But first, a story:
The summer before I went to college I decided to visit my already-ex-boyfriend at his summer house in Maine. I had managed to convince his two best friends that road tripping up North was both an innocent and fabulous idea, and had nothing whatsoever to do with my lecherous hormones. [Ok, convince might be a stretch here, as I’m sure it was painfully obvious what my real intentions were, but the important part was that I had successfully deluded myself.]
SO, off we went: burned CDs (remember those?), a small container of weak weed, and a whole lot of my own nerves packed into one car. Despite being stuck on a highway for seven hours, my initial excitement did not wane. Visions of frolicking on clean beaches and eating the freshest lobster around had clouded my own self-judgment—including the reality that I, you know, hated swimming (one of this beach town’s central activities). Our eventual arrival, however, led quickly to this ruder awakening, with my real self smashing into whichever more “perfect” version I had concocted in my head.
After hugs were exchanged, the boys immediately wanted to plunge into the freezing cold ocean with some of the more adventurous (and decidedly sportier) local girls. You know, the ones who never wear make-up and want to spend every hour of every day breaking a sweat outside?
Which is fucking great! For them. But that just isn’t—and will never be—me.
Unfortunately, at nineteen years old, I wasn’t wise enough to realize that this wasn’t actually a serious defect—that, in fact, it was 100% okay. The ex-boyfriend’s palpable disdain at my complete lack of enthusiasm for ocean hopping didn’t help. Can I entirely blame him? Well, no. If you’re a person who lives for that shit, who wants to get their hands dirty at all times and who doesn’t think of the beach solely as a place for reading books, then I must seem incredibly boring.
But am I a bad person? Or a lesser female, because my favorite activities don’t trend towards those that men stereotypically enjoy?
It’s a rhetorical question, and one I thought about recently when reading an interview with Jennifer Lawrence. She proudly described her and her girl friends as “guys,” with an air that implied that those women who didn’t qualify as such were simply irritating.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important for women not to found their self-definition on what can only be seen on the surface: things such as make-up or clothing. I myself love to hike and run until I am dripping smelly sweat and nowhere near Vogue magazine’s conception of female beauty. BUT I don’t think my penchant for cardio makes me a better female than those women who prefer, say, a super low-key yoga class once in a blue moon.
Back on that beach in Maine, I felt so ashamed for not wanting to dive into the ocean because I was worried about—gasp—my hair. It wasn’t the boys’ fault, necessarily, but society has built up a narrative where the ideal woman acts in a very particular way: she doesn’t care about superficial things, yet always manages to look and feel perfect despite that. Call it JLaw syndrome, if you will. We want ‘our women’ burping and eating burritos, so long as their hairs are perfectly in place, their abs crafted without error.
And I really, really resist this stupid trope, this idyllic notion of “the guy’s girl.” All it actually seems to do is feed into the competitive relationships already fostered between women: be prettier [like her], but be more carefree [like her], too. And if you’re considered hot and like sports? Damn, girl, you’re golden.
However, when I look at the landscape of my female friends, they’re all incredibly different, and none fit seamlessly into these cookie cutter conceptions of the girly girl or the tomboy. Of course, most of us lean more in a certain direction, but it would be faulty to claim that any of us are entirely one thing.
And that should be okay—no, that is okay. I spent a lot of energy during that period of my life wishing I could be a different ‘type’ of girl, when I should have just realized that my incompatibility with ONE human on a planet of many did not render me lesser than. While the actual judgment was entirely self-inflicted (because, let’s be honest, I don’t think those guys really cared whether I swam or not), it is still so often endorsed throughout our culture. It’s one of the various strains of “having it all” that women are constantly striving towards.
And I’d like to OFFICIALLY (very, very officially) say fuck that. I’m going to curl my hair when I want to, wear make-up when I want to, and then go to the gym later with my pimples out for all the world to see. I’m going to love running but hate swimming in natural bodies of water, and not apologize for it. Maybe you like wearing make-up to the gym, or perhaps you’ve never in your life touched the stuff—well, as the kids [and the rappers] are saying these days, DO YOU. Let’s please stop deferring to tired notions of the guy’s girl, or the girly girl, and start honoring whichever individual amalgamations we ourselves really are.