Thursday, May 10, 2012

Finding the Dress with the Right Twirl

My future daughter Hannah* is a ruffles and lace, gowns and tiaras kind of girl.

In other words, she's a girly girl.

I am not. Well, I was when I was little, little. I was until my sister got too old to play with me and the mountain of Barbies and accessories got replaced with Nerf guns and sports equipment. I was an up-a-tree, skinned-knee, filthy, tomboy kind of girl.

Hannah, on the other hand, loves to feel dainty and pretty.

She is one of those girls who requires a dress to twirl just the right way before it can even be considered as a plausible option. So many times, I've sat in the store trying on dresses, "Oh Hannah, that's cute! What do you think?"

"But it doesn't twirl."

"It doesn't twirl," minor irritation in my voice as this is the umpteenth dress we've tried on and I was sure it would be the winner, "Ok, [sigh] let's try this one."

But, I get it, the twirl of the dress is important. The twirl of the dress is what makes her feel pretty. It's what makes her feel feminine.

I have only come to understand, accept and embrace my own femininity within the past few years. For most of my life my femininity has frightened me and I have felt decidedly unfeminine.

Any time, I needed to "dress up" for a formal occasion, the event would send me into a tailspin of fear and self-doubt. Other people would tell me how beautiful I looked, but I simply couldn't see it. I felt not like Cinderella at the ball, but the ugly stepsister cramming all her ugliness into something beautiful to deceive and win a prince. And the longer the event went on, the more and more uncomfortable I became.

I was always a tall girl. Always taller than the boys in my class, and, well, chubby. Chubby, but I felt gargantuan. Even as an  eleven, twelve year old girl, I felt huge. It's hard to feel feminine when you think you are massively out of proportion to everyone else around you.

I tried various ways to disguise this perceived hugeness.

The grungy nineties were great for disguise purposes with their baggy clothes and flannel shirts. I even experimented with dressing in nothing but boy's clothes for a summer. But finally, I settled on jeans, t-shirt and flip-flops. If I couldn't like what I looked like, at least I could be comfortable.

Jeans, t-shirt and flip-flops stayed with me for over a decade as I continued to ignore my own femininity and be tortured by my perceived lack of it.

Here's the conundrum I think a lot of women find themselves in due to the messages society currently tosses at them: On the one hand, we have the image of beauty most often portrayed in the media--skinny and sexy. But then countering, the feminist image of strength and I-can-do-it-all and I-can-have-it-all. I've known so many women who are lost in the in between of I should look this way but act this way and often the two do not go together. I can't be sexy and self-respecting. I can't be breaking through the glass ceiling and walking the runway.

I think for most women it comes down to an either or kind of choice. And neither really lands us in a place where we are completely comfortable with our choice.

But for me, discovering my own femininity has freed me from the debate.

The first time I ever felt feminine I was standing next to my ex. He is at least a foot taller than me, and to kiss him, I actually had to stand on my tippee-toes. Being in his arms made me feel small and delicate and feminine, and it made me want to try other things to enhance this new experience.

I bought dresses and heals, and, for the first time since middle school, painted my toenails.

I discovered my personal style--classic and chic. A style in which I can still feel every bit the tomboy but the tomboy grown up with a hint of sophistication.

For me, owning my femininity is about understanding and embracing my own beauty rather than running from it and hiding it. Its about having an edge but a beveled edge, a little softer, a little more open, and a self-respect not just for my mind and my character but for my body and my beauty, as well.

I absolutely think you can feel feminine in jeans and a t-shirt just as much as in a dress and heals. It's less about what you are wearing and more about your bearing and your own understanding of yourself.

Loving our femininity, honoring it as part of ourselves, is part of what shapes great women. And I hope, now that I finally have a love for my own femininity, to teach Hannah to love hers and to help her build up her self-confidence in her femininity over time, however she chooses to express it.

There are still days when I wake up and can't find where I put my femininity. There are days when I'm too busy comparing the size of my thighs with the size of hers, oh and hers...look how small and toned hers are, to remember to embrace and love my femininity. There are days and always will be days because hey, I may be a woman embracing my femininity but I'm still a woman who falls short but for the grace of God.

But today, I'm going to love my thighs for the size they are. I'm going to take them out for a run and love them for all their wobbly glory. I'm going to enjoy my femininity and thank God for making me a woman.

Women, do you agree? How have you embraced or reclaimed your femininity? 

*Hannah is a pseudonym. In order to protect her identity until she is fully and legally mine, I use "Hannah" in all posts regarding my one day daughter and her adoption.

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