Thursday, April 28, 2016

Embracing "Girly" & Discovering Strength

Thanks, Amanda, for hosting TOL.
Teaching middle school serves as a daily reminder that those years are rarely solidly good. When you ask people what the best years of their lives were, does anyone ever say middle school? We wandered the halls hoping not to be noticed - or to be noticed by the right people - unsure of who we really were or if anyone would like us if they knew the real us.

If you were anything like me, you dealt with this anxiety by pretending to be above it all. Middle school is all about masks. I thought I was singularly unattractive and unoriginal, so I went the route of pretending to embrace that, and I forced myself into a kind of tomboy mold.
(I looked for pictures of these years to share with you guys, but I seem to remember avoiding cameras at all costs, and I must have burned all photo evidence of those years. Good thing Britt had this photo to share.)
I wore giant T-shirts and huge, baggy jeans - anything to hide my body. My hair was in a perpetual bun. The only makeup I used was worn to cover acne. When cotillions and dances came along, I wore my pretty dresses and heels with the grace of a newborn giraffe.

I developed a shell. I wanted to be tough, and I wanted people to know I was tough. In doing so, I turned away from all things girly. Even when I began to enjoy "girly" things - the color pink, makeup, dresses, etc - I'd try to be ironic about it.

But over the last few years, I've learned to love being girly. More accurately, I've learned to embrace the complex parts of my personality. I'm tough, yeah, but I'm girly too. Those things aren't mutually exclusive. In fact, over time I've learned that girls - women - are tougher than we let on. We might hide our steel under smooth skin and lipstick, but we're no less strong for our soft exteriors.
Feeling strong and girly at Gasparilla with Kristin.
I've come to realize that accepting who we are and having the courage to reveal every aspect of ourselves is what makes us tough. Hiding behind a tough exterior makes you seem strong, but masks are brittle. They crack. They're not meant to last.

Living as you are and as you want to be...that makes you actually strong. And personally, I don't think there's anything better. When you're strong, you can care for others, show compassion, experience joy, go after a dream, work hard, stand up, fight...

If I can be anything, I want to be strong.

This ended up being a totally different kind of post than I planned. I really wanted to rant about how women can kick butt even in a running skirt. I guess there was more to explore than I thought!

How do you define strength?
Do you consider yourself girly?
Are there any parts of your personality that you aren't comfortable with, or try to hide?

ABK

18 comments:

Kristina said...

Middle school, what a time! I definitely have zero desire to go back and relive those years even if I miss some of the friends I had back then. Your students are lucky to have you as a teacher, and will likely always remember you. I distinctly remember the teachers that were smart, kind and funny.

I've always felt girly deep down and wanted to wear makeup and fashionable clothing, but for many years I felt too insecure to do it outside of my house. In middle school I had a ton of makeup to experiment with that I loved but I never felt worthy to wear it out. I thought people would make fun of me for trying to do things that only cool/pretty girls should do. I would put on lipstick and wipe it off right before I got out of the car because I was so self conscious. Sometimes I catch myself doing it now... putting on lipstick and then drinking a coffee on my way to work knowing all the lipstick will transfer off onto the cup. I'm working on it!

invertedsneakers said...

Growing up, I always wanted to be "girly". But as an adult, I want to be strong. That shift happened somewhere in my 20s, and came from running. I realized being a strong individual IS girly, in our own way :)

yogaontherun said...

I was a lot like you in middle school. Actually, it was when I found running. I was always extremely thin and people teased me about it, suggesting that I must have an eating disorder. I joined the track team and became a sprinter. It was what I was known for. I was fast. I ran the 200m and the 400m, both rather quick sprints, and I would rather pass out from running too hard than to loose in a foot race (I still feel this way as I get towards the finish line). This lead to me being a bit of a tomboy. I wore baggy clothes to make myself look a little bigger so I wouldn't get teased. I even had teachers approach me about having an eating disorder... which I think was rather crappy, since I never struggled with my relationship with food. It was entirely based on my size. Anyways, I became a lot more girly and became willing to embrace that part of my personality probably in my late high school years and early college years.

Amanda @ .running with spoons. said...

I wasn't a huge fan of middle school either, and those are definitely some years I don't care to relive. I'm a girly tomboy, and it wasn't until recently that I learned to embrace both of those parts of me. I think back in the day I felt like I had to be either one or the other, and it was always a constant battle trying to figure out who I was.

Jen Rawson said...

I completely related to this. I was the same way growing up. Baggy clothes, refusing to carry a purse because it made me a girl, etc. Now I love the girly side of me. It doesn't make me less strong, but it is fun!

Megan @ Meg Go Run said...

Oh you are so right. Middle school sucked so much. I got made fun of a lot mostly because I was weird. I dressed weird and I acted weird.... weird as in, I liked to have fun and not worry about being "cool". It definitely wasn't a happy time. I'm glad you embraced the real Ali because she is pretty cool!

Michelle said...

This is an awesome reflection - thank you for sharing so much of yourself! Middle school was brutal... for everyone I think! I shudder to think of the memories...

chocolaterunsjudy said...

Great post, Ali! Sometimes the best ones are the ones that take a turn in a direction we didn't expect.

I've always been a girly girl.

I'm shy, and when I meet new people, I'm nervous, so either I'm really quiet or I end up kind of gushing while screaming inside my head just stop talking!

Of course I'm also a dinosaur, back then we didn't have middle school, we had grade school, junior & senior high. I always just a small circle of close friends -- still pretty much that way!

And obviously I love my running skirts. Functional and pretty? Yes please!

Jennifer @ Dashing in Style said...

Love this post! I love and agree with your definition of strength. And yes, we CAN be tough in a running skirt!

Ali K. said...

I'm glad you agree! I love seeing women embrace being strength!

Ali K. said...

I'm the same way when I meet new people! I either catch myself being overly excitable and awkward, or really reserved and quiet. I need to find a balance!

Ali K. said...

I haven't met one person who enjoyed middle school; even the kids who were popular and seemed to have it together were secretly struggling.

Ali K. said...

I think what makes me so cool is how truly uncool I'm okay with being haha. But yes, I was weird too, and I'm glad for it, because I think that's really served me well as I've grown up.

Ali K. said...

I love that being "girly" is becoming synonymous with being strong. I hope the stigma is wiped out soon!

Ali K. said...

Agreed; I didn't see how I could be both girly and boyish at times. I'm glad I've figured out that I can be both!

Ali K. said...

I'm glad you found running early; I bet it gave you a great sense of belonging and purpose. I'm sorry your teachers made you feel badly about being thin, but I know their hearts were in the right place. You're lucky you had teachers who cared, even if they didn't handle it well!

Ali K. said...

I often lamented boxing myself into being a "tomboy" because it was hard to break that mould until I left and went to college. Then I went WAY in the other direction; running helped me balance both parts of my personality.

Ali K. said...

Oh man, do I identify with this. I felt like if I tried to be girly after being a tomboy for so long, people would comment. I still feel this way; when I do something different with my lipstick, eyebrows, eye makeup, etc...I experiment over a break from school so I can come back to school feeling personally comfortable with the new look before the students see it and comment on it.

On another note: if you lick your cup before you drink, your lipstick will stay on ;)