when I comment here.

You are most definitely a tomboy, but there are times in my memory when you've done something exquisitely girly in my presence, and so I think you have a good balance of who you are. I also think you are quite comfortable in this.

I bet you could rock a dress if you wanted to. I'm picturing it in my head, and I think it looks great.

That spiky haircut is what caught my attention and made me message you, leading to our friendship. That fact that you were unique in a sea of plain-Jane boring sameness (read: lots of Mormon girls) was very attractive. Truth be told, I think that haircut was more you than the one you currently have, although the new one gives you a more mature look (necessary for law school, no doubt.) Both of them are reflections of your personality at different points in your life, and I applaud you for knowing who you are and not being afraid to look the part.

I chewed my nails up until I was 9. Then, fate brought forth a method of curbing that habit permanently, and since that time, I have never, ever, not once, ever chewed a single nail since. I've never even considered it. All of my nails are bite-free forever.

"the people in your life who count don't care, and the people in your life who care don't count"

I LIKE this statement, therefore I shall steal it and repeat it.

:)

Trovan said...

I have always been a big fan of being yourself. As long as you like who you are, that is all that matters.

Within legal limits, of course.

We humans like to force our own views of what is right, wrong, weird or normal on others. Or we try to fit into the molds others make for us. We want to fit in with others. We want to make connections and form groups.

I consider it a bit of pre-programming we need to overcome.

B.R. said...

Theoretically I could broach this a number of ways. Socio-culturally, I can say that those who feel a need to 'reform' someone's 'image' so that it can become 'congruent' with some non-existing notion of 'clear' femininity or masculinity are, per me, in a state of personal anxiety. Those who do not embrace their respective natures with ease don't do so because they can't but because they are not supported by the systems around them.
The clearer the categories we construct for people, the easier it is for us to keep track of, and perhaps 'control?' them.
Gender is, after all, a social construct. And if it's constructable, it can be deconstructed.
I can share so many experiences here but suffice it to say my own professional work and overall life is primarily about a decoding and understanding of gender identity formations. There is nothing inconsequential and trivial about gender.
In sum, those who feel a need to comment on your presentation are not commenting on you, remember, they are simply revealing their own lack of comfort with their own natures.
When a chap told me that I looked like I was totally at home in my own skin I answered by saying: 'Ah, good. It's most cost-feasible that way. Plus, it fits ME better than any other, eh?' Tomboyish-ness is another sign of empowerment. As a fellow sharer of the niche, I say, thank you nature, thank you!

Sra said...

Natalie: Thanks for the adorably cute bit. Of course I don't mind being called cute. Being a tomboy doesn't mean you hate compliments ;) I'm sorry that my commenting system eats comments sometimes. I don't think it happens as often as Sov says, but it does happen. I would change to a different comment layout, but I happen to prefer this one to the other options, so I guess you can either copy it to the clipboard before posting or risk losing your heartfelt words. Sorry. Your salvaged comment was very nice.

Dena: Yeah. I used to completely like myself and have no image issues whatsoever, but over the years that's been chipped away, and I've stopped really liking myself for who I am I guess. I need to work that out, because I'm the only one I have to live with my entire life, so I may as well find that inner confidence again.

Sov: I can't think of any exquisitely girly things I might have done in your presence, but I'll take your word for it. I do have a feminine side, naturally, I've just never been your standard princessy girly girl. As for a dress and rocking it, anyone can rock whatever they want if they choose to own the style. You have to wear it with confidence. It may well be true that I could look hot in a dress, but probably only if I feel hot in it. And I don't see that as a likelihood. I don't particularly care for my hair at the moment, actually. It's not much of a style, and doesn't really reflect the spunky fringe type look that I like. I'm planning to rectify that soon (although I'm still planning to keep it longer), but I want to put some funk into it. I'm just worried about finding a stylist who's not going to completely misinterpret what I want and butch my head again.

Trov: Totally. The problem is that I actually want the approval of others. Maybe that's what I need to get over. I will work on it.

B.R.: Thanks, I like your attitude. I like the idea that someone's disapproval actually reflects their own insecurities. I will ponder that more. Seeing as how I kind of get a bad taste in my mouth around girly girl types, I suppose I should be thanking nature too!

SoMi's Nilsa said...

I love introspective posts like this. I think it's unfortunate when society places their expectations on individuals who might not fit the bill. I think it's incredible that you are comfortable with who you are (so many people aren't) and it's only when society sticks its nose where it doesn't belong that you feel uneasy. Maybe it's time you are a little more firm in your push-back on those who have an opinion. Tell your mom those comments are hurtful - and even if she doesn't think they are, tell her to no longer go there. Come up with your own come-backs for people less close to you when they make comments that are inappropriate. If they see how they have an effect on you, maybe they'll think a little more before saying stuff. That's largely the problem is people make comments without really thinking about how the recipients will receive that comment.

Ben and Tauni said...

I always want approval from others and I want to be able to be who I feel I am inside, but approval usually wins. Certain people (such as my in-laws) barely know who I am even though I have known my husband my whole life and we have been married over 7 years! When I was really struggling with this the most was when I started my blog. I have found that as more family and friends read my blog and see that side of me, I am more willing to be that person around them...although I do find I still neuter my personality around them more than I would like. I think this is a life-long struggle for MANY people.

Claire said...

I won't give you the standard TS quote from Polonius, but I will say that other peoples' problems are just that, and as long as you are able to see and like the person in the mirror truthfully, you're on the right path.

I'm a people-pleaser. I can't help it. But there comes a point when what's pleasing to others violates one's personal integrity so severely that nobody is pleased, and thus, here we are.

You be you, the best way you know how to be. The best part is, nobody's more qualified for the job!

Debbie said...

I think you are one of the loveliest and most interesting women I've ever met. To me, both feminity and masculinity have a huge range, and I don't define feminity by long nails or long hair. I'm considered one of the most feminine of my girlfriends and yet I wear the most masculine clothes, I'm the only one who can change my own oil, I always paid my half on dates, and I love to load up the truck for a trip to the dump. When I read Colette at the height of the feminist movement, I realized a woman could be fierce and independent, and still like a ruffle or a bow now and then. When you get older, it is so much easier to feel comfortable with yourself. I'd love short, spiky hair, and if it weren't for my fat little face (which I like, by the way), I'd have those scissors out so fast it would make your head spin. Then again, many people think a woman should cut her hair when she turns 50. Who are these people?

The Over-Thinker said...

I find you (through your writing, o'course) to be the best of both worlds, both masculine and feminine. But a part of me realizes that I compartmentalize your strong writing, opinions and thoughts into a masculine "drawer" and your sensitive thoughts and words into one lined with feminine paper. So, now I'm just pissed at myself for being such an old-fashioned rube.

Okay, so net-net, I think you're fabulous and easily one of my most favorite blogheads around. You could shave your head and still be hot, just so you know.

The Over-Thinker said...

IT WORKED....SHA..tothe..ZAM!

Sra said...

Thanks, everybody. Your comments are all very helpful. ;)

Sra said...

Thanks, everybody. Your comments are all very helpful. ;)

The Over-Thinker said...

IT WORKED....SHA..tothe..ZAM!

B.R. said...

Theoretically I could broach this a number of ways. Socio-culturally, I can say that those who feel a need to 'reform' someone's 'image' so that it can become 'congruent' with some non-existing notion of 'clear' femininity or masculinity are, per me, in a state of personal anxiety. Those who do not embrace their respective natures with ease don't do so because they can't but because they are not supported by the systems around them.
The clearer the categories we construct for people, the easier it is for us to keep track of, and perhaps 'control?' them.
Gender is, after all, a social construct. And if it's constructable, it can be deconstructed.
I can share so many experiences here but suffice it to say my own professional work and overall life is primarily about a decoding and understanding of gender identity formations. There is nothing inconsequential and trivial about gender.
In sum, those who feel a need to comment on your presentation are not commenting on you, remember, they are simply revealing their own lack of comfort with their own natures.
When a chap told me that I looked like I was totally at home in my own skin I answered by saying: 'Ah, good. It's most cost-feasible that way. Plus, it fits ME better than any other, eh?' Tomboyish-ness is another sign of empowerment. As a fellow sharer of the niche, I say, thank you nature, thank you!

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