I was enjoying myself. I was 8-years old and having a fun evening at the local roller skating rink. Every night, they’d play one song for a separate “boys’ skate” and another for a “girls’ skate.” Finally, it was time for the girls’ skate. I flew out onto the floor and zipped around the rink, reveling in the extra space. Suddenly, it was ruined.
“Get out of there, boy!” shouted a parent outside the wall.
I KNEW he was referring to me. With my short haircut, blue jeans, and “hand-me-down” shirt that I got from my brother, I was being mistaken for a boy. The shame and embarrassment washed over me. I didn’t react to him, but he shouted it another time as I rolled around again.
I have always been different. I wasn’t the “typical” girl, and not just at the skating rink.
When other girls were playing with their baby dolls, I was playing with my Legos, plastic cowboys and Indians, toy cars, and action figures.
I spent my free time running around the woods with bare feet, in jeans with holes in the knees, and in old t-shirts. I loved building forts out of branches and whatever scraps of lumber I could find. Wearing dresses and being “girly” held no appeal for me.
According to the way many would define “feminine” I wasn’t it. I became more aware of that as I grew older.
My mom has never been typical either. As a child, her interests often didn’t match those of her four sisters. She had no brothers and her father sometimes referred to my mom as his “only son.” Unlike her sisters and most other girls, my mom had a knack for mechanical skills. Her dad worked for N.A.S.A. and she inherited those mechanical and engineering skills from him. She could often been found in the garage with him, working on a car or a home project.
I inherited those mechanical skills too. My mom taught me how to build things, use tools, fix my car, and do home repairs and installations. We both enjoy those things. For us, an ideal shopping trip is to a hardware store.
Navigating high school and college wasn’t always easy and it took courage to be myself. The pressure was to fit in and be “normal.” With my skill set and interests not fitting that mold, some wanted to change me. Others made assumptions. I’ll never forget the time my best friend’s parents sat us down and questioned if we were in a lesbian relationship. I was horrified and felt shame even though there was no truth to it.
I had to wrestle with various questions. What does it mean to be a woman? Is it okay to not fit the typical mold? Is it okay that I don’t like wearing dresses and makeup? Is it acceptable to love talking about tools and home repairs with the guys? How about riding a motorcycle?
I ponder the Proverbs 31 woman. I see she provides food for her family (does she actually cook it herself?), spins wool, and makes things from fabric. However, she also works with her hands, manages business, makes her arms strong, and helps the poor and needy! What is her clothing in this passage? Strength and dignity!
I am atypical, but that’s okay. My uniqueness was given to me by God. I am whom He wants me to be. It is not those external or stereotypical things that make me a woman. My femininity includes my momma heart, my concern for others, my emotions and my way of relating to others.
I raise my kids to value their own uniqueness (within God’s boundaries) and be brave in the face of pressure to fit the world’s mold. An observer might be alarmed to hear us say to each other, “you’re weird!” when someone does something unusual but if they continued listening, they’d hear a reply of “thank you!” We discuss how being uncommon and different is fun and interesting.
A year or so ago, a man asked me to go out to dinner with him. We had met in a Blacksmith guild where we were both members. We went out and had a nice time, that night, and on other evenings. After that first occasion, it hit me. When he asked me out, he had only ever seen me in work boots, jeans, and t-shirts! Our connection was the male-dominated art of blacksmithing. He wasn’t attracted to me wearing a dress and makeup, with a love of typical female things. It was my smile, my personality, and my unique femininity that drew him to me.
Be brave and be your beautiful, unique selves. Each of you is a work of art!
Angela Leffel is a teacher and single mom with four adopted kids, one of whom is now an adult. She enjoys heart sharing with friends, especially over a cup of coffee. She feels closest to God and most at peace when in a forest. She shares what God is teaching her here.