Kid #2

by Phoebe Kolbert

Who wears the pants?

For most of my young life I was an average height. I’m no giant now, either, but at about 5’8” I’m four inches taller than the national average for females. Which still doesn’t mean too much. It’s the average, not the rule. And most of the time I don’t notice it. I actually quite like my height, I like being taller than people. And usually I’m pretty OK with my appearance. I mean, I’m a teenage girl, so I certainly don’t love it, but I’m OK with it. Still, with my height, my (as my father calls them) linebacker shoulders, and my slant toward more masculine or androgynous clothes, I can feel a bit out of place sometimes.

On school days I wake up, always late, and throw on whatever outfit I can stand the most, then brush my teeth, grab a banana, and go. My morning routine is that simple. I don’t wear makeup, I don’t do anything with my hair besides up or down. I went to prom a few weeks ago, and my neighbor commented that it was the first time in years she’d seen me wear a dress.

At my high school, and in Portland in general, my appearance isn’t an issue. It’s when I’m in traditionally feminine places, or around people who I assume expect me to be traditionally feminine, that I feel uncomfortable. I’m scared of big groups of girls with full makeup on, clutching purses, even if they’re younger than me. If I’m in a group setting with “popular” kids I don’t know, I’m very timid. It’s not really that I’m afraid of them. It’s more that you have to have a certain look to fit in, and even if I wanted to, I will never fit that mold.

Malls are the worst. I used to abhor shopping. When I was younger, I would go with my mother. She also gets anxious in retail environments; she can’t stand the experience. So we’d go to the mall only when absolutely necessary. I didn’t set foot in the Maine Mall until I was probably 11. I’m not sure where I got my clothes before that — some handed down from my brother and my much older cousins; other items just appeared. When we’d go to the mall I’d be on constant watch. I’d follow my mother a few steps behind, nervously shadowing her, lamely picking at racks, only wanting not to be there. Any snigger I’d hear, I’d turn around; any kids my age, I’d look away from. I was absolutely miserable. I felt so extremely insecure.

I’m better now. I typically drag a friend along with me, and we’ll get in and out as soon as possible. I still feel out of place, aware of my height, my appearance. But it’s better when I have a friend with me. They calm me down, they give me opinions on clothes. Some of it’s just for show, so when those groups of girls walk past me I can mentally say, Look! I have friends! Normal-looking friends! I’m not some huge weirdo! It’s irrational, I know. It paints me as the center of the universe, as if everyone is so concerned with what I look like, how I present. But I can’t help it.

I usually like the way I dress, I’m very secure in my gender identity, and I don’t need to wear feminine clothes to be female. I’m not going to change the way I dress for anyone but myself. I can’t change my physical appearance much, at least without spending a lot of money on plastic surgery — and if I ever got plastic surgery I’d want it to be something extreme, like that cat lady. For any woman, appearance is hard. For those of us who don’t fit the ideal body type or style, it’s even harder.

Plus, it’s hard to be mad at society for things like this when you are the only one directly putting it on yourself. Those people sniggering were laughing at a joke their friend made, not at you. That girl didn’t look at you weird because she thought you were weird, she was just looking. Women underestimate themselves because society teaches them to. And that sucks. I’ve hated growing up in that toxic environment, and I, as a modern American woman, can wear pants, so it must have been dramatically worse for women in earlier eras who couldn’t, or who still can’t wear pants for one reason or another. So I’m gonna wear my pants with pride.