But You’re Not a REAL Tomboy!


Natalie holding a tennis racket, looking rather tough

Tomboy takes the court! Photo Credit: Leslie Foster, 2009

Gender stereotypes have always been a very personal struggle for me. Dresses, make-up, and purses were never my thing; I wasn’t girly. Though I played sports growing up and, overall, acted masculine, I wasn’t a boy, either — I fell somewhere in-between, a perpetual tomboy.

Learning ballroom dance offered me a more well-rounded view of femininity. However, I wasn’t always open-minded. A few years ago, I was talking with a female acquaintance who, in many ways, was the portrait of a girly girl: she wore make-up, carried a purse, and always styled her hair. As we stood in the hallway, she said, “I can’t believe what a tomboy I am.” And she meant it.

My immediate response? You’re not a real tomboy.

This girl was wearing a dress. For fun. Compared to me — and my jeans, sneakers, and ponytail — she was another species.

I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, but I know annoyance pervaded it. How could this girl consider herself the same breed as me? I couldn’t decide if she didn’t realize her girlishness, or if she was a poseur who recognized the superiority of tomboys and wanted to be one.

Either way, I wanted nothing to do with her.

In high school, I saw tomboys and girls. I was too narrow-minded to consider anything in-between. Girls who liked sports and pink? They were girly-girls in disguise. Real tomboys, like me, didn’t own high heels or skirts or anything pink. The following image sums it up:

Left: Girly-girls. Right: Real tomboys. Middle: Girly-girls in disguise.

My high school self couldn’t comprehend that anything existed beyond the black and white — or blue and pink, in this case.

Now that I’m a little older, I recognize that acquaintance as a tomboy with a girly side, a shade of gray between feminine girls and masculine ones. I also recognize the girl-hate I nurtured: I viewed tomboys as the superior type of woman. I played sports and worked out; I held my nose in the air and often reminded everyone how different I was from other girls.

In one way, this helped me: I didn’t suffer from body image issues in high school. If people judged me by looks instead of personality, I avoided them. What I didn’t realize was the unhealthy method in which I obtained this confidence: my own complicity in girl-hate. I judged feminine girls by their looks and avoided getting to know them because I assumed we had nothing in common.

I was the type of person I disliked the most.

It took me a long time to unwind my high school prejudices. Writing has helped. I’ve spent the last year working on a literary YA novel about a masculine girl struggling with gender; her foil is a girly girl with a tomboy streak. It’s been a cathartic experience. Even so, I occasionally catch myself making assumptions about feminine girls. The difference is that now, I recognize those unfair thoughts — and I start up a conversation with the girl I judged whenever possible. It’s amazing how often I’ll find a fellow athlete or reader or writer in someone I wrote off as “unlike me,” someone I would have once seen as inferior.

36 thoughts on “But You’re Not a REAL Tomboy!

  1. Pingback: How Ballroom Dancing Redefined Femininity (for me, anyway) | But Why?

  2. Pingback: Questioning Gender Neutrality | But Why?

  3. I can relate somewhat. I was too lazy to do sports but up until I was about 16/17 my standard wardrobe was t-shirts, baggy pants and oversized converse. I thought I was better than other girls for my lack of interest in superficial things such as make-up, clothes and shoes. For a while it was also because I thought I was ‘too ugly’ and I felt insecure and that I could never be like those girls. I admire how you distanced yourself from the stranglehold of beauty standards and now appreciate that there are people behind the “dolled up” persona with interests and opinions that you can relate to. I think we all need to realize that we’re all more similar than we are different. Lovely piece, look forward to reading more 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aww, thanks! That’s very kind of you 🙂

      And it sounds like you had a somewhat similar experience – though I’m sorry to hear you felt ugly and insecure 😦 Those are terrible feelings and I hope you don’t feel that way anymore!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thankfully I don’t. I know I’m a lot more than my looks. It was very awkward for me back then because my younger sister is like the hottest person ever and she’s into fashion( as well as being incredibly smart and down to earth), so she’d always get complimented and have guys be into her etc.. so that was something I had to learn to overcome and now I feel so much happier in my own skin 🙂


      • Sibling rivalry can be tough :/ I had a younger brother, so we spent our time competing in video games and sports instead… but he was always better at video games. It made me nuts!!

        I’m glad you learned from your experiences with your sister — that’s hard to do, especially if you’re feeling (understandably) jealous. Good for you!


  4. I LOVE this!! In fact I felt like I was looking in a mirror as I read it. I was also VERY anti-girly girl as a child. The only difference is that my bestie at the time was the epitome of a girly-girl. To this day, however, I DETEST the color pink, simply because everyone EXPECTS girls to like pink, and I recoil at the thought of doing what is expected. Imagine my horror upon discovering that my daughter (now 5) is a girlie girl who wears lipstick, nailpolish & carriers purses. *Shudders*. At least I taught her to throw a MEAN football spiral and to enjoy Darth Vader. If I win enough little battles, I may eventually win the war.

    Liked by 1 person

    • By juxtaposing femininity and masculinity like that, your daughter is already breaking stereotypes. Good for her! 🙂 I hope she grows up with a healthier view than I had.

      I hate pink too, for the same reason 🙂

      Thanks for commenting!


    • It’s so true! I have many male friends who have one ear (or both) pierced. I’m glad the world has taken a step in a more accepting direction.

      Thank you for commenting! 🙂


  5. I actually consider myself to be in the middle too. I’m quite girly on the outside and don’t get sports, but for anything else I’ve always related more to boys then girls. I usually even mainly hang out with guys, cause I feel it comes more natural to me and it’s easier. And I’m guilty too of quickly judging girls, labeling them as something away from me and thinking I don’t have much in common with them. I often read and hear about girls though, like you, that used to think the same way I do but then realized they were wrong..but I don’t know. To be honest, although I would like to be able to bond with girls like I do with guys, I feel like I’m not there yet. I still usually see them as something I don’t really relate to..


    • There’s nothing wrong with hanging out with mostly guys; I do the same! It’s okay if you feel you can’t relate to girls. 🙂 Not being able to relate doesn’t mean that their experiences are somehow less than yours, or that yours are somehow less than theirs — in short, realizing that they are your equals, even if they are different, is the most important part. 🙂


  6. I am grateful to have read this. A part of me wanted to read more after I read the title of this post. I could partially relate to it. I think in every girl their is a part who wants to enjoy the boyish side too. You’ve put the emotions into words so beautifully. I enjoyed reading it.☺

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I relate to this at a cellular level.
    I’m not what you’d call a ‘real tomboy’ even otherwise, but it still annoyed me when girls who ‘clearly weren’t tomboys’ referred to themselves as so.
    Even now, I don’t wear makeup or heels or short skirts (this is very stereotypical of me hm) but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care about some of the stuff these so-called girly girls care about, if I said that no aspect of my personality was a bit like theirs.
    I don’t know where the whole idea of tomboy girls being superior or ‘cool’ comes from, I think it’s interesting, because people seem to think that’s how it is!
    I’m sure all girls have a ‘boyish’ side and vice versa.


    • Since we live in a society that tends to praise/defend masculinity, it’s likely that tomboys’ superiority is linked to their masculine-ness: as in, because they are more masculine, and masculinity is praised, they are praised for their masculinity while girly-girls aren’t. It’s a tricky situation, and pretty unfair: who wants to be alienated for being who they are?

      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This was interesting, I am on the other side of the spectrum in that I work in a very male dominated environment (IT) as a female who is interested in fashion, beauty and many typically ‘girly-girl’ things. I find their attitude towards me often unnecessarily offensive and patronising as they make assumptions as to what I am like and what I could possibly know about IT based upon the fact that I am wearing lipstick.
    I feel as though this annoyance at others referring to themselves as ‘tomboys’ stems from the fact that maybe people use this label as a form of defense, to label themselves in a way that explains why they are not girly and why they don’t wear pink or like barbies etc. When somebody else declares themselves a Tomboy they are taking this from you, meaning that you then have to think about why you are different – which at a young age can be hard.

    Just an observation…


    • A very good observation! I’m sorry to hear that your coworkers are patronizing — I cringe to think of all that people that I may have hurt by acting in that manner. It is hard to differentiate yourself from others, both at a young age and, sometimes, at older ages as well. (I know adults who act this way!) The truth of the matter is that the best thing you can do is be yourself, and don’t take criticism from others too seriously.

      Thanks for commenting! 🙂


  9. Pingback: {Guest Post}: Sexism | Just a Girl and a Bike

  10. Hey, I found you via the community pool (and somehow lost the comment I found your link in, so I am commenting here).
    I Can totally relate to that. I was never girly, never styled or whatever and had a very good time with it, doing martial arts and so on. Dresses were some kind of horror forced onto me by the small town I was living in on the occasional social event but mostly I didn’t style myself because I felt it was somehow weird and nothing that would suit me…
    Sadly I grew up in a laid back german town and got a lot of weird comments for that because even though I looked more or less female, I didn’t fit into the small town views of what a girl should be…
    Until I brought my lesbian best friend (and close-to girlfriend) to prom – after that no one ever said a word again, because if you are a lesbian it is seemingly okay to look ‘like that’ 😉
    changed a little until now… Still not that much makeup but occasionally a dress, a lot of black clothing and very little jewelry… Some days I feel feminine, some days I absolutely don’t. And I am okay with that 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you commented here, because I think this is a great addition to what I discussed in the post! 🙂

      It is totally okay to be feminine one day and not the next. Rock how you’re feeling! Good for you for being okay with that. I’m sorry to hear that your small town pressured/judged you 😦 It shouldn’t matter whether you’re straight, gay, bi, etc. — dress how you feel. Don’t let stereotypes get in your way.

      Rock on, and thanks for stopping by 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am actually Bi, but eventually it is easier for small minded people to accept someone as different, when they are gay/lesbian whatever (maybe because they can say, that you are ‘sick’ or ‘mislead’ then and someone will eventually come and heal you 😉 )
        I am so glad, my current boyfriend is okay with me changing my appearance on some days… He loves me when I’m girly and when I am feeling more androgynous (he doesn’t even complain about me stealing his clothing 😉 )
        Moved away from Germany and live in a bigger and more open minded place now. And that is definitely easier and healthier 😉


      • Your current boyfriend sounds wonderful. Everyone deserves a relationship in which their significant other encourages them to dress how they feel — talk about healthy! 🙂 That’s wonderful.

        I’m sorry you had to deal with that “sick” or “mislead” silliness 😦 Being told you are somehow “wrong” is very difficult. Sounds like the move was good for you! 🙂 Hooray!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, he is. (The picture I just posted few minutes is actually him) He encourages me, to be myself, whatever that is like.
        It is definitely weird, but just makes you enjoy ‘freedom’ a whole lot more 😉


      • Awesome! He’s a keeper 😉 My boyfriend has also been surprisingly supportive of my typically-androgynous clothes. It makes a huge difference knowing that it’s not just me vs. the world!
        And I bet. Woohoo freedom 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: Labels & Stereotypes (Guest Post) – PsychPerspectives

  12. Pingback: Ruminations: Are Labels Violent? | But Why?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s