Friday, March 7, 2014

on cool girls

I read THIS article and it really hit me hard.
Cool girls are essentially behaviorally "masculine" (in the most common connotation) hot girls. The idea, as the article puts it, is to "act like a dude but look like a supermodel". The article goes on to show the history of cool girls repetitive, yet brief, fascination with them. I think this was so fascinating because I identified so strongly with the cool girl description. And if I may, this post will now turn decidedly inward.

I was always a tomboy. I had brothers and boy friends and a father and a stepfather. I played nintendo and drums and could climb the 50ft rope in the backyard faster than any boy. I could belch as loud, be just as crude, and curse as well as any guy I knew. I smoked cigars on rooftops. I played poker to win. I played in a rock band nearly half of my life.
I also
wore a c-cup bra by the time I was eleven, wore thongs in junior high, and owned (and by this I mean was acutely and manipulatively aware) of my sexuality at an alarmingly young age. I may not have been a supermodel, but I was a cool girl. I have always been keenly aware of the precarious line that a cool girl must walk. Belch but never fart. Curse but not too much. Be overtly sexual but never making the first move. Be fun and care-free but never an airhead. Put on the feminine attire, occasionally, but be sure to acknowledge that you "are more of a jeans and a t-shirt type of gal".  And so on.
I was this and more until one day in college I got pregnant. Try being a cool girl when you're a walking 18-year-old taboo. I played the role as best I could (think Juno in her most believable moments). Ultimately though, that sexual desirability that is the essential component of cool girlness is exceptionally tough when you are especially rotund. The boys who had once objectified me were now trying to protect me. And in the wake of what can be an especially harsh and judgmental culture, I couldn't figure out a way to play genuine tribute to that cool girl identity that I had cultivated and the most self-protecting identify that I could conjure in the situation - the victim. And rather than shed the identify completely, I just became mute. It seemed like the best way. To those who knew me, I wasn't NOT the cool girl, I was just being quiet and mysterious. To those who didn't know me, I was a quiet victim of unfortunate circumstance.
Shortly after the adoption I moved across the country. I could never regain the identity I had forged after having been the victim. And moreover, I couldn't escape the setting of the most difficult experience of my life. So I moved. But now I was different. After being effectively mute for nearly a year, I couldn't remember if I was gregarious or quiet. Was I shy and coy or loud and a playful tease? That carefree confidence was missing. Boys started noticing me again but with each lengthy gaze, I was now torn between my history of coquettish response and my still fresh and burning wound that commenced from a once lengthy gaze. And I responded sporadically. On the 2nd of each month (her birthday) I would crumple into a pile of post-partum goo and would become a quiet wallflower in need of help and protection. I'd reach out to the companionship of a gender I could count on to deliver whatsoever I wanted. A week would pass and I'd summon the strength to keep moving, falling back on the independent ideal of my juxtaposed identity and repulsed by the very idea of men. I'd use my sexuality as a weapon, luring them in and then stabbing them with reject. I'm not proud. This was my very skewed idea of power.
Then one day my secret was out. At the smallest campus nearly 2 thousand miles away, a wildfire spread. I was the flame, and my baby was the match. But because I had been so destructive, I was nearly burned alive. Suddenly the men I had once held so much "power" over now, again, shifted their objectifcation to victimization.
And so I went back to my protective mute state. I moved off campus. I started attending events at other schools. I never ever ever hung out with anyone. I was an outcast. I hated men. I hated the awful girls who felt threatened and tried to light me on fire with gossip. As you can imagine, it was a very difficult and confusing and lonely time.
Gratefully, it was remarkably brief because
I met Doug.
I was 20 and still violently flopping between cool girl and angry mute when we began. He was attractive and smooth, but not too smooth. He was masculine but just enough feminine. He was incredibly attractive but in that "I don't try hard" way with messy hair and unshaven face. If ever there were a cool girl counterpart, a "cool guy" if you will, it was Doug. I despised Doug and yet I was so incredibly drawn to him. He had just ended a nearly decade long relationship and with broken heart, seemed to be doing the violent flop at nearly the exact same velocity as my erratic convulsions. We look back at that time completely astounded that we ended up together, let alone are still together 9 years later.
And marriage is a brand new chapter to the cool girl image. Those first few years you're still desperately seeking the other's approval. ("Hey, how about we play video games and eat pizza? ,,,naked?) When you marry at 20 and 22, you're attempting to build an identity and a foundation and a career all with another person who is also trying to do all of those same things. No wonder most of our friends who married at the same time are now divorced. For years Doug and I flopped back and fourth together, perfectly playing the roles when the stage was set and the audience attending, and letting them aside when it, and they, were not. New circumstances aroused the same identity questions- parenthood, depression, moving...
And to this day I wonder how much of image and identity are intertwined. Like the chicken and the egg, do we create image as a result of our perceived identity, or do we allow the desired image construct the identity? And how much of it is a result of cultural norms versus the breeding of character traits? My mother, the thong-wearing blond who loves football? My father, the military man who loves butterflies?
I really have no idea. I do know that being desirable and ultimately feeling accepted is a natural human longing. I know that I desperately sought this as a child, as a teen, as a birth mother, as a young wife. And all I know now that I didn't then, is that self-acceptance is the key. Even, if like me, you're still struggling to pinpoint just who that is.

1 comment:

Jenny Ramsey said...

Jo, I love reading your blog. I started back when you all shared your video announcing the twins. It is raw and beautiful. Thank you for sharing your experiences and insight. Your writing is inspiring.