Finding my place in the sun

I have cried at pictures of puppies, I have spent over half of my month’s rent on clothes, I have screamed many, many times at large bugs, and I have definitely spent over an hour on my makeup. Basically, I fit comfortably into the stereotypical category of “girly-girl.” I’m the furthest thing from the dictionary definition of “tough,” but I’ve learned that you can still be strong and tenacious while wearing heels and a floor-length gown.

Throughout most of my life, I’ve associated strength and empowerment with physical ability. While I have a great admiration for girls who fit this description, it’s just not me. Fortunately I figured it out, but it took a decent portion of my life.

When I was younger I tried to fight my dress-up instincts in favor of sports and trying to think that the “gross” stuff boys liked was cool. I’m talking bugs, frogs and basically anything I’d openly squirm at nowadays. It was like I told myself I was playing dress-up, and my character of the day was a tomboy. I’d pretend I didn’t mind getting my hands dirty when in reality I couldn’t wait to get them squeaky clean again. I found myself feeling relieved when I went to elementary school and learned that rolling around in the mud on the playground would get you into trouble.

Eventually, some of my classmates replaced the dirt with sports and I felt compelled to enter my own “athletic” phase. It wasn’t a very long period of my life but I attempted soccer, volleyball, basketball and dance. I refused to accept the fact that I’m not coordinated enough to score a single point or gracefully complete a dance routine. Back in the day, I idolized Kim Possible and her ability to perfect her cheerleading routines and defeat the bad guys with a few precise karate chops. (Now I realize I should have looked up to Ron Stoppable, who was an uncoordinated mess and still saved the world.)

Finally, after embarrassingly kicking a soccer ball the wrong direction several times and confronting my inability to actually serve a volleyball over the net, I decided to pursue other ventures in life. However, I will still argue that it takes a considerable amount of stamina, coordination and arm strength to curl your hair, so maybe I am good at one sport.

It was hard for me, though, to quit. I didn’t particularly like playing sports, but it was frustrating knowing I didn’t have the ability to succeed in them. I wanted to have the best of both worlds and surprise people with my versatile talents. I didn't want to put up with people who didn't think that girls could dunk a basketball, get good grades and still be able to rock a pair of pink sneakers. I hated that "you're such a girl," was a popular insult among my peers. Even as a kid, I knew it was kinda screwed up that majority of people only took one definition of "tough" into consideration, and I felt like I had failed in proving them wrong by not being able to meet the athletic qualifications. (However, I do think young girls today have much better role models and will grow up without having to struggle to prove their strength.)

Also adding to my frustration, many of my friends were lucky enough to be raised in athletic households and could probably pick up all five feet two inches of me and punt me halfway down a field if they wanted to. I was so envious that they embodied this “don’t mess with me” attitude. I wanted so badly to feel the way they did about themselves but felt like I couldn’t do it unless I mastered some sort of competitive, athletic ability. I would frequently put myself down because I honestly didn't think I was good at anything. 

Sometimes I felt very stuck with my personality and the way people perceived me. I don't mind at all that I fit into the "cute, small girl" archetype. I'm just not a fan of some of the stigmas it comes with. A lot of the time people assume I need help with physical tasks or that I'm too mild-mannered to speak my mind or defend myself. (To be honest, 90% of the time I do need help carrying things, but it's the assumption I can't that bothers me.)  

I’m also a very emotional person, and felt like every time I cried or got upset about something trivial it seemed like I was slipping further and further away from the person I wanted to be. I didn’t believe that a person could show how they felt without seeming “weak”. Again, it didn't help that I continued to self-deprecate every time I didn't immediately succeed at something. 

By the time I attended high school, I officially had given up on athletics (minus a short stint with the cross country team), but had started to gain interest in writing and fashion. I joined my school's newspaper and started learning as much as I could about topics that actually interested in me. I realized that what I was becoming passionate about actually made me feel pretty empowered. I started to embrace who I am, rather than who I thought I should be. I still struggled with a lot of self-esteem issues, but it was a start. If I could go back and tell my 14-year-old self what I know now I think she'd be proud of how far I've come.  

Over the years, mastering new makeup techniques and putting together outfits that no one else had added to a new sense of confidence that I didn’t think I’d ever achieve. It wasn’t so much about the material items themselves but the feeling of accomplishment I got whenever I managed to do something unique with them. I had finally achieved the feeling I sought after during my numerous attempts at athleticism. 

I started thinking about what it really means to be a “strong” person. I don’t think it necessarily has to do with physical strength or a stoic, brash personality. I think sometimes it can mean feeling proud of who you are and embracing the little things you’re good at — no matter what they are. 

My entire perspective on life altered after finding this little oasis of self-empowerment. I didn’t need to be able to throw a softball or win a race in order to feel like I could take over the world. Red lipstick, cute shoes and a quick glance at my growing portfolio do that for me now. 

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