On trying to be more of a girl

I think I'm doing pretty well at being a woman. But if I'm honest with myself, I've been a lousy girl. So I'm trying some new, not entirely successful stuff...

If you examine the pictures of me as a child and a teenager, you’ll notice that I was not the most feminine of creatures. I was pretty devoted to matching sweatsuits most of the way through high school. I wasn’t a tomboy, per se – as I certainly didn’t have a talent for any sports – but I never went through the girlish rites of passage, like crimping my hair or figuring out liquid eye liner or learning how to successfully flirt. Somehow, sitting in the basement watching The Cosby Show, I missed all of that.

So over the past years and months – ever the late bloomer – I’ve increasingly been trying to add girly things to my repertoire. Not because I’m worried about being attractive to someone, but just for fun. I now often put on makeup before I leave the house. My underwear drawer is getting fancier. My footwear is decidedly less casual. My hair is getting more and more expensive. And, very recently, I decided to paint my fingernails bright red in perhaps the second home manicure I’ve ever attempted in my life.

It wasn’t a particularly successful experiment. I found it almost impossible to prevent smearing and smudging. By the next morning, my nails looked like I had stuck my hands into a bowl of wild ferrets. “What’s going on here?” asked my friend, Luke, over brunch. I explained that I was trying out some girly things, as I slid my hands off the table and concealed them underneath the napkin on my lap. I explained that I found it really hard to not use my hands for two hours – ergo, my nails were severely chipped and kind of hideous. Luke sympathized, and explained that his girlfriend’s nail maintenance was at least a thrice weekly commitment. I’m not up for that, I admitted, considering all of the things I could be doing with my hands in that time; all of the Googling and eating and page turning and channel changing.

The next night I took all of the nail polish off of my fingernails, and then took a stab at painting my toes the same bright red. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked. And now, whenever I glance down at my feet – in the shower, when I’m about to slip on socks in the morning, when I’m watching TV and my feet are resting on the coffee table – I get a thrill at the pretty little shock of colour. And I’ve discovered that I like the way I look in pink. Ditto for the dangerously high heeled boots I purchased, that so far haven’t left my apartment. I like to wobble around in them while I’m getting ready to go out, putting on mascara and listening to music – something 20-year-old me never could have fathomed. I feel like I’m playing some adult version of dressup.

I won’t pretend I’ve gotten much better at polishing my nails or managing my hair, but sometimes it makes me happy to be terrible at new things, to try them out just because I can. It’s also kind of amazing to try things that seem like a departure from who I assumed I was. Sometimes we get so caught up in our idea about who we are, and what fits that entrenched profile, that we forget to experiment and allow ourselves to change. We assume we’re going to like or dislike things before we even have a chance to try them.

And while it may be a while before I try another home manicure, I should be ready to wear my new boots out of the house sometime in 2011. And that makes me happy.

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