I’m a fashion lover through and through. I’ve been obsessed with fashion magazines ever since I can remember–they were my guilty pleasure–hence my current profession. I’d accompany my mom on her weekly trip to Publix (I still accompany people on their trips to Publix because I love it that much), and my reward would be that I could get a magazine and a packet of Trolli Sour Brite Crawlers. It was my ideal Sunday. But to say that I am only a fashion lover or a girl who prides herself on always being put-together would be a lie. Make no mistake: I grew up as a tomboy.
I began playing soccer when I was four years old, as most children do when their parents try to get them involved in an activity. I, however, never stopped playing. From age four to 24, my love for the game has still yet to fade. Most people don’t realize when they meet me that I have always first and foremost categorized myself as an athlete. Before I was a writer, I was an athlete. Before I was a fashion enthusiast, I was an athlete. Before I was a student, I was an athlete.
I played co-ed soccer as long as I was allowed to. I didn’t want to separate myself from the boys. I didn’t want them to think that I was a sissy because girls’ soccer wasn’t as tough. I wanted to prove to them that I was tough. Because proving yourself is something you unfortunately have to do as a female in a man’s world. Luckily for me, nothing gets me more motivated than the gumption it takes to prove people wrong.
I’m competitive by nature, so playing sports was a natural draw for me. Sure, playing sports doesn’t make you a tomboy–I know that. But my less-than-feminine traits extended further than that.
The Shirtless Girl
There is a picture I found once when shuffling through my parents’ never-ending photo closet. I must’ve been about three years old. My light blonde hair was cut into a weird mullet-like ‘do with heavy bangs. I was with my brother and two boy cousins–the people I grew up with. The picture was very similar to this charming bike-gang snap…
Except in the other photo, my hair is soaked, and I’m shirtless. Yep. My buddha belly was hanging out proudly, and I was chillin’ with the boys, trying to be just like them.
I remember always wanting to be one of the boys. Because, as a girl, I wasn’t perceived as being tough. I wasn’t perceived as being able. As a girl, I was supposed to be whiny. Girls can’t be good at sports, and they surely can’t keep up with the boys.
One Ugly Outfit and Countless Pink Presents
I was eight years old. A time in a girl’s life when she is starting to find out what she likes and dislikes. My eighth year marked a time in my life when I begged my mom for a plaid, collared shirt and a pair of khaki cargo pants. I also wanted those chunky, brown sandals that the ’90s are so well-remembered for. My mom finally gave in, despite her fashion-police signal wailing, and bought me this outfit. I was so thrilled to finally wear it to the soccer fields where my brother had his evening practice.
I strutted out onto the grass and found my place in the group of kids who always hung out while their siblings practiced. Then, it happened: someone commented on my outfit.
“Your outfit is so ugly. You look like a boy!”
Some feminine bitch dared to insult my favorite outfit in the entire world. You’d think since I wanted to be one of the boys, I would’ve been flattered that she said I looked like a boy. But this was different. She meant it in a mean way. I should have defended myself and my personal fashion sense, but I was a tough girl, so I ran to my mom crying.
I never wore that outfit again.
I should’ve known from the start of my eighth year that things were going to be different. People were going to expect me to be a traditional girl. Because all females are the same, right?
It was my eighth birthday. I received all kinds of gifts from family members. Like any kid, I loved getting gifts–who wouldn’t? That is, until I opened them all and compiled them into a big, pink heap. Everything was pink.
Growing up a tomboy, I despised pink. I wrote about it in my ironic mermaid-themed diary how much I truly hated the color pink. And when I saw all those girly pink gifts–hair tools, accessories, and whatever else the retailers wanted girls to like–I sobbed. I sobbed so hard. Again, because I was a tough girl!
I think it was at eight years old that I realized being a tomboy was not cool and I would have to change.
The Begrudged Ballerina
When I was 10, I enrolled in dance class. My little (female) cousin had been dancing since she was very young, so my mom and my aunt pressured me to give it a try. I thought tap dancing looked cool and decided to try it. The dance studio wouldn’t let you do tap, turns out, unless you did ballet as well. And just like that, I was a begrudged ballerina. Even worse, the ballet routine involved an awkward flower garland that we had to dance around with the entire time. Needless to say, I was not enjoying myself.
The tap part was pretty fun. I got to dance around to “Build Me Up Buttercup” and make loud noises with my feet. In case you can’t tell, I was very calm and not-annoying-at-all. The only downfall of my tap routine was the costume. What’s up with dance studios and these costumes and the heavy makeup? My costume was an all-spandex suit, and they made us wear obnoxiously giant bows in our hair. Being that I was 10, I was old enough to be self-conscious of my undeveloped but changing body in a skin-tight spandex nightmare. I wasn’t allowed to wear a bra, either. Not that I had anything to put in the bra, but I felt too exposed without it.
That was my first and last year doing dance. It was too girly for me.
Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better
I learned at a very young age that I was worthy of being as good as, and even better, than the boys.
There was a Gatorade commercial that circulated around 1999, which means I was seven years old. If you know much about sports or general pop culture, you know that time period was at the height of soccer player Mia Hamm’s career. It was also the era of a basketball player you might’ve heard of: does Michael Jordan ring a bell? Ah, yes, the glory days.
The Gatorade commercial had these two athletes competing back and forth in their respective sports. Mia was taking MJ one-on-one in basketball, and Michael was challenging Mia at her game on the soccer pitch. An old song plays as the soundtrack. In it, a woman sings, “Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you!” A man chimes in, “No you can’t,” and she spurts back, “Yes I can!”
The two athletes continue to compete against each other in additional feats of athleticism: fencing, tennis, and sprinting. Mia held her ground. She never gave up. And most importantly, I was validated. I can do the same things as boys. I can be better than boys.
That song sticks with me to this day. I play it in my head when I’m feeling particularly demeaned by a male figure who thinks he’s better, smarter, or faster than me. That mentality, Anything you can do, I can do better, helped mold my tomboy mindset into one of female pride. One of human pride. One of self-pride that tells me no one can say they are better than me–they are going to have to prove it.
Life After Growing Up A Tomboy
As I got older, I stopped going outside and playing games on the streets with the boys. They would yell at me and tell me to come play basketball or manhunt, and I would choose to sit inside instead. I was beginning to care what boys thought of me–I started to care whether or not I looked pretty. For a while, I tried to let go of the person that made the guys respect me: the girl who was one of the boys. I started to believe that my ability to play sports and be tough was not cool. I remember one of my neighbors saying to me, “You’re not fun anymore.”
You’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t.
When you want to be cool in middle school, the pretty girls are usually not the ones who get giant strawberries on their legs playing soccer. The pretty girls aren’t the fastest runners. And boys certainly don’t like girls who can beat them in a race or make more three-pointers than them on the basketball court.
Middle school is tough for everyone, and high school usually isn’t much better. But it was sometime around the age 17 that I finally decided to stop giving a shit whether or not being an athlete made me undesirable or cool or tough or pretty. I can be into style and fashion and still love getting muddy playing soccer in a downpour. These things are not mutually exclusive.
Playing sports and doing other “boy” things do not make me any less a lady. I am allowed to love getting dressed up and do my hair and still be tough. I am allowed to sometimes not want to play a game because I just got my nails done for an upcoming event. I am allowed to join a co-ed soccer team at age 24 and take my spot as center midfielder because I’m the best center mid on our team.
I’m just going to make sure my ponytail looks good while I do it.