“I feel like a girl, but when I look in the mirror, I see an old woman staring back at me.” My mom.
Because I know my mom would be so-not-happy-with-me if I posted her age on the internet I will just let you guess. But the reality is, it doesn’t matter how old she is. I’ve heard this from women of all ages. It’s not unique to one generation. Or even one age.
For the longest time I struggled with referring to myself as a woman. I felt like I was being pretentious. Faking it. Not old enough to technically be a woman. Then I turned thirty. That should realistically make me old enough to be a woman. Right? But it still felt strange. I still referred to myself and my friends as girls. My mother and her friends as women.
But what makes a woman? And when did I leave the girl in me behind?
I love being a girl
When I was a girl I loved to play. I would dress up in my mom’s heels and my dad’s army clothes. Military assassin in high heels. Done it. Wearing only scarves, in a conglomeration I liked to call a dress, and exploring the dessert. Yup. Did it yesterday. Dressing my (ever too kind) cat up in clothes and pushing her around in a stroller. A very real version of a strange cat lady. On it. Mixing up potions/serums/antiviral concoctions in a mix of witch-doctor/mad-scientist/geniusly-gifted-doctor. On the list for tomorrow. My imagination was free. I could be anything I wanted to be. It didn’t matter if you told me otherwise. I was full of possibilities. I was gentle. I was equal parts excited and terrified of the world outside my home. The world I was just beginning to explore.
Teenagers are tricky
At this age it was a desperate fight to prove to anyone and everyone that I wasn’t a little girl anymore. I had always been a tomboy. Out run the boys. Picked up things even they wouldn’t touch. Built kick-ass forts. But it never went above my head that I was a girl. I didn’t feel the need to differentiate between stereotypical girly things and stereotypical boyish things. I was going to beg my mom to wear mini-skirts to church one day and go muck out the stall while wearing cowboy boots and dad’s jeans the next. I was determined to create my own person.
“You’re growing into such a beautiful young woman,” my mom would tell me. “Thanks mom,” I would say rolling my eyes. Now let me get back to pretending to do homework. A “young woman” wasn’t something that was real to me. It was something my mom and other older people called me when they wanted me to know they were proud of me. In fact, several older people were referring to me as a young woman. And it made me uncomfortable. What did that mean? Did I have to give up my goofy behavior? Get married? Dress only in pant suits? GASP! This being a woman thing was not for me. I was going to travel the world. Learn six languages. Have a few flings. Live in a ridiculous apartment. Eat only raman until I made it. Then dine on sushi every night. I was not going to become my mom or her friends. I was not a woman. I was still interesting. Still full of possibilities.
I may have had a minor panic attack for my entire 29th year of life. Turning thirty was terrifying to me. It was the real line between being a girl and a woman. My friends were having kids. Buying houses. Working at real jobs. I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up and living in an apartment. I seem to remember crying, feeling like a failure, and all around feeling like life was about to end. I had to fit into this shell of what a woman was supposed to be.
Back to Reality
Go back. (Maybe way back for some of us.) Back to when you were six and wearing your mom’s lipstick, imagining what you could be when you grew up. Relishing in your beauty. The possibilities. The wonder.
Now look at yourself in the mirror. You’ve finally found the right shade of lipstick. You’ve figured out your hair. You’ve got smile lines. Wonderful, fabulous, beautiful smile lines. You’re tired from chasing the kids. Or from a sixty hour work week. From all the grandkids you’re happily corralling. Or from the new hobby you’ve taken up during retirement.
Wondering where that little girl went? She’s still there. That sparkle in your eye. That sense of wonder when you learn something new. That utter sense of joy you get when you laugh so hard you cry. You’re love of pink and sparkles. The tomboy who wants to only wear jeans. All of the possibility in you is the girl.
Now look back at the woman. She’s still there too. And she’s always been there. That caring inside you when you were six and moved the ladybug off the street so it wouldn’t be run over. The time you sat up all night with your friend in high school while she cried because her dad had left. Your ability to balance the ridiculous with the realistic and still look chic. The confidence behind the bravery when you stand up to speak. All of the refinement and beauty in you is the woman.
I love women. I think we are wonderful things. I love girls. They are equally fantastic. You know what the difference between them is? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The girl is part of the woman. And the woman is part of the girl. And until we as females can embrace that and teach that to our daughters, we will be missing out on the fullness of our own lives. I am a woman. You are a woman. I am still a girl. And you’re still a girl. And those are both wonderful things. I will wear them proudly. Military assassin high heels, great lipstick, goofy smile, wrinkles, and all.