The best way I can describe my style is by using the words of rapper and feminist icon Princess Nokia. In an interview with The Guardian she said, “(I’m) not a typical clean-cut young lady, always a bit rough around the edges, always a bit messy … I didn’t wear the cute things girls wore at the time, I was on some baggy clothes, Harriet The Spy tomboy shit.”
The word “tomboy” has always been in my vocabulary. At first, others put this label on me, quantifying me into the category of baggy-shorts wearing, ponytail-styling, young female athletes. In addition to my wardrobe, I have grossly bitten fingernails, “man-sized” hands and feet, a sharp jawline and a prominent nose. I’m not the typical, petite female with soft features and cute actions — I’m no manic pixie dream girl. As I grew older, however, I found myself wrestling with this “tomboy” label, considering whether or not I was one and understanding the stigmas that came with it.
My style has always been an uphill battle because it was always about confronting my identity. The way we style ourselves matters to the world around us as much as it matters to us individually. My style journey has not been natural or conforming. It has taken me years to fully see that my own beautiful body wears the clothes and that the clothes don’t wear me. Discovering that nobody, including myself, needs to mold into society’s notion of femininity or culturally-accepted fashion styles, I began to realize that these notions apply to labels like “tomboy.” Tomboy has its own society-influenced definition. And it’s bullshit.
Before I became aware of this beautiful idea of what it means to be a tomboy, it’s important to reflect on the hurdles I leaped in order to finally feel comfortable in the clothes I wear today.
In 7th grade, a boy told me that I looked like a man. And he told me to my face.
I had a wide gap in my teeth, dirty blonde, surfer-looking hair and swimmer shoulders that probably intimidated this frail, 13-year-old, pubescent weenie. In other words, I believe my appearance and my personality were too outwardly “confident” for him — which unfortunately is often socially synonymous with the word “masculine.”
While I chuckle at the comment now, I won’t forget it. To some extent, it still hurts. I contemplated my identity for months after. I thought about what I was saying, doing and, most importantly, wearing: graphic tees and zip-up hoodies, skinny jeans and soccer sweatpants, Converse and flip-flops, baseball hats and tight ponytails. No makeup. No nail polish.
“What about me makes me man-ish?” I thought. “Am I not the cool, punky and sporty girl I always thought I was?” Yes, these are highly introspective questions for a 13-year-old girl to ask herself. But realistically, these are questions that many young adults still ask themselves today — me included.
Shouting aggressively in her New York accent, Princess Nokia raps these lyrics in her track “Tomboy,” declaring it as one of her most popular, confidence-boosting anthems: “Who that is, hoe? / That girl is a tomboy! / That girl is a tomboy! / That girl is a tomboy!”
For my first prom, my mom took me dress shopping. The tomboy and modest girl that I am decided to seek out simpler dresses with fewer rhinestones, duller colors and styles that made my fully-developed chest look smaller. As the awe-inspiring feminist activist Emma Watson once said: “My idea of sexy is that less is more. The less you reveal, the more people can wonder.” Modesty is, indeed, sexy.
My mom can sometimes treat me like her own Barbie doll and dress me the way she wants. In the store, she found an open-back, head-to-toe, hot-pink sequin gown that was “made for my body,” considering there was only one size and no zipper on the dress. As she shrieked in excitement, I was utterly disgusted. Overwhelmed, in fact.
Since I love my mother, I tried it on for her. She loved the way it framed my muscular back and bustier chest. I laughed for a minute, showing my mom how ridiculous I felt in this gown and how I could never walk into any event wearing it. But afterwards, while she journeyed around the store finding more dresses, I went to the dressing room and cried, peeling off the heavy, sequin-vomit dress.
I cried because I felt ugly. Not because the dress itself was ugly or obnoxious or extreme (which, to an extent, it absolutely was). But rather because the dress was wearing me, and I couldn’t see the girl behind the sequins. I felt ugly because I didn’t feel like me.
“I’m really into the fact that I could walk into any room and snatch any man in there like it’s nothing. A cup, baggy sweatpants and a fucked-up ponytail and they’ll still love me. I am one captivating son a bitch,” said Princess Nokia in an interview with Mass Appeal. “Who I am and what makes me me, the New York City project rat; the messy but beautiful; the sloppy but still sexy. When you got the juice, everybody wants to drink from your pitcher.”
My sophomore year of college, I met with an energy reader and medium. In an attempt to analyze my energy balances and chakra alignment, she spiritually sensed the flood of masculine energy that I was exerting. She asked if it made an effect on my relationships and day-to-day life.
With my legs spread open and body slouched into the couch, I rested my cheek onto my fist. I nonchalantly told her that I “tend to dress more manly.” I expressed how I don’t do my hair or paint my nails or do my makeup all the time. I felt as though boys were not as attracted to me as they would be to other girls.
My medium told me that although my style choices have something to do with this masculine energy, it was my inner self that was truly causing this energy to radiate. She assured me that it was my confidence, my creativity, my giddiness, my exuberant language and intense beliefs that ignited this masculine energy. That energy just so happened to be presented through my appearance.
And that is when I began to believe that the tomboy isn’t a type of person or a specific style — it’s an attitude.
“Male energy is currently being challenged by alpha female energy,” Princess Nokia added in the Mass Appeal interview. My tomboyishness wasn’t a factor of me being manly after all, but rather a prime feature of my femininity. To some degree, my tomboyishness is my confidence, my superpower, my alpha-femaleness.
When I lace up my sneakers and slap a beanie to my head, I’m unequivocally putting on my supersuit. I’m less nervous when speaking to people (especially flirting with boys), and I tend to find my most creative ideas. I notice myself apologizing less and smiling more.
I’d rather wear joggers and a t-shirt than skinny jeans with a crop-top. I like my baseball cap loose around my head with my thick hair pushing out on all sides. I’m more comfortable when I sit with my knees to my chest than one crossed over the other. I’d rather wear head-to-toe black (yes, a turtleneck, black leggings and ankle-high black boots with no skin showing) than wear any drop of color. Through these outfits, my tomboyishness is revealed to the world — a visual representation of who I am within the clothes. It’s not necessarily the physical article of clothing or a sport or a tone of voice that constitutes this label, it’s the clothing that ignites the attitude and the attitude that manifests as the tomboy.
Sure, my outfits represent how I’m feeling on a day-to-day basis, fluctuating between these male and female energies. Some days I do show more of my femininity, like when I wear a “Buffy”-esque, ’90s-mood outfit with knee-boots, a mini skirt and dangly earrings. But on any day when I am the most comfortable in what I am wearing, how I am acting and where I am going, those are the days when I represent my truest tomboy — my truest self. Coming to terms with my stylistic choices and my personality, I can confidently say that I’ll forever be a tomboy. I can only hope that every little girl can unapologetically find her own version of the tomboy, becoming the most authentic version of herself, regardless of wardrobe.
“The only way you can make something work is really by being your most unique self and having a lane,” Princess Nokia stated in an NME interview. “And there’s no one in my lane.”