For better or for worse, I’m not usually someone who thinks too big picture. Societal issues overwhelm me; befriending a Burmese refugee family and helping them with life appeals far more than marching in the street for immigrant rights. Learning about climate change paralyzes me, but I’ll choose my bike over my car any day. I can’t tell you the last time I watched the news, the word “feminist” has never meant much to me, and when conversations get intangible and impractical, I check out. So when Arc’teryx began their #defineFEMININE campaign, clearly, my first response was, “uhhhhh…” Barbie and Seventeen magazine and climbing and women’s business suits and inner beauty and athlete models and tears and strength and Katniss and plus-size models ran into my brain in high heels and out barefoot, first dressed in pink and then in pants ripped and patched and ripped again.
And that’s why I usually stray from thinking too philosophically about things.
So I thought I’d make it easier on myself, and think about what I do know. I can speak pretty competently from my own experience, and usually that yields the clearest line of thinking. So this is what I know about the word “feminine:”
1. These pictures by photographer Kate Parker from her series entitled Strong is the New Pretty evoke something huge in me. I want to run around with these girls and roll in the mud and get as dirty as possible and kick soccer balls as far as we can and be opinionated and joyful and free and fully ourselves, and then I want to look them all in the eyes and say, “YOU ARE SO RAD.” I’ve never seen photos of girls quite like these before; the contrast between this and how we’re used to seeing girls portrayed is really startling. The amount of spirit and power and strength these young women show honestly brings tears to my eyes.
2. Without getting too TMI on the blogosphere, I’ve struggled hard with feeling feminine my whole life. In those rapidly-changing pre-high school years, I missed the boat completely: my body changed but nothing else did. There’s this clear delineation in our old family photos from where things went from cute to awkward. And honestly, they stayed awkward for over a decade. I didn’t know where to shop, the ins-and-outs of make-up were a mystery to me, I had one hairstyle (ponytail, duh), and just feeling girly felt shameful. More than anything though, in those years I defined feminine as something that I was not, and in so doing lost my spirit and my confidence. So yes, femininity has been a hot topic throughout my life, whether I’ve known it or not.
3. When I was in my mid-twenties I worked for three summers at an off-the-grid camp on an inlet in British Columbia, living half-time with the community at sea level and spending the other half guiding groups of high schoolers on week-long mountaineering trips in the BC Coast Range. I don’t know what it is about Beyond Malibu – I’m not sure that any of us do – but the women that it attracts are some of the world’s most beautiful, soulful, confident, strong women. I learned to read Wendell Berry at Beyond, to listen to the Wailin’ Jennys, to write and speak and share life honestly. I learned to love my strong body, I learned that there is power in confidence and self-love, I learned that a week without a mirror or shower spent moving through the mountains can leave a woman feeling more beautiful than anything. In short, throughout those three formative summers, the community and mountains of Beyond unearthed the shameless femininity in myself.
4. As climbing has become a huge part of my life throughout the last three years, it has completely changed the femininity ballgame for me. Climbing demands that I recognize and harness my power and self-sufficiency. It demands that I use my body to its fullest potential. It demands that I am aware and honest with myself. Responding to those demands and realizing all that is within me has boosted my self-confidence and self-love by innumerable amounts. Climbing makes me feel beautiful and agile, courageous and powerful, thoughtful and aware. It roots me in myself and in my body in a way that feels very right.
I’m not sure that I’m much closer to an answer to the #defineFEMININE question than when I began. But maybe I am a little closer to knowing what it is that makes me love being a female, what makes me cherish my body and mind, what it is that makes me the kind of woman I want to be. And that’s something I believe everyone should be able to define for themselves; ultimately there should be no set prototype for what “feminine” is or how “femininity” looks. If we could all #defineFEMININE for ourselves, maybe we’d all be on the right track towards accepting exactly who we are, shamelessly and confidently. High heels or barefoot or anything in between.
Oh, and be sure to check the link on the top right of the page ^ regarding the Arc’teryx Women’s Night coming up at the end of May. If you’re a woman in the Seattle area, you should come!