American Univesity of Beirut

Growing Up as a Girl in Lebanon: Tomboyishness vs Ultra-femininity

Milia Zeidan​

When you grow up as a girl but don't tick all the stereotypical checkboxes of being a girl, you become accustomed to the term tomboy. Growing up, the term tomboy followed me everywhere, whether at family gatherings, in the playground, or at school. I hated it. I would get offended whenever it was used to describe me. I envied the girls at my school who wore skirts or dresses and behaved in a “girly" way. However, as hard as I tried, I couldn't become like them. I would force myself into dresses, sacrificing my comfort in an attempt to look conventionally pretty countless times, convinced that this time, it would work. It never did.

When I was younger, I was always out playing and fooling around with my cousins, all of whom were boys. I never liked the girls in the countryside. They were too “girly" for me. I didn't think I belonged. Now that I think of it, however, many of them could have been going through the same experience, trying as best as they could to tick those boxes society has set, to mold themselves into the role they were meant to play while ignoring the feeling of self-resentment bubbling inside them. What if we were all looking at each other and thinking How do I become like her?

One day particularly stands out to me when reflecting on this matter. I was hanging out with a group of girls at a carnival. They were all wearing dresses while I was in my normal attire of jeans, a t-shirt, and worn shoes. I felt so out of place. The next day, I wore a dress and my mother's jewelry—since I was never interested in getting my own—and even fixed my hair. My parents were surprised by this sudden change in my clothing. While stereotypical “girliness" isn't only about style, I felt that I needed a quick fix to what I considered, at the time, a problem; and in my mind, clothes were the easiest and fastest thing I could change about myself.

Looking back, I regret every single time I felt bad for being different because, as it turns out, I wasn't that different from other people after all. Throughout the years, I have learned that the term tomboy is merely a social norm constructed by the past generations to put rebellious women in their place when they dared to swerve away from the stereotypes. How messed up can we be, as a society, to make countless children, regardless of their gender, feel so insecure about themselves over the most insignificant details? What frustrates me even more, and increases my overall disappointment in society, is that I like being a woman now; yet , I felt so out of place for the longest time. I felt like I did not belong, like I was not a “proper" girl. I'd started resenting being a girl.

I have become used to being disappointed in society when it comes to gender-related issues. As hard as it is, I ignore the comments and the side-looks that I often get. I can now proudly admit that I am a woman without feeling dishonest.


Photo credits: Woman stepping on cruiser board. Unsplash. Unsplash License.​

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