I am 21 years old and currently approaching the real world of womanhood. The idea of womanhood itself is convoluted. I think that one cannot truly define the exact meaning of “woman” since everyone has a concept in their head about the definition of “woman.” When we’re talking about “woman”, everybody may perceive the word differently. I am a woman. But how could I be so sure of that? That question has been lingering in my mind these past few days. Is it because I own female organs such as breasts and vagina? Or is it because the way I behave?
This recalls Simone de Beauvoir’s quote: “One is not born a woman, but becomes one”. To be a woman, one goes through several processes. Thus what defines and makes myself a woman is influenced by my surroundings and the concept of woman created by society.
Being a woman is also related to both sex and gender. Gender carries a social meaning, it’s when we distinguish both sexes by the way people behave, dress and act. For instance, some parents dress their sons in blue and their daughters in pink. From this convention, a child starts to develop their understandings about their gender identities. Later the child will have these constructed preferences for clothing and other objects, while they also acquire their gender stereotypes.
Fortunately, my parents are not the kind of people who make their children dress a certain way. No one in my family glamorizes the fact that I’m the only daughter. I help my mom cook and also help my dad fix the light bulb. They treat me the same way they treat my brothers.
But I’m still figuring out what it takes to be a real woman. Because I spent a lot of time with my brothers in my childhood, I behaved in a way that people consider boyish and it also affected my look. I’ve always had a boyish figure. I’m somewhat tall and athletic, and I have thick, frizzy hair. My skin was much darker because I spent many afternoons outside on my bike.
Throughout adolescence my friends often teased me because my skin was too dark, my hair too messy and my arms too hairy. Unsurprisingly, dark-skinned girls are not considered beautiful in my country, where whitening creams sell like hot cakes and where most celebrities are blessed with fair skin.
Whenever I think of my young self who struggled so much to have fair skin, I realize that it’s actually a complete rejection of what I was born with. I was certainly not comfortable in my own skin. Even now, if I was asked to project the exact image of my own body, I would never be able to.
The way I see myself is no longer objective because there are always some influences around me that have shaped my view about my body. When I see myself in the mirror, I tend to feel dissatisfied with the way I look. Yes, I occasionally struggle with body acceptance, but I think that is very human. I don’t pressure myself to love my body. Instead, I’ve decided to accept my body for what it is, for the fact that’s it’s a part of me.
As a woman, I’m dealing with beauty questions most of the time. What is beauty? What kind of look is considered beautiful? Am I even beautiful, with my frizzy hair and tanned skin? For me beauty isn’t to be defined. It’s a complex notion that involves the portrayal of our body and self. I will never know how to be beautiful.
Women are told that beauty is supposed to apply to female bodies. Beauty has become a sort of demand. It’s insane how unrealistic and unachievable the portrayal of beauty is nowadays. If models we see on high-end brands advertisements are today’s standard of beauty, then I’m not beautiful at all.
But, you see, that’s perfectly fine, because now I’ve realized that my body or myself as a whole cannot be categorized. I don’t want to be defined or classified. I defy label. Because I am so much more than a body.
Natalie Amadea is a French Literature student at Universitas Padjadjaran who constantly questions everything. She’s solely fueled by caffeine, dog pictures and messy thoughts.