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My hips don’t lie, (un)fortunately

On a visit to China when I was thirteen, a friend of my mom’s, at the sight of me, muttered, “Oh, she’s developed quite a bit.” (I swear, it was not as creepy as it seems) And indeed, my preteen and teenage years were mostly spent lamenting on the size of my boobs and the width of my hips when I wasn’t pretending to not care about silly things like body image. By grade six, I was wearing bras, which a lot of my friends did not have to yet.

Things didn’t get better once I got my period, which was also in grade six (a great year for me, apparently). I went through that first day in a daze—all I could think about was how my life had changed, how I was no longer a girl, but a woman, and that things would never be the same again. As it turned out, my period didn’t return for another two months.

I used to envy those girls who still had their prepubescent bodies: flat chests, thin limbs, basically anything that didn’t suggest their sex and sexuality. If I couldn’t be a guy, I wanted to have no sex. Make no mistake though, this has never been a case of body dysmorphia. My concerns merely simmered at the backburner of my mind, but they never made me obsessed enough to actively do anything except maybe slouch a bit to de-emphasize my chest.

And my concerns were more of a symptom than a cause, because it wasn’t that I just disliked boobs and hips on a whole, I disliked that they were hallmarks of the feminine body. Of my feminine body. Even now, I low-key look forward to being middle-aged because my period would stop (I’m choosing to ignore the other aspects of menopause). Because whenever I get my period, just like whenever I looked at my chest when I was younger, and whenever I examine my childbearing hips now, I am reminded of the potential fertility and femininity inherent to me of which I am, consciously and subconsciously, trying to overcome.

Which isn’t easy—overcoming my femininity—because I’m an English major, and because I’m going to be a teacher. Many of my life’s passions and goals are feminized, for reasons beyond me, but feminized nevertheless.

 And I have for a long time consciously steered away from “feminine” things. I didn’t fawn over guys. I didn’t go to dances. I didn’t wear dresses. In a grade eight class potluck, I chose to sit with a table of guys because I thought it was cooler and when they commended me for taking a huge bite off my wrap I felt as if that was my life’s magnus opus. Being seen as “feminine” was the worst thing that could happen to me.

 When I first started wearing makeup, I was scared of how people would see me. They might say, “huh, she’s quite feminine,” which rings an alarm in me. I have, for the longest time, felt ashamed if anybody called upon my femininity. Maybe it has something to do with that one time in grade five when I wore a sundress to school and my best friend mocked me, saying that I wore the dress to impress my crush. Maybe it has something to do with needing to feel like a special snowflake in the early adolescent years when so many girls started to embrace their femininity.

 But maybe, it’s just internalized sexism.

 This realization was not easy, because it spelled out my defeat in the battle of me versus everything else: I was not as immune to external expectations as I thought I was, whether it was the expectation to be feminine or not.

And having identified internalized sexism as a strong probability, I have since tried to counter my anti-femininity. Why don’t I wear more skirts? Why don’t I paint my nails? (Because it’s exhausting and impractical, that’s why.) Why don’t I wear makeup? I like all of these feminine things on other women, so why not on me? However, these attempts are often intellectual and conscious.

My mom has always told me that women have better endurance. I’ve never really pondered that statement until my recent visit to China in 2015, when I noticed how my dad got tired after only a bit of walking. Of course, this was probably just the age, but I started to consider what my mom has said. Women, by nature of how we have been treated historically, have had to develop strong endurance. Otherwise, we would have died out as a subspecies. I have always subconsciously felt that being feminine is the same thing as being weak, and that being feminine was to give in to unnatural gendered socialization rather than being an individual. That word has always acted as a limitation on me—for all the things I can’t do and can’t say and can’t be. And while yes, being woman does mean certain biological differences, and that I probably still can’t go out at night without at least being cautious, being a woman also means embracing my vulnerability and being strong regardless of social, cultural, and biological circumstances.

Thankfully, through my concerted efforts, I’m growing into my femininity; or rather, I’m letting my femininity grow on me. My fear of being accused of being “feminine” is paired with my annoyance of others suggesting I should be more “feminine,” so it’s a damned if I do, damned if I don’t situation. But really, “feminine” is “[d]esignating an object deemed to be of the female sex” (OED, feminine, adj., 2b.), and I identify as a female, in both gender and sex. Then, by virtue of being a female, everything pertaining to me should be feminine, whether or not I wear dresses or chinos, long hair or short hair. I am feminine by nature, just as I am human by nature. Femininity is not about being a certain kind of woman. It’s about being a woman, period.

And the next time I get my period? I should pat myself on the back for having a fulfilling life even though I’m bleeding every month for (probably) over half of my lifetime.

WORKS CITED:

“feminine, adj. and n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2016. Web. 3 October 2016.

Lover of bricks, stationery, and bottles.
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