I have wanted to feel pretty for a very long time. This is how I’ve justified my bad days, because I am working toward beauty. One more day of commiseration, please. I cannot leave the house, because my hair, face, and body still await several more hours of primping.
This is my girl story. It mostly circulates around the concept of attempting to feel and be 6,000 things at once, to wear masks that didn’t fit, to go places I didn’t like. I genuinely don’t know where it all begins. When does one, whether silently to oneself or aloud, declare one’s sex? Whether the gender declaration is a reality for some or not, I have no idea, but I can’t recall a day on which I parted my awkwardly long arms and squealed “I AM A GIRL!!!!”
In fact, I feel like I came to realize my girlhood more thoroughly and accurately through my revelations of boyhood. I remember my first crash course in differences between my boyish counterparts and me. It was Kindergarten. Naptime arrived after lunch. My nap buddy was a skinny, bleach blonde-haired boy named Alex. As I attempted to fall asleep, Alex woke me: “Pssst.” I looked at him. He is no different than me. His hair is short, yes but so is Gracie’s. He and I play Star Wars together. He continues, “Reach down my pants. There’s something down there that girls don’t have.” No, no there’s not and no I won’t. My this-would-be-sexual-harassment-if-we-weren’t-in-Kindergarten experience seemed to impact me in a rather rudimentary way.
There was something intrinsically (& outwardly) and fundamentally different between my naptime buddy and I and this would never go away, despite any half-hearted efforts to thwart differences. I would never have a male best friend, I would never be able to successfully deal away physical or emotional traces of womanhood, I would never successful raise my voice to wild or unorthodox calls and whistles. I’d always remain a starry-eyed napper, a little girl laying next to a different being, trying to convince herself that difference wasn’t there, and despite its incessant presence, I’d always try to make us all the same.
If there is a personal battle that is more strenuous than trying to equalize something that is not meant to be equal or the same in any way, it is mindlessly trying to perfect one’s physical appearance. What I learned from the next phase of girlhood: It is only an awkward phase if you allow others to define you as awkward. The real problem with the awkward phase is that we have handed our existence over to someone else; we have handed over our freedom. There are several ways in which my Philosophy education has made my perceptions of myself wholly a thing of the past. I owe most of these warding off techniques to Albert Camus. My girl story took form mostly throughout a number of depressing years in which I had zero ownership over a life, which I was neither creating nor living. It begins when my looks and ways were only bad because I allowed them to become tangled in the world, which, if we are realistic (I say realistic and not cynical, for a reason), is an unfree one. So here is unpretty me tangled within our unfree world. And that’s when the hand that drew Sisyphus comes in and defines absurdist philosophy as an unlikely joyous reaction to the stagnant. He says: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become to absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” So if self-creation is rebellion in the face of the unfree world, then my girl story, my self-loathing begins with me in a very stationary state.
By now, hopefully, have a vision of me in a Catholic school girl uniform, sitting down, legs crossed at the ankle, with a swarm of manic, lip-glossed tweens shouting obscenities, making me feel worse and worse about myself by the minute. This is an exaggerated picture of the goings-on of my adolescent years. The whole picture is more complex. The truth is, some kids really are mean. A girl story is not simply a one-dimensional depiction of an awkward girl willingly being picked at. In my girl story, I am pummeled on several occasions by mean boys who really did grow up to fight aggressively with cops and underage bars and girls who really did continue settled, content, and sort of sleeping while aware in their childhood suburban home. People were mean to me, but the person who was meanest was me. I was likely my biggest bully. I did all the looking in the mirror, and the pseudo face painting and caking on of unrealistically shaded face makeup. I did the stomach sucking and occasional dirty dancing. A girl story is only right if a girl takes the time to sort it all out and realize she’s the one who’s in control.
But when she realizes it, she turns her shirts inside-out and paints her walls green, dyes her hair with a fatal outcome, goes to record stores, and selects her new favorite tunes from Urban Outfitters message boards. By this time, by the time I’d made a whole slew of exterior alterations to myself, I’d deciphered more clearly the difference between men and me. I’d redirected the prettiness ideal to something both unique and self satisfying, but also appealing to my male counterparts—friends that wouldn’t stay friends, and others I’d just stare at while making my way through a crowded mall or city street, on some sort of secret prowl for anything that would make even a semi-pithy attempt at garnering my attention. All the while, I’d gloss my lips and line my eyes, like a little pretend beauty, then I’d burn my pretty curls with electricity and fire. In my girl story, I thought I was a thing that could be played with and pulled at: a small child, a wind-up toy, a human heart.
One’s perceptions of humanity change and grow, just as mine did with age and education. The world becomes smaller, one may travel more, one may consistently encounter those she serves food to in a restaurant setting while at a bar on a Friday night, one may care less about birthdays, take time for granted, find the neighborhood next door to be less breathtaking and more commonplace. The world is smaller, people are both better and worse, and beauty hasn’t looked the same in years. It doesn’t even smell the same anymore and it doesn’t wear its hair the same, either. Perhaps it comes with suffering, watching the physically beautiful falter and completely screw me over, or perhaps it comes with genuinely feeling uncomfortable as a sheep in a wolf’s clothes (see what I did there?). Whatever it is, though, whatever sort of strange guise or wrapping I’m cloaked in or whatever sorts of perceptions I’ve developed regarding others and their boy and girl stories, I know I’m ready to unbind others and myself.
The girl story doesn’t extend, hopefully. If time tells, it just goes away. I recently closed my girl story at points of ellipses. And it was at these points that the woman story began. It’s here where the declarations occur. I am not shy, as I was in my girl days. Arms are parted, heart full, I am brimming with belief, excitement, and pride. I know when I am different and when I am the same. My gender is not my story, but it is what gets me from story to story, my catalyst, the recurring segue, my womanhood.