Growing up, I certainly worked hard to earn the label “tomboy.” I eschewed dolls and dresses in favor of dinosaurs and torn blue jeans. I preferred to play Egyptian Pharaoh instead of house. And I certainly did not like the color pink. Not one bit.
And so adults would smile, shake their heads, and say, “She is such a tomboy.” Initially, I liked that idea. I’d rather do boy stuff than girl stuff anyway. Sometimes I even used the word “girl” as an insult, on one memorable occasion shouting at a girl who liked to pick on my in the 5th grade locker room that she was “too much of a girl!” What I meant was that she was a prissy little snot who needed to leave me the heck alone, but what came out was that she was “girl.” And that of course opened me up for more mockery.
As I grew older, I began to internalize the idea that I just wasn’t very good at being a girl. I didn’t genuinely want to be a boy, but since I wasn’t good at being a girl, what could I do? I was stuck feeling frumpy and out of place. A perpetual outsider.
Looking back as an adult, I wish that someone had taken me aside and explained to me that there are as many ways to be girly as there are girls in the world. The word “girl” doesn’t describe the way someone behaves. It describes what someone is. Girliness has nothing to do with dresses and colors and toys. And the reality is that there is no such thing as boy stuff and girl stuff. It’s all just stuff that anyone can play with.
Now, my older daughter also seems to be earning that title, and I am trying to stamp it out whenever I can. Just like her t-shirt says, “There are so many ways to be a girl.” The girl on the far right with the tutu, boots, and robot is my daughter. (No really, that’s actually her. Cool, huh?) Whether my girl plays with action figures, pretends to be a ninja, or chases a soccer ball all afternoon, I want her to know that she is great at being a girl and she is awesome at being herself.
Let’s banish the words “tomboy” and “girly girl” from our vocabulary. Let’s work together to celebrate all of our children for who they are instead.