Disclaimer: I’m writing this based on my experiences and mine alone.
For a good while in my secondary school days, let’s say because of a bad experience, I hated girls. I didn’t wanna be like them. I detested everything that they were, because I felt I was not that. Secondary school was when girls grow, in every way possible, especially in the physical aspects, and I seemed to have been left out. I did talk about that more, here, but any way I grew to dislike feminine characteristics. I didn’t know how to dress also and I was a pretty socially awkward (and loud) person at the same time. Also, from young, I loved football and sports and it was always easier for me to hangout with the boys than with the girls.
Junior College was then the time where people started really finding out who they were, building their identity, creating and understanding their dreams, their personality, picturing themselves in relation to the people around them and all. It seemed like the perfect time for me to, well, grow up. I spent a good while recovering from what had happened back in secondary school and J1 was somewhat of a blur. J2 rolled around and I got introduced to the world of gym. Men, sweaty men, big men, scary men, large biceps, heavy floor slams, name it, you have it. The gym was the epitome of all things men (some would say). I was scared to step into that world but somehow I did, and at first I was afraid (I was petrified) get the reference? HAHAHA. But yes, I was scared, but through the help of my bros, I overcame my fears, and I found a community, a lifting community, all dem bros and my other bro Sarah Tan. Lifting slowly got into my blood and I started falling in love with the sport. The first whole year of my association with the weights I just spent it figuring things out, figuring my own body out, understanding how things worked. And as I developed a love for it, I started also getting closer to my bros. Naturally when you get closer to people, you’d start developing the same habits and things like that. It fed my ‘tomboy’ side, and I loved it. I was perfectly comfortable in that. I felt as though through all the 18 years of my life, gym was the place I was most comfortable in. I mean there were all those really pretty girls on Instagram and while I couldn’t help wishing once in a while that I’d be as good looking as they were, I was quite contented with mine.
I slowly grew into this personality and I’d never been more at ease. But then the struggle came. I started getting comments from people that ‘you don’t know how to behave like a girl’, ‘girls don’t gym, they will become big’, ‘you know girls with muscles are unattractive?’, and such like. It got to the point that I started to question my interest in gym, I even googled to see if girls would get bigger after lifting weights. It seemed like a very fun thing for people to make fun of or mock ladies who walked into the gym. It didn’t help that I was small and I would get weird stares when I headed to the squat rack. People couldn’t understand why I was doing what I was doing, I had guys even come and tell me that ‘men didn’t like big girls, don’t train so hard pls’.
Then I found out about the world of make up. A little late, but nonetheless I discovered it. (I’m a long way off from a perfect contour/made up look but I’m trying, cut me some slack.) Anyway, having found out about it, I started exploring. If it was weird enough for some people that I started gyming, now they tried and failed to wrap their heads around the idea that I also liked to dress up. Wearing a dress and using lipgloss drew reactions like: ‘wow Esther, I thought you buff buff one’, or ‘wah why never wear gym clothes today ah’. It seemed as though those two worlds were separate and could not be put together. A girl cannot enter a male dominated, testosterone filled space without getting rude and annoying comments, and also cannot choose then to dress up as she would because she was now attempting to break out of the stereotype that people had set for/about her?? That seemed very much like it. Guys didn’t get it when I could discuss the latest Champions League results and talk about the Grand Prix, or discuss weightlifting categories and the different types of pull-up positions there were. No, girls don’t talk about stuff like that.
I learnt about the male gaze in Film class. I learnt that women only gained significance or were worth anything if she was the object of male desire/visual pleasure. Of course, that’s a theory you say. But it felt true. We say, comments don’t matter, but they do. They do when you’re trying to find yourself and build your identity and it gets torn down because some guy tells you ,’girls don’t act and behave like this’. It hurts, I remember. I reconsidered what I was doing, I asked my close friends, was gym a bad idea? I recall thinking about whether I should change my personality and tone down on my enthusiasm and become more ‘girl-like’.
BUT WAIT, I realised, who on earth decided how girls should behave? I learnt from all these things that being a ‘tomboy’ is something that’s in your head. What you think you are is not dictated by how you dress, how you talk, what your interests are. That is not you. What you are is the beauty of your personality, your large and loving heart, your passion for what you do, your love for the little things in life, the way you treat people, the attitude you possess towards life, so much more. If you’d like to dress like what people call a ‘tomboy’ style, or ‘gothic’ or whatever style you want to, just do it. If you prefer to dress up, dress and heels (or wedges for me because I cannot balance for nuts), and you love eyeliner or whatever other shade of lipstick that pleases you, go do it. Look beautiful and more importantly, feel beautiful. Who out there told you that you have to fit into a mould that society dictated? I used to have this dilemma whether I was more tomboy or girl-like. I reached a point where I applied the stereotypes in society to myself because I actually got psyched into believing it existed. But today I am here telling myself, and you, if you’re reading this, that it doesn’t matter what they say.
You alone decide how you wish to portray your beautiful, lovely self. If men are not happy with the way you carry yourself because they feel this is not ‘girl’ enough, you don’t need those kind of people in your life. You’re better off with people who love you for all you do, for all you are. Surround yourself with people who care about you for you and not for what you wear or your interests. True friends should support you for your interests and not bring you down. If guys tell you that you should gym less, lift less, train less, don’t grow so large arms, legs, only stare at you for your butt (which you achieved ’cause you squatted your life out), don’t be scared, and leave them biting the dust. They’re intimidated, and scared because you’re stronger than them, you got more balls than they do, you’re tough and rough and powerful. Be strong and be proud of whatever you do, be proud to do what you do, and do it well. If you love lifting, go all the way, if you train, go hard. Don’t ever let anyone dictate what interests you should/should not have just because you’re a girl. No, gender is not a factor and should never be, in determining whether those dreams should be chased.
Lastly, I just wanna say, love yourself, love yourself for every aspect of you. You don’t have to be one dimensional, you’re a human being who’s multi-faceted and wonderful all over, inside and out. Learn to love even the ‘flaws’ which you think you possess because all those imperfections make up a lovely human that you are. Never let anyone tell you that you aren’t amazing.
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