I always loved being a girl. For most of my childhood I was happy to conform to the feminine standards set by Disney movies and fairytales. I loved to dress up, wear pink, I held tea parties and I took ballet. I remember sneaking into my grandmother’s vanity to put on her pearls and lipstick. I felt pretty, and therefore I felt feminine, and secure in my femininity. This lasted all the way up until the seventh or eighth grade. While other girls developed curves and started to gain the attention of male peers, I remained lanky, angular. I felt more awkward than anything else. Dresses didn’t fit me in a way that made me enjoy wearing them anymore.
While I was in high school I zeroed in on beauty. I measured my worth and my femininity by how interested boys were in my appearance. Femininity still equated to traditional, classical, and societal beauty in my mind, and I didn’t feel beautiful. I started to wear boys clothes, finding safety in how they hid my body. It still didn’t feel feminine, but it felt comfortable. The more comfortable I felt, the bolder I became. I started wearing clothes that felt more like me, acting in a way that felt truer to who I was, doing things I loved. I didn’t necessarily feel beautiful, but I felt like myself. It’s hard to carve yourself a place within the definition of femininity, but I think it’s something that every woman has to do. I had to stop comparing myself to traditional or societal definitions of femininity and beauty. Learning to feel comfortable and confident in my body and how I dress and act took a long time, but in my opinion, that’s really the most feminine thing you can do.
Every time I hear the word femininity, I can’t help but think of my history within the world of ballet. The “ballerina” is often painted as a figure of elegance, effortlessness, grace, beauty, serenity, and all sorts of adjectives often associated with (somewhat) old fashioned depictions of being a woman. The modern day woman is starting to be seen as resilient, ambitious, vulnerable, and not always perfect, and in a similar way, the ballerina, despite being manicured to perfection once the curtain goes up, is much more multifaceted than her onstage presence may show.
While audience members see one side of the ballerina, the truth is that she is playing a character. Behind that is somebody who spends hours a day in the studio rehearsing. Somebody who is dealing with bloody and bruised toenails, shin splints, and fighting through a lot of ugly injuries. She’s somebody who has to give 100% to her work in order to shine through a sea of other dancers. She’s artistically surrendered to her career. She’s somebody who goes through a multitude of emotional breakdowns, doubts, insecurities, and critics. The ballerina has a tough skin and what you see on the surface is years of tolerance to everything thrown her way.
I think of the ballerina when I think of femininity because she symbolizes endurance and composure. Poise and perseverance. Passion and pursuit. She is my personal past and she is the figure that represents women in all industries, shining through any hardships thrown their way.
When I was younger I rejected a lot of things labelled as “feminine”. This list included things like dresses, purses, makeup, and the colour pink for example. I thought that being feminine was a bad thing and equated being “girly” with being weak, or even prissy. I wanted nothing to do with that.
As a kid I was tall, gangly, and awkward—and to be honest, I still am. But back then I didn’t like to draw attention to myself, let alone what made me female. Part of this was due to people always commenting on my height. I was very aware of how tall I was and it made me uncomfortable… and not feminine. I didn’t correlate that word with my appearance as I saw myself as the opposite of my peers who were all petite and referred to as cute. So I preferred to hide in the back completely unnoticed if I could.
Now, at 21 years of age, I’ve finally become more comfortable in the way I look and don’t reject traditionally feminine things because they don’t intimidate me. I’m still working on the whole makeup thing, but I’ve come to realize the effortlessness of dresses and the practicality of purses. I no longer avoid them because they are now more than just objects that have been given the connotation of being “feminine”—they actually serve a useful purpose.
To me, femininity is different from being “feminine”. I personally think femininity means embracing yourself wholly for who you are no matter what it looks like. Femininity can have a lot of different appearances, but it is all about how you feel.
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