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On being like other girls

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NOVEMBER 17, 2022

No matter how old I am, there’s always something that women are mocked for enjoying. When I was a child, it was princesses and pink. As a tween, it was One Direction and Justin Bieber. Starbucks. Makeup. Shawn Mendes. The list goes on and on.

Women are familiar with this sentiment — no matter what we’re interested in, people are going to make fun of it eventually. Even if you enjoy stereotypically “male” interests, like sports, then suddenly you’re on trial: how much do you really like this? Are you sure you’re not just saying that to be “one of the boys”? 

I’ve always been a fairly “girly girl.” I liked pink, clothes and Barbie dolls. But growing up I’ve always been self-conscious of being too girly. In elementary school, I tried so badly to be the coveted “tomboy” and would play tag and soccer with the boys in my class. 

But I hated it. Having no athletic ability at all and growing to resent recess, I felt forced to  engage in these games that I didn’t enjoy. So I moved on and admitted defeat. I couldn’t be a tomboy, but I still had to avoid being perceived as too girly by others. 

I resisted obsession of boy bands and MagCon boys, avoided indulging in makeup until I was in high school, and certainly didn’t claim pink as my favorite color. 

But why? Why was it necessary for me to avoid these things?

Now that I’m older, I’m much more comfortable with my own femininity and what that means to me. Almost everything I own is pink and I spend embarrassingly huge amounts of money at Sephora. But something in me still feels the need to resist being “like other girls.” As I grow older, the type of girl to avoid being constantly evolves. You don’t want to be too girly, too nerdy, too boy-obsessed, not boy-obsessed enough. It’s impossible to be completely unique yet still appealing. 

There’s a fine line between being different from other girls, but not too different that you’re weird. You need to be appealing to men but not be too much like them so that they’re not attracted to you. I have tried desperately to be in this Goldilocks zone, but it was never attainable. 

The desire to be different from other girls stems from the idea that I was unattractive. In elementary school, the girls that boys had crushes on were the tomboys and the non-girly girls. I felt the need to replicate them, their hobbies and demeanors, in order to become likable too. While this ultimately failed since I hate soccer, I tried to learn what these girls were doing that set them apart from the rest of us. What made them so desirable? 

Furthermore, who are these “other girls” that I was trying to avoid being like? The phrase “not like other girls” implies that women act on a binary: the other girls and not like the other girls. 

But women are far more multifaceted than that, something I was well aware of. And yet I still wanted this desirability factor, this uniqueness that would set me apart from “other girls.” I wanted to be special, one of a kind. For some reason, I thought that engaging in activities that were not stereotypically feminine and occasionally even putting down other women was the way to achieve this. Men are not ascribed the same kind of homogeneity as women are, and I felt lumped into the group. It seemed unavoidable that you’d either be categorized as “like the other girls” or “not like the other girls” with no in between, no nuance. 

But you can enjoy typically girly things and still be nuanced and special. My uniqueness and individuality does not stem solely from my gender. Being a woman has offered me many facets of my identity, but it is not all that I am.

I find myself now wanting to be exactly like the other girls. Because, in reality, there are no “other girls,” there’s just girls. While we’ve been categorized as two-dimensional, there’s no way to truly not be like other girls. Whoever I’m with, from different countries, different ages, different interests, I’ve found something in common with them. No matter what, there is no way to truly not be like the other girls.

And why would I not want to be like the other girls anyway? Why would I want to deny myself a community and friendship? The friendships that I have formed with other women are so important to me, so intrinsic to who I am. If I was not like the other girls, I would never have formed these relationships, because I would have been too concerned about appearing “different” and special. 

But I can be special because I’m like the other girls, not just in spite of it. Yes, I’m like the other girls in the sense that I like makeup and shopping, but also for so many more reasons beyond that. I’m like the other girls because everyone, in some way, is like the other girls. No matter how hard you try, there will always be someone who can connect with you, even in a small way. 

And why wouldn’t I want that?

Aviva Binder writes the Thursday column on hidden insecurities. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

NOVEMBER 17, 2022