On Finding My Femininity

finding femininity

By Jess Krista Merighi

I was eleven when I became aware that I wasn’t pretty. A boy had called my younger stepsister during dinner and my stepmom was furious.

“I don’t see boys calling Jessica!” she yelled, trying to justify the seemingly odd behavior.
“That’s because she isn’t pretty!” my step sister fought back in typical 9-year-old fashion.

“I know, but that’s not the point!” screamed my step mother.

I doubt either of them meant what they said in regards to me, but I was still startled none the less. I felt my heart turn to glass, and when I didn’t hear any defense from my father, it shattered. I sat there in silence pushing around a vegetable with my fork until I was excused.

While this may have been the small thing that tipped the scale completely, I had been feeling uneasy with myself for a while. As the child of parents who engaged in a very messy divorce, my sense of security was maladjusted. This made me feel awkward around the kids at school, and as I direct result I swore by shyness.  By the time I approached eleven, my mom had been in and out for a few years. With my step mom being so emotionally distant due to combining her and my dad’s families pretty much overnight, I really didn’t have any women I looked up to. I was a misfit, even by the roles that you categorize yourself by in middle school. I wasn’t the athletic tomboy type, nor was I the peppy cheerleader type either. I had no real concept of what femininity or beauty was, or that there were differences between the two, but judging by the conversation that transpired that night, I had every reason to believe I possessed neither. I spent the rest of the night looking in the mirror at my face and looking down at my body trying to figure out what was wrong with me.

What started as the brewing insecurity of the girl in the mirror, turned into the loathing of anything “pretty” or “girly.” I resolved that if I couldn’t effectively emulate who I thought I should be, than I would denounce it entirely. I removed all the pink from my wardrobe and stopped wearing dresses unless I was forced to. When my breasts first started to grow, I would tape them down with this roll of duct tape I kept under my bed. I began wearing clothes that were too big to hide myself. I switched my AOL screen name from ArtJess3387 to XBarbieMustDieX. For Halloween my sophomore year in high school, I dressed in a denim mini shirt and fishnet stockings. When people asked what I was supposed to be I said, “A girl.”

It was around that time, shortly after my friends and I started getting noticed by boys, when I decided to revisit this whole femininity thing. I thought, “If I’m not this blond hair, floral, dress, red lips and squeaky voice idea of girlhood, and guys still think I’m cute, than there’s got to be more to it than a concept so narrow, right?” So I did what I thought was the right thing to do—I bought the latest issues of Cosmo. Bad move. After reading it cover to cover, I walked away with some decent makeup tips, horror in what women do with men’s genitalia, and a stronger feeling of alienation from this whole “femininity” concept. Still, I thought I couldn’t be completely repulsive.

From there, I started to embrace the alternative culture my older friends were a part of and tacked myself to their idea of feminine. Though it was still narrow in its own way, it was more accessible to me.  I didn’t have to have perfectly wavy long hair if I could rock a purple bob instead. I didn’t have to hate Abercrombie when I could just easily buy my clothes at Pac Sun or Hot Topic. By attaching myself to a way of self that was already created for me, I didn’t have to think about it. There was no personal growth involved-least not in terms of personality or fashion. And I didn’t think about it. Instead, I thought about the boys who were giving me attention. I would spend the last half of college in a relationship that I would end a year after graduation because I had no idea who I was.  Or maybe I did—I just wasn’t comfortable with it yet.

It would take years to get there. I put myself in therapy for a spell to bring myself back to a good place, I reconciled with my mom, developed my own style that included a pixie cut that I was in love with, started writing for the first time since college, began biking and going to yoga regularly and eating healthy, cultivated my friendships, and moved halfway across the country to a city where I knew no one just because I felt like it was the right thing to do. For the first time, I was someone who I enjoyed being. It didn’t matter if it was pretty or feminine, it was me—a happy and whole me.
A few months ago, I was having a phone conversation with a female friend, when per usual, the topic of men came up. I prefer to keep details vague with that kind of thing, except to a few people.  I’ve sadly found that brevity breeds opinions.

“Guys are looking for something soft, “she said. “You’re too intimidating.”
“Excuse me?” I replied, reasonably offended.
“You’re pretty, yes, but you’re rough on the edges.”

Needless to say, I was far from on board with where my friend was going with this. My mind started to race with all the things I could say while she casually went into gender stereotypes. “You’re too strong! Let the guy be the strong one!” “Why do you listen to such aggressive music? You come off too abrasive.” “You should grow your hair out. Most guys probably think you’re a lesbian!” “You’re a great girl; you’re just not wife material yet.”

I felt like the 11-year-old me after being told she wasn’t pretty, and while this didn’t cut as deep, it hurt in a different way. I couldn’t shake the thought that even at my best, I still wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t the relationship status, and hell, it wasn’t some sexy stranger advertising underwear that did it-it was a friend who I cared deeply about telling me I needed to change.

Time can do a lot though and in this case it did. After hanging up the phone and putting on my leather jacket to meet up with another lady friend at our favorite tea spot, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. While I was still a little hurt at what was said, I couldn’t help but admire the girl staring back at me. Even after a draining conversation, I was rocking a confident posture and a stoic stance. My leather jacket never ceased to make me feel fantastic.

At the end of the day, with all the trial and error, and after the years of self realizations and soul searching, I recognized that the only ideas of “beauty” and “femininity” I fit were my own. These are not concepts with finite sources. I shouldn’t feel like any less of a woman on days I look in the mirror and see Jabba the Hut because I’m menstral, nor should I feel like more of a woman should I see the day when a man decides to commit to me for the rest of his life. I am all of it and that makes me feminine. I am accidentally drunk on wine, crying over Google commercials-feminine. I am changing a car tire in the pouring rain because I am far too impatient to wait for AAA, and I am perfectly capable of doing it myself-feminine. I am feminine losing my mind because my favorite hockey player just scored a goal and I am feminine because it took me 27 years to figure out the difference between wearing lipstick and looking like a clown is lip liner. It is all me, and being unapologetically myself is what makes me beautiful. It’s what makes you beautiful too.

So here’s to us who fit the mold and those who don’t.  Here’s to the imperfect cat eyes, and the completion of marathons. Here’s to the 5 a.m.-Walgreens runs with baby spit up still on your shirt. Here’s to our journeys and the lost little girls who never thought that we could get there, but healed because we were able to. Femininity is not a destination or a luxury commodity. It is in you, as you, and the beautiful part of it is that you access it whenever you want, however you want, by just being you. It’s that simple.

[divider] [/divider] About Jess

Jess CoffeyJess Krista Merighi is a soulful, lucid, creative, badass hailing from Boston but now residing in Chicago. When she’s not writing, she’s fan girling over Neruda, defending Chris Kelly’s spot on the Bruins’ roster, developing a deep, passionate love for cost effective beer, and flying high on her podunk 10 speed. For more of her writing, you can find her at http://www.jesskristamerighi.com or on Twitter at @jkristapoetry.


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