What is the first thought that comes to mind when you think of the word “femininity”? Do you imagine a woman with long hair? A woman with a face full of makeup? Or maybe a woman in a dress? Is she young or old?
I used to think a feminine woman was a doll of sorts, a stylish woman with long, curly hair. She had clear skin and glowing, sharp eyes that see everything. I imagined a woman with a demure personality. She was shy and captivating, inviting you closer with a soft smile. Of course, she was soft-spoken and quite sure of herself. She is confident, and she is not me.
My definition of feminity has changed over time. As we all grow older, the meaning of words change. For me, femininity is no longer a graceful woman with a soft voice and long hair. Femininity is another word for “womanliness”, which prompts the next question: Why is a woman with long hair the visual definition of “womanliness”?
I have alopecia areata. It is an autoimmune condition – your white blood cells attack your hair follicles, resulting in patches all over your head and body. This condition doesn’t discriminate. You can develop it as an adult or a child, and I was merely a preteen when I noticed my first patch. Alopecia can affect you all over, resulting in loss of body hair and facial hair. Now that I am completely hairless, my definition of “femininity” has changed drastically. If I stand bare-faced in front of my mirror, I still see a woman. For a moment, though, it was hard to find her.
Once your hair is gone, it takes a moment to adjust to your appearance. My eyelashes and eyebrows fell out next. This made my adjustment period much longer. For women, losing a significant amount of your hair can be traumatic, and this only contributes to more confusion surrounding your identity.
I am a woman without body hair and facial hair. I don't have the flirty eyelashes and dark, curly hair to frame my face. I think the hardest part of me having this condition is losing my eyelashes. Something about losing them changed my entire viewpoint on femininity. My stance on femininity and my sense of self-worth and self-esteem had to confront each other. Was I less of a woman because I no longer had eyelashes? I am not the biggest on giving myself compliments, but I questioned if compliments still meant anything. Was I no longer worthy of compliments or flattering remarks? Did no longer having eyelashes change my life this much?
The answer is yes and no. When I wake up in the morning and see a face, a face that looks shockingly egglike, am I still happy to see my reflection? If we are judging femininity by examining someone's hair, then I am not feminine. And maybe, you aren't either. Losing my hair like this darkened my entire world for a while. I was thrown into a world with darker hues. Nothing went black, but the world wasn't yellow from sunshine either.
What if we didn’t refer to someone’s appearance to regard them as feminine? Do we look towards their personality instead? Do you believe that shyness is a feminine trait? What about humility and grace? Does a woman have to glide across the room to be considered feminine?
As someone who is pigeon-toed, anxious, and bald, I would not consider myself feminine if we're going to go with the definition above. However, I would get points for being shy.
Maybe we should turn to gender roles. The woman used to be considered the “home-maker” back in the who-cares-1930s. She would stay home, watch the kids, suffer from sexual frustration, and never leave the house. She didn’t have her own money, but she dressed conservatively and kept quiet in the presence of men. She may have been considered to be feminine. Do you agree with that? How many of us would be feminine with this definition guiding the way?
Maybe femininity is a color. Baby pink, perhaps. Baby pink used to be considered a masculine color until the 1900s. Blue was a feminine color. It makes you wonder why we try to assign rules to silly things like this in society when everything can change. Words can change meaning over time, too, like slay. It still means to "kill in a violent way," but a secondary meaning is to "greatly impress or amuse". (Also: you thought I was going to say gay, didn’t you? Too obvious.)
We have to look at both words – yes, femininity and masculinity – before we can say anything with certainty. To me, femininity does what masculinity cannot. Femininity receives. It creates something from something else. It transmutes. Femininity is alchemy. On the other side of things, masculinity gives, not provides. It works with what is already in front of it. Masculinity is the gathering of ingredients. I’m not saying masculinity cannot make something from nothing, but I think we all can agree that femininity is much better at this. There is something so smooth and charming about the way femininity snatches things up and configures it into something else, something better.
Femininity is present in everyone. Everyone can create, everyone can receive and transform into something else. Masculinity may steer the way sometimes, but femininity inspires. Nowadays, I’m pretty sure femininity can be easily described as “looking for color and light”.
I have found the brighter side of life again. I started gardening a few months ago. Something about is so soothing. The stairs by my room are surrounded with forest green and sunshine yellow. I have a bit of a green thumb. My sunflowers are starting to bloom. There's a bit of "good blue" in my life, too. Things are settling into place, creating a serene mind for me. I am also trying to enjoy learning more, so there's a fourth color following me around: the soft brown faded color of paper. I needed some direction and now I am reaping the rewards of my efforts: a deeper understanding of life, words, and their impact.
Yes, words and societal views change meaning over time, but the associations tend to remain the same. More definitions are created, but the general concept remains. It’s like when we see men wearing nail polish. We think, "Oh," and see the femininity is that action. But nail polish isn't specifically for women. Just like how both men and women can wear makeup. We make these silly rules for things that don't necessarily matter long-term. But some take these rules too seriously and harm others for "disobeying".
All I can say is this: Masculinity draws the lines. Feminity brings the color. Both have their deserved place in this world and in all of us. We can’t define these terms without their presence. It’s like sunlight and moonlight. We need them both to see where we are going. Otherwise, no matter what time of day, we're walking into darkness. Masculinity is the battle-ax on our hip and femininity is the lantern in our hand.