Feeling Like A Girl: Femininity After Homeschooling, By Kay Fabe

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kay Fabe’s blog Post-Fundamentalist Fashion. It was originally published on May 31, 2014.

Pearl’s story the other day really resonated with me, and I know I’m not alone. I’m sure lots of you have had the same experience I had: after years of getting told that the “girly” outfits you wanted to wear were “immodest,” “revealing,” and “inappropriate”, you just gave up and went butch, with lots of baggy boy shorts and shapeless sweatsuits. (Which is fine if that’s what you’re into – but I know that look wasn’t me.) Wireless cloth bras, hand-me-down underwear and a ban on perfume, makeup and hair products probably played a part in your systematic de-feminization. Eventually – if your experience was like mine – you became so disconnected from your body that you hardly felt like a person anymore, let alone a girl. And that’s a tragedy.

It took some cataclysmic life events – a failed courtship, starting a business, moving out of my parents’ house and eventually out of state, and meeting a supportive partner – to give me some distance and perspective on my homeschool years. Along the way, by trial and error, I’ve slowly been figuring out how to become a girl again. At 26, I finally feel more at home in my skin. Here are some of the things that helped me – maybe they’ll help somebody else, too.

Read drag websites. I’m not even kidding. They’re full of helpful information on how to walk, talk, dress and act in order to “pass” as a female. Granted, some of it’s a little over the top – skip their make-up tips, for instance. But I remember how astonished I was when I discovered that somebody had actually written reams of detailed instructions for presenting as a lady. It felt like Christmas.

Reclaim the skirt. It took me the longest time to figure out that dresses are not a badge of shame! Big jean jumpers and long khaki skirts are not the only option. Skirts are supposed to make you feel pretty and sexy, and if they’re not doing that, then they’re not doing their job. Swishy maxi dresses, cute cocktail dresses and tailored pencil skirts are incredibly fun to wear. So are heels. They are designed to make your legs longer and that’s a GOOD thing!

Have some little signature “girly” thing that you do or wear all the time. Or more than one! For me, it was getting my ears pierced and always wearing earrings. Having a little pair of sparkly studs in your ears all the time really does make you feel more feminine. I gradually added in other things and now I always have on earrings, toenail polish, a silver ankle bracelet and a little bit of perfume. It makes me feel pretty.

Practice showing a different bit of skin at a time. I remember the first time I tried to walk outside my apartment in shorts and a tank top, “cold turkey.” Bad idea  – I felt completely naked. After a while, I figured out that I could ease into it if I only uncovered one area at a time. If I had on shorts, I wore a big, loose t-shirt. I paired tank tops with long cargo shorts or capris. Eventually, I just got used to having various parts of me out in the sunshine and I didn’t mind anymore. (Shocker – nobody ogled me and drooled with lust, either.)

Go and get an actual bra fitting at Victoria’s Secret. And then get some lovely lingerie that fits. I am ashamed to say that I could not actually make myself do this until I was 25 years old. They’re totally nice. All you do is lift your arms, and they run a tape around your bust and tell you what size you are, and then give you some sample bras to go try on in the fitting room. It’s not embarrassing at all… nothing like bra shopping for “appropriate” underwear with your mother. (P.S.: You may be surprised by your bra size! For years and years, I assumed I was an A or a B cup, and figured bras were supposed to squash me in and feel uncomfortable. Guess what? I’m a D.)

Have bottles of nice stuff in your shower, and use them. I wish someone had told me that I needed to put SHAMPOO and CONDITIONER in my hair, and use SHOWER GEL and BODY BUTTER on the rest of me. (When I was a kid, we used this weird organic shampoo/soap called “Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap” where every square inch of the label was covered with manic stream-of-consciousness meanderings in TINY print. It was an entertaining reading experience but as far as soap went, it wasn’t awesome.) The Warm Vanilla Sugar stuff from Bath and Body Works is awesome, though. So is the Moonlight Path (lavender) and the Japanese Cherry Blossom.

Drink wine in the bathtub and listen to jazz. It completely makes you feel like a movie star.

Dance all by yourself. Put on your favorite music and move with it. Learn to feel the evil jungle beat that kills all the plants. Feel how your body is all connected together, how it’s a physical, material being, how it moves through space, how it responds so beautifully to touch and sound. You are designed to be a beautiful, corporeal person, not a disconnected intelligence trapped in a useless body.

That’s really the most important thing: You are beautiful. You just need to know it, and feel it, and own it.

18 comments

  • If you’re afraid to go shopping for bras, sites like trueandco allow you to try on bras for free and they mail them to your house. You should also know your real size. I thought I was broken because no bras at Victoria’s Secret ever fit. Problem was that I am a 30DD and the 32C they tried to put me in wad never going to work because that band was 2 inches too big! It can be a LOTof trial and error, don’t give up!

    • Seconding that last! Victoria’s Secret is a pretty store, but if you fall anywhere on the outlayers of sizes, they won’t help you. Keep looking and research online. When something fits, you’ll know cause you feel like a movie star!

    • I hate to say this but Macy’s. Get your bra sizing/fitting at Macy’s. Victoria’s Secret has very pretty stuff, but if you’re a D cup or higher, they don’t have what you need.

  • So much on the Dr. Bronner’s thing. I’m transgender, so I’m learning about this feminisation stuff too, but even before that I was constantly annoyed by my dad and his attitudes about shower goods. He insisted that shampoo and body wash were the same thing (and could even use dish-soap), and when he learned about Dr. Bronner’s he started a strict adherence to the stuff. It smelled bad, it was runny as hell, and it dried my scalp so badly I’ve only just barely healed. And he only got it cause he saw it at a gun show and found it was “free trade.”

  • Oh, Dr. Bronner’s, what a distinctive and memorable smell! Love your description of your experience. At 26, I am finally easing into the idea of wearing an actual bathing suit in public without adding regular clothes on top, but the nail polish and the luxury baths and the tank tops are wonderful. Such a nice thing to find at the end of the crazy tunnel!

  • I don’t recommend Victoria’s Secret as their employees have no idea what they are doing! They may work if you don’t have a small ribcage, but their goal is to fit as many women into as few sizes as possible. Nordstroms, Dillards or a boutique lingerie store will be your best bets. If you think you are a hard-to-find size, check out lindasonline.com, or http://www.sophisticatedpair.com/bracalculator.htm I went years wearing bad bras because I only shopped at Kohls or JCPenney and didn’t realize how a bra should fit until I was fitted at a specialty boutique. It’s a life-changing experience.

  • erin13mc – Vickie’s Dream Angel collection is allegedly designed with the big bust/tiny rib cage combo in mind. Vickie’s isn’t as great as those higher-end luxury stores, but for bustier girls–our bras are EXPENSIVE. Dream Angels Demis fit me well enough to make the semi-annual prices more than worth it (and the regular prices aren’t bad for a “treat” for myself–just bought my bikinis there…my FIRST bikinis. I’m 30, and not even a homeschool alum, nor are my parents into patriarch–I actually sucked myself into it in college. Sigh…

    Also, I’ve yet to actually try them, but I ditto the True & Co suggestion.

  • Oh, Dr Bronner’s, full of allergic pain. It’s a bit hard to be ~hygienic~ when the only soap/shampoo/conditioner is based in something you can’t have on your skin [in my case, it’s coconut. yeah, all the damn soaps are based in coconut oil]… which leads to fights which leads to… yeah.

    Now I can’t smell the shit without a panic attack. Joy.

    Also, I cannot emphasize enough the power of a good candle or six in the bathroom during your bath. Get some that really smell good and make you happy, and draw a big bubble bath, light the candles, play some music… it’s amazing. For me it was also very healing, because of limitations on scents growing up.

  • NOOOO Dr. Bronner’s. My mom bought a gallon of that stuff ONE time and we made her regret it for many months (until it was finallyyyy gone). I loved the label though.

  • I’m half regretting recommending Vickie’s now since everybody else seems to have had such a terrible time with it! ETA: IT WORKED FOR ME BUT TAKE THAT WITH A GRAIN OF SALT.

    I love that so many other people have horrible memories of Bronners. ONE GOD ONE PEOPLE ONE WORLD WE ARE ALL ONE. booyah.

    • Hey, as long as it works for you. I’m just passionate about women knowing how a bra should fit no matter where you get it. I wish someone had told me that bras could actually be comfortable, that the underwire is actually supposed to touch your chest and not float away, and that bras come in more sizes than what’s available at VS or department stores. Yes, they are more expensive, but I can’t just shove a pair of 34Js into a 38DDD and hope it works. Best of luck to all of you (and your boobs). 😉

    • Yeah, as a bigger girl, VS has a total of three bras that might fit me but have non in stock at any store. Online only.

      BUT I do second and third and fourth the idea of getting sized. ALL BRAS are different. Find a brand and a style that fits and makes you feel good. It is an investment of both time and money, but
      YOU
      ARE
      WORTH
      IT.

      I find pretty, lacey, and colorful bras at Lane Bryant. They specialize in bigger “girls” and big girls (smallest size is a 14). I LOVE buying underwear from them. My first ever non-granny panties.
      They have all kinds and big sizes. Pretty undies are my secret to feeling confident.

      • Lane Bryant is great if you’re big all over, but if you’re relatively thin with a large bust, chances are they won’t have your size. Check out Bravissimo.com (it’s an English store, so you’ll have to figure out your high street size) they cater to larger busted women.

  • I couldn’t wear a skirt for years. Now I love them, but only if they don’t remotely resemble anything I would have had to wear growing up. In other words, they actually fit me and they’re pretty. 🙂

    I didn’t know my size for a long time, either, and still haven’t been professionally fitted. It made a world of difference when I followed a tutorial for how to find out your bra size, and shopped accordingly, even though I realllllly didn’t think that was right. It was, and I feel alot better. LOL

    Wearing girly “pretties” is a big deal for me, too. For years, I always wore something sparkly. I still do, but it’s a wedding ring, and some days as a current stay at home mom of toddlers…I just don’t bother.

    A little makeup goes a long ways! 🙂

  • For years I carefully read the instructions on any make-up I bought to make sure I was applying it correctly, and I still obsessively watch make-up tutorials online. Applying make-up is something you have to learn when you’ve never watched your mother use it or played with it with all your friends.
    Also, this is dumb but for years I really thought that everyone else had perfect hair and there was something wrong with mine because it never looked good after drying naturally. I honestly didn’t know about hair dryers, curling irons, straightening irons, and most of all–hair products.

  • Thank you for writing such a lovely post. It’s very refreshing. Fortunately my parents weren’t religious about shampoo/condition!

    Some of the things you’ve posted are really nice tips, that I wish I had gotten at 16-18.

    Anyhow, better late than never.

    I recently went shopping with a fashion savvy friend to get a more “sexy” wardrobe. (Take that “modesty” movement!) I now own heaps of lovely dresses (not raunchy!) and several skirts that I wear everywhere, and look fabulous for church, work, casual, etc. I have been told by strangers I look good though, so I think its working. 🙂

    Next on the cards is getting my ears pierced!

  • I once went to a homeschool/patriarchy kind of conference (I homeschooled my 8 children and didn’t realize the true nature of the conference until I was there!) and was the only woman in pants. For 3 days. Most couples brought their children, too, and bragged about how their daughters were dressing femininely and modestly. I remember thinking that I was dressed far more femininely in my various outfits (I love clothes) than these poor high school girls in their frumpy jean skirts, bad bras, unstyled hair and sensible shoes. I actually had one brave girl quietly approach me in the restroom and tell me she liked my outfit. I’ve always hoped she found her way to a Dillard’s.

    I now have a girlfriend who is having issues with clothes, but in the opposite direction. She’s spent her life feeling forced into traditionally feminine clothes that sit very uneasily on her shoulders. Slowly but surely, we are working her into a more masculine aesthetic because that’s what feels right to her. In her case, it isn’t a homeschool issue but a societal issue: she is female therefore she must wear dresses, heels, etc.

    As I’ve gone through the process with her, I’ve also been known to wonder if my dresses and heels and lipstick matched my newly realized identity as a lesbian. Much as several of you have gone looking for instructions on presenting as a girl, I was feeling like I needed instructions on presenting as a lesbian. My girlfriend finally had to remind me just how happy I am to wear dresses!

    In all of these stories, I feel like the theme is one of being force fit by a peer group (real or imagined) into a persona that doesn’t match our self-perception. The key seems to be finding out who we are and congruently presenting that self to those around us. The shame in the matter is that there are always people out there to act as roadblocks rather than paving the way.

  • You know, I am all for people doing wha makes them happy. And for the author that is being girly and liking feminine things. That said, women can be “real women” without conforming to cis gender norms. Given the damaging rigid gender roles in a lot of the sorts of homeschool families discussed on this blog, I find discussing heels, makeup and skirts to be sign a real womanhood to be disappointing. -1 HARO

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