“Are you a boy or a girl?”
I looked down at my feet as I pondered for an answer. I did not know what to say.
Well, I knew I was a girl but I really wanted to answer “boy”. I was 8 then.
I had my hair cut short. I tagged along with my brother’s guy friends and played their games. I did not like wearing dresses and would most definitely cry when asked to wear one.
Oh, and I hated pink on principle.
You see where I’m getting at here.
I wondered why this was so, and at least for me, I believe this was largely environmental.
For one thing, I have an older brother whom I may have subconsciously imitated since he was older and, unlike my parents, was only about two years older than me. He was therefore my usual playmate and companion at home.
He would suggest watching television shows like Power Rangers or He-man, and I would think those are really cool shows to watch. And in those shows, I wanted to identify with the cool, strong characters — not the pretty, weak princesses.
Being the second child and all, I also had clothes that were hand-me-downs from my older brother. To the exasperation of my mother, I would prefer the hand-me-downs rather than the new ‘girly’ clothes that were bought especially for me. I got so used to wearing jeans and loose shirts that nothing made me more uncomfortable than wearing dresses.
In school, I was known as the athletic girl who always had her hair tied up in a ponytail. I wore loose clothing and I walked in a rugged, unrefined way.
Though as much as being a tomboy has become my identity, this has also become the cause of much of my insecurities as I stepped into high school.
You see, as puberty came along, I became more aware of the fact that I was different.
Girls were now talking about boys, talking about makeup, talking about fashion, and all of those other ‘girly’ things. I definitely could not relate and I felt more and more left out.
What’s worse was that, deep down, I wanted to be a part of it.
I would look at girls who liked dresses, who were confident in their identity, and had boys like them and think, why couldn’t I be that way?
I was confused, to say the least. I did not know how I was supposed to act anymore. Being a tomboy felt natural and unnatural at the same time. I was not comfortable in my own skin, and I know this actually contributed to me becoming more and more awkward and out of place as time went on.
I did not own my identity anymore, my identity owned me.
This feeling continued to gnaw on me throughout college and well through when I was already a working young adult. Being awkward and uncomfortable has already become a big part of how I carried myself every single day.
I did not know it back then but what I needed was a drastic change in environment. A place that will push me out of my comfort zone to have that freedom to rediscover myself.
Lucky for me, I was given exactly this, in the form of a year abroad in Germany. I was a bit uneasy about moving to a new place at first, but something in me was saying that this was exactly what I needed to get out of my rut.
So I packed my bags and jetted to the other side of the world.
This move is very symbolic to me now. It was when I subconsciously left behind a bunch of heavy baggage and preconceived notions. I realized there was actually more to bringing up my confidence than just how I dressed on the outside. It’s about having all new experiences that allowed me to have a whole mind shift altogether.
In this new world, I was more free to go about and do my own exploring, and this was when I realized that I was a very sheltered girl.
I remember my mom kept telling me before that I was not missing out on anything when I did not go to parties or clubs or anything else that the “cool kids” did. Well, she probably felt like she did not miss out on anything herself, but boy did “going out” do a backflip summersault switch in my brain.
I still remember that excited, giddy feeling when I entered my first club.
It was loud, it was noisy, people were chatting, people were checking each other out, people were dancing, people were kissing, people were being downright drunk and stupid… and there I was observing with my mouth gaping open in my happy little corner. This was all so fascinating. Just like in high school, I did think that I wanted to be part of this fun, anonymous, uninhibited crowd.
Though unlike in high school when I did not do anything about it, this time I was not having any more of my insecure excuses. That very week, I bought a bunch of new clothes that I would never have worn back home, dresses and skirts, you name it. Later on, I would ask a friend to teach me about makeup.
Dressing up was a little uncomfortable at first, but the more I walked the walk, the more natural it felt. And since no one knew how I walked before, I did not feel that need to defend the change.
I did wonder why I was quick to adapt to my new surroundings when it was so hard to do it way back when, and I think I have the answer.
I finally got away from all the social cues I had before. Away from the place that made me feel like I had to dress in a particular way just because of the way I dressed in the past. I was in a different environment altogether, and I felt like my mind needed that change to recalibrate and recenter.
I was with a whole new set of people who did not know anything about me and my past insecurities, and that was quite liberating. No one would comment that I dressed or acted differently. I could be anyone I wanted to be, and that was just the leeway I needed to find out who “me” was exactly.
I created all these stereotypes for myself that just boxed me in, “tomboy”, “girly girl”, “good girl”, “bad girl”… when all I should be was me. I could be that strong, rugged, pretty princess, while wearing that cool sexy skirt and dancing my heart out!
Going to a new place made me more open to new experiences, and being open to new experiences gave me a new perspective on many other things that I should be open about. Whether it be clothing, work, people, mindset…
This new found freedom of mind did do a lot for my overall confidence. I was now more comfortable with who I am mainly because I better know exactly who I am.
At the end of it, my world suddenly just got a lot bigger — and the best part is that my travels are just getting started.