Friday, January 27, 2012

Growing Up Female

Though I haven't seen the film Miss Representation, this is a subject near and dear to my woman-heart. I've taken the pledge and want to thank Ronna Detrick for her call to respond.

Here is a part of my personal story on growing up female. Grab a cup o' tea and join me in my journey to uncover.

On Body

I was tall for my age, had size 8 shoes by 3rd grade, and my body began changing rapidly, before nearly everyone else. I didn't quite know how to handle this; I couldn't share my experience with my friends because they weren't experiencing it yet. The boys in my class noticed. The girls definitely noticed. The adults in my life noticed, including family, friends, teachers. My parents noticed. And I noticed their noticing. And I had no idea what to do with it.

Luckily I played sports from a very young age. I was able to tap into that deep wisdom that my body was a strong vessel. I look back on the power I felt on the soccer field more than anywhere else. I felt myself ease into this body and begin to secretly like it. I liked the power I felt on the field.

But then I began to notice something: my body had this unyielding power off the field as well. 

My parent's friends told my dad to lock me up until I was 18. Though I knew what they meant, my innocent mind truly had no idea the half-spoken truth behind their words.  I secretly naively reveled in this attention. I remember rollerblading around a campground once and someone yelled out to me from their campsite.

I stopped. "Hi." I said, half-aware where this was going.
"How old are you?" the guy in the beach chair asked me. I noticed the beer in his hand.
"How old do you think I am?" I asked, more out of curiosity than flirtation.
"I don't know... 21?"
I smirked. "I'm 12." And I sped off.

On Mind

I was a smart kid. I got mostly A's and an occasional B, and I flourished in school. I loved being smart. My friends on the playground were often different from my friends in the classroom. Except for a few, the ones I played sports with were not the ones I'd share grades with to see who did better. It was a healthy challenge. This gave me a chance to be friends with everybody. I liked being more of a 'floater', as I called myself, than part of just one clique that wasn't always friendly to everyone else.

Then I noticed something. Everyone seemed to have that one friend, that best friend, and I really didn't. There was that one girl everyone wanted as a best friend. I didn't want to play that game. I didn't think there was something necessarily 'wrong' with me, I just started to not like being 'different'. I'd talk to my mom and she'd tell me I had an 'old soul' or the kids were just jealous... and while that helped a little, it couldn't take away the hurt.

In high school, I followed the same path: friends with everybody, feeling outcast here and there but knowing ultimately I was doing what I wanted to do with what I had to offer. I took hard classes instead of extra gym credits. I knew at this point I had an uphill battle with proving myself as female, and if you hand me a challenge I'm damn well going to beat it. That's how I approached this time in my life, wholeheartedly.

Despite loving it, I dropped my AP Art History class when my course load became too overbearing so I could prove myself in Physics and Calculus.  

This is the exact moment I think I began confusing what I want with what I need to prove as a female.

On Spirit

I played well with the boys. Almost better with the boys than the girls because they could be so feisty and overbearing at times. I was the one playing touch-football instead of jump rope. Or better yet, I'd do both. I loved the flexibility of this lifestyle. Until one day I didn't. It was ultimately a very lonely place to be; I did not having that one place to return to where I knew I belonged. It just made me so confused.

I struggled for a long time with understanding the power I knew my body had (looking closer to 20 than prepubescent),  and the calling I felt from the boys and the distance I felt from the girls. For a long time I relished in the calling from those boys. Well into my 20s. It became the only comfort I knew. I was seriously lacking some tools. While my ultimate optimism never fully disappeared, I was alone and confused and not feeling completely respected, by others, but more importantly myself.

On Unity

It is only now that I can put this all in a better perspective. I see now how I slowly neglected my body, and the powerhouse it can be, so that people would see beyond that. How cliche. I hate it. I hate that I felt I had to 'tone down' my physical strength and beauty to be seen as whole. My naivete was gone. I felt uncomfortable in my skin.

I long for that beautiful, strong body again and, more importantly, I long to feel SAFE in it. My spirit is very solid these days; I've finally learned the type of people I want in the front row of my life.

But, ultimately, I'm still fighting for unity between this body, mind, and spirit that I am.

- - - - - 

So what's your story on growing up female? Are there any similarities? How does your story differ? If you are male, how do you respond to this? How can we protect and change the story for our daughters of the future? Is there something I missed that you think about often?


  1. Sera: So tender, so poignant, so strong...and so true.

    I love that you've chosen to tell your story, and even more, to see the way these seemingly-disparate aspects of self are really all one.

    Too many messages ask us to separate, to parse, to break-ourselves apart. And when we listen - and comply - we are, truly, broken.

    Your coming back together is admirable and beautiful. And I'm honored to have any piece in encouraging and supporting such; supporting you.

  2. Without writing I would have never told this story in such a way, or maybe even told this story in it's entirety. Thank you so very much, Ronna, for sharing this must-have conversation.