Confessions of a (Closet Princess) Tomboy

I didn’t wear pink until I was twenty.

I played with worms, not because I really wanted to, but because I knew girls weren’t supposed to like worms, and damned if I was going to conform to gender stereotypes at the tender age of six.

So I climbed trees, I got dirty, and I made a point of not following the rules for double-X-chromosomed humans.

When I was twelve, I got tired of the adolescent females on the softball team who cared more about the teenage umpire’s love life than they did for the sport. So I switched, and to the boys’ utter dismay, I pushed my way onto their up-until-then-all-male baseball team. Let me tell you, that was not the happy ending from which novels are made. You see, in the novel, I would have gradually won the guys’ trust. By the end of the season, it would have been me who batted the final home run, edging in our score and winning the game, to be hailed triumphantly by my fellow teammates. Instead, the boys made fun of me, and despite how well I played whenever I practiced without them, I never managed to get over my nerves around my team. The only time I made it to base was when I walked.

And still I didn’t wear pink.

One summer when I was nine, and heavy machinery turned our backyard into a temporary filthy pit in the process of forming a pond, I participated in an all-out mudfight.

I devoured every book in the library to do with civil rights and women’s liberation, and I expressed my indignation over the prohibition against girls going topless. Men have breasts too, they’re just smaller, I declared, much to my parents’ bemusement.

I used to climb trees in my sister’s dresses. (Note: She was not thrilled.) And there, sitting in the branches thirty feet up in the air, using a pully with a string and a bucket, I hauled up novels…and I read.

I read history, I read science fiction, and I read…of girls falling in love. Of boys who adored them, not for what they looked like but for who they were (I was blessed with well-principled teenage romance novels). And I tell you what, I pined after it. So while the teenage boys ignored me, the tomboy who refused to shave her legs on principle, I lusted after them with unfathomable passion.

You see, I was a tomboy. But secretly I dreamed of walk-in closets, with dresses to suit every occasion. I was probably the only 14 year old girl to agree to trying makeup, ironically. And I really, really wanted to find true love. In my ideal world, that would happen in a blueberry field. I was the worst of hopeless romantics.

I have an admiration to the fierce determination of the young feminist that used to be me. I stuck to my principles even when it hurt.

Then, when I was twenty, I realized I liked to wear pink. I suddenly came to understand that I enjoyed playing dress-up. High-heels may be the modern-day corset, but damn they are fun! And I kind of liked how shaved-legs looked. Yes it felt kind of wrong to admit it, but it was also kind of nice not to constantly get those judgmental stares.

And so, in a betrayal of my young feminist, I sold out.

Or did I? Here is when I should make some meaningful connection to the girl I was, and the woman I became, and how early feminists paved the way for me to be whomever I choose, whether that is a fluffy-dress-wearing princess or a butch punk chick. But honestly, I’m not so sure. What I know now is that I do enjoy doing some things that are “girly.” And I recognize now that actually, I always did. Not only that, but I used to dream of prince charming, albeit a feminist-acceptable one. No matter that I didn’t watch television and my dad didn’t let me have barbies, I still had a strong predisposition toward being what society claims a girl should be.

And some of that is fine, but not all of it. We still need to question stereotypes and expectations, to break down walls and to equal the playing field. The way that women are judged for their appearance is outrageous, and expectations for the perfect female are absurd. Recently I have started a count of the number of times on TV I see a guy who is respected by his merits, how for a man being beautiful isn’t the most important thing in the world. By my record, women who don’t fit the standard for beauty aren’t even seen, let alone heard from.

And yet…I still like wearing pink.

So I’ll leave you with this. My sister (you know, the one whose dresses I used to borrow until I was forbidden—the prohibition was only lifted last year–) has four kids now. Her third is a gorgeous five-year-old tomboy. At our brother’s wedding last summer in a national forest in northern Washington, my niece wore an amazing fluffy white flower-girl dress, as cupcakey as cupcakes can be. She was absolutely thrilled to walk down the aisle in her adorable princess outfit.

After the ceremony, I popped outside to get a breath of fresh air, and I saw her: Racing across the field to a playground nearby, laughing euphorically as she scrambled up the ladder and slid down the slide. Her dress was absolutely filthy.

I smiled, and thought, Here’s to another not-so-closeted-princess tomboy.


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