There are numerous social standards and limitations which heavily impact people’s psyche, behaviour and actions. The notion of femininity is one of them and that which negatively altered my perception of self-care. If today this notion is quite fluid and relative, eight years ago, in very conservatives societies, this used to be a well-defined social norm based on which people would tag and judge other people.
Figuring out my degree of femininity
I identify myself as a heterosexual female individual, without being against homosexual relationships of any kind whatsoever. On the contrary, I salute all those people from the LGBT community: you have my love, support and appreciation!
I’ve never had any doubt about my sexual orientation as I have always felt attracted to men. Nonetheless, ever since I known myself, I’ve never been into “girly” things. I remember that in my very childhood – when I didn’t even know how to express my feelings very well, never mind what social standards mean – I hated it and felt uncomfortable when my mom dressed me up in skirts and dresses, styled my curly hair with ribbons or scrunches, and put me in sandals and white, ruched socks.
When I could finally have a say in that matter, I always went for boyish outfits because I liked the aesthetics of them and the way they suited both my body and my personality. As I’ve been pretty consistent with my tastes over the years, I grew up classifying myself as NOT being what is generally known as “a feminine girl/woman”. Thus, my innate behaviour, attitudes and preferences for a specific dress style – which, according to the social pattern, were characterised as a “non-feminine look” – became my trademark.
Desperately trying to resist social standards of femininity
Because I was not following the pre-defined direction, I’ve been judged and mocked for the weird discrepancy between my “very feminine body and face” and my “manly style and way of dressing up”. Curiously, those critiques made me enjoy my style even more, partly because in the very conservative society where I grew up, this made me feel different and original. That was mostly because there were some externally imposed standards regarding men and women that I obviously didn’t accept, but at the time I was completely unaware of what was happening out there, and I simply reacted according to my instincts: I was just a teenager proud of her tastes.
My non-feminine appearance and personality were what distinguished me from my colleagues and friends, so I became obsessed with preserving it “pure and unaltered”. I thus unconsciously started to look for an enemy to fight against in that cruel war meant to erase my true self, and this enemy was the standard image of “girly”, basically everything too glittery, sweet, delicate, etc. I didn’t try to turn myself into a boy on the outside. In fact, I rarely bought clothes from the boy section. I felt like a girl, and I considered that I looked like one and I was attractive even if I wore trousers and a baggy shirt, instead of a skirt, purse and high-heels. I associated femininity with not only certain fashion styles but also with some habits or activities.
Now I know that what I did back then was to stand against the social standards going on around me. Now, if I look behind, I can see there were some social standards and norms which dictated how girls should behave and dress up to fit perfectly in their small and primarily patriarchal communities, but at the time I only knew I hated dancing at parties, listening to slushy songs, or taking pictures. I didn’t even want to open an Instagram account. I took the stereotypical definition of femininity and involuntarily shaped it into my own, which was the moment when the deviation began.
The destructive obsession of keeping out of the feminine pattern
It may seem like I induced myself to hate those things, but the reality was that I naturally didn’t like them. And I still don’t: they are not my cup of tea. The actual problem back then was that I was so rabidly trying to stay truthful to that style of mine, that persona I had created, to the point of getting absurd. This obsession took me to another level, from refusing to wear a dress and high-heels at parties, to refusing to take care of myself.
For example, in my high school years, I straightened my hair almost every day because I didn’t like my naturally wavy hair, as it was dolly-like and made me look feminine. But I refused to use any products on my hair to prevent heat damage, and I even went so far as to not use any hair mask or conditioner, because they would give my hair some shine which to me was equivalent to a feminine look, not a healthy one. So I have rolled with dried-out, dull and damaged hair for ages, which now I am struggling to repair and prevent from falling.
I just wouldn’t wash my face with specially designed products, only because it was “too girly for me and unnecessary”. In reality, I was just lucky enough not to have major skin concerns to be mindful of, yet I did have clogged pores and textured skin, which bothered me because I found them gross. But because I didn’t want to use special stuff to fix them, I went for the solution that seemed to me not as feminine as face creams and serums – foundation! I know, it doesn’t make any sense. Somehow, I lied to myself that foundation alone on my face was not makeup – which would have been in contradiction to my beliefs – but just some sort of magic liquor helping me cover the sebaceous filaments on my nose. This magic liquor I would wash off with plain water alone because my philosophy didn’t allow me to use makeup remover. Now, I have to try and fix what I messed up on my face by reluctantly neglecting it for ages.
Don’t worry, I did take showers and brushed my teeth! My point was not to be gross. I was just so used to reject every single thing that could potentially be related to or describe femininity – as defined by social standards – so that I began to decline those things that were “too feminine” only according to my own definition. But in this way, I managed to addict myself to some unhealthy habits whose consequences I am facing today.
To me, bonnets, scarfs and caps were symbols of femininity, and so were puffy, thick, long winter jackets. Getting out at -10°C, inappropriately dressed for cold weather, resulted in horrible colds that weakened my immune system so much that I developed herpes, sinusitis and ovarian cysts and sensitivity. Even sunglasses and sunscreens I wouldn’t accept (and I have very white skin), reason for which I came home with violent sunburns, which left behind scars and hyperpigmentation, not to mention the higher chances of skin cancer.
What was initially just a teenage rebellion against superficial social standards of defining manliness and womanliness in an extremely conventional and traditional society turned out to be an absurd reluctance to take care of myself, whose repercussions are and will probably be sticking with me for some time.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, try to be a bit introspective and mindful of how you are living your life right now and what have led you to make some decisions, where they come from and what impact they are going to have on your health on the long run. And please, regardless of what you see around you, bear in mind that self-care is not about femininity or any other socially-related standards – it’s about staying healthy!