Whenever anyone asks my mother what I was like as a child, she always responds by telling stories of her first attempts to put me in a dress as a toddler.
“I would just finish dressing her and she would be looking like the cutest little princess,” she usually relays, “After I turned my back for one moment, I would look to find her in a dirt pile giggling and covered with mess.”
I was not a very “girlie” little girl. I liked to run around, climb trees, rollerblade, discover large yucky bugs under rocks and roughhouse with the boys in my neighborhood. And my mom really didn’t mind. After a while, she just sort of gave up on the idea that she would have the kind of little girl that would get all dressed with pink ribbons and bows and host imaginary tea parties. She let me be me; Tiffanie the explorer and adventurer. I am always grateful that she did.
But as time passed and puberty arrived, the divide between boys and girls became particularly wide and I found myself stuck in a strange gender limbo, just lost. I didn’t really know how to relate to girls and the boys were busy being, well, boys. I finally retreated into my own.
I tried to drop hints to my mom that I was ready for her to make me into that girl that she longed for. I asked her about her lipstick and stared at her as she slowly applied her mascara or eyeliner, but she never really offered to let me try any. By then, she was usually too busy running between jobs, trying to keep food on the table, as a single mother, for her three children. And I’m sure she figured I’d be the last person in the world who would be interested anyways. Honestly, I really wasn’t that interested in the makeup itself, I just wanted to finally see what it was like to be a “girl” and I has absolutely no idea how to.
That was before I met Karla.
We were both teenagers who shared a love for telling silly, scary stories, roaming our neighborhood and laughing incessantly. We became best friends instantly and were inseparable.
She had a beauty routine that I always watched with curiosity. She would begin by lathering herself in lotion. Then she would spray and massage different products into her long, curly tresses. And for the final touch, she would gently apply some mascara and a little bit of lip gloss. My routine was a bit more simple: shower, brush teeth, throw on some clothes and voila! Ready. So, needless to say, I was very impressed by this strange beauty regimen that seemed so natural for her and completely alien to me.
One day, she looked my way and asked, “Hey, wanna try some?”, extending the bottle of Victoria’s Secret Love Spell. I accepted her offer with a shrug. She squeezed the bottle and a trail of the lotion slithered out like a tiny snake into my palm. Neither of us understood, at the time, that tiny gesture would change my life.
I became so addicted to Victoria Secret’s scents that I purchased a new one to add to my collection whenever there was a sale and I managed to scrape up enough money to afford it. After the purchase, I would rush home, take a quick shower, slather a glob of the lotion onto my entire body, then bask in the cool, fresh feeling that overwhelmed my senses. Karla had finally introduced me to the elusive world of “girliness” and surprisingly, I loved it.
Together, we tried different eye shadow, eyeliner and mascaras from her huge stash that she collected over the years. I always pretended to be unenthusiastic, but secretly I was elated. Not only did I finally have a girlfriend, but I was also starting to feel like a girl, a young woman even.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t define girlhood or womanhood by how much makeup someone wears or the length of someone’s beauty regimen — those things are merely preferences. A woman is defined by her intellect, her kindness, her determination, her compassion. However, we often take for granted how those little exchanges really help us understand ourselves as “feminine.” In that “girlie” space, I was finally allowed to feel comfortable with expressing my femininity without feeling judged or misunderstood, and as a result I truly felt empowered and complete.
Though, admittedly, I’m still the wild adventurer who enjoys long rides on the busy streets of New York on my scooter. And I still find myself playing soccer or volleyball on the beach with “the boys,” but I have come to enjoy my own beauty regimen. Everyday, I take a nice long, warm shower, cover myself in a sweet-smelling lotion, throw on some eyeliner, then put on my clothes. And every time I do, I think about my best friend and wonder if I would ever be the woman that I am today without her.
Original by Tiffanie Drayton