Boyish Becomes Her

When I was a little girl, there was only one person I really liked wearing dresses for: my grandmother on my father’s side. She made them for me, you see, so I liked making that extra effort to show her that I loved her. They would be these frilly things, made from lace and velvet and tulle; perfect for sipping tea on the front porch and not much else. I would delight in twirling and dancing in these dresses, content with her approval. My discomfort was overridden by her joy.

With the frills came the expectations. Growing up, I learned that little girls were supposed to be docile and complacent. When my hair was tied in plaits, I knew I was supposed to sit still and not muss my dress or get grass stains on my milk white tights. I was certainly not supposed to scuff my brand new Mary Jane shoes. The other little girls that I knew adored being fawned over like pretty dolls in a toy store.

I, however, did not.

I had a loud mouth and dirt under my fingernails, more often than not. I liked books and dinosaurs and Nintendo games. I liked sitting on my father’s lap and learning about computers. I liked tousling with my brother in the dirt. I loved rolling down steep grassy hills and getting dandelions in my long, easily tangled hair.

I was never good at being a pretty princess. My parents raised me to be their little warrior princess — like Xena, my dad would say, strong and proud — so the riot of sparkles only came out when I went to visit my grandmother.

After she died, I buried the frills. The lace felt heavy. The velvet was like needles on my skin. The tulle scratched at my legs and threatened to tear if I didn’t sit Just Right — prim, proper, preening. I hated having my long hair brushed, so I threw it ponytails and hid it under baseball caps. I wore ripped jeans, over-sized t-shirts, and muddy sneakers. I buried that Very Girly part of myself and kept it that way for many years.

I chopped my hair into a bob when I turned ten. I chopped it shorter near my fourteenth birthday. I started paying more attention to things like makeup far earlier than the other girls. My fascination was with transformation — Sailor Moon’s fault, I suppose — so I used it to weave in between girlish and boyish.

My t-shirts were slowly traded in for fitted sweaters and scoop-neck tops. My jeans morphed into something tighter and slung low on my burgeoning hips. I wore dressier clothes, heels, boots — hitting the mark somewhere in between punk rock princess (the hair) and vampy ingenue. I liked this version of femininity, where I made the rules about what I wore and how I carried myself. I still played video games and soccer. I made websites on the weekends. I painted Warhammer 40K minis after school.

I’ve experimented with femininity as a construct for a huge chunk of my life. Playing with expectations through fashion isn’t new. It’s been part of the collective consciousness for many, many years. My clothing used to be my armour. Now, it’s my canvas. I wear dresses and heels and until recently, had long teal-tinged hair. I’m most comfortable in fitted t-shirts and skinny jeans, topped with sandals in the summer and my beloved Frye boots in the winter.

What I wear is part of how I claim my power in the world. When my hair was long, I liked the extra effort of curling it or brushing it into a low ponytail. Now that it’s short, I like the extra effort of slicking it back or spiking it up. But my style hasn’t changed much. I’m still straddling that line between boyish and girlish.

My discomfort with the frills fell apart somewhere around my early twenties. I wear what I want. I show up how I want. I wear makeup, or don’t. I wear heels, or don’t. No matter where I go, or what I wear, I’m still undeniably Me. Boyish. Girlish. Me.

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