Growing up is weird. Being a teenager is a strange, confusing time for everyone and the stereotypes we are fed by the media about what it is like to be a teenager do not make it any easier. They present us with a narrative about adolescence that does not represent the real teenage experience. They give us a one-dimensional version of what being a teenager is, a bunch of stereotypes and boxes we are supposed to fit into. The smart girl, the girlie mean girl, the jock, the activist girl, the emo girl. There are so many of them and none of them portray teenage girls as complex, multifaceted individuals and it can make it even more difficult for girls to find their place in the world. That was my experience. I was the smart girl. Or at least I thought that that was the box I fit into. Being the smart girl in my group of friends meant that I hated anything remotely feminine. I thought that being girly meant that I couldn't be smart - the two had to be mutually exclusive. Girls who liked pink and dresses and makeup couldn't be smart. I couldn't like those things and be the smart girl I had always been. Being seen as intelligent was the most important thing to me and anything that could get in the way of that was something I did not care for.
It wasn't until my last year of high school that I discovered what being a feminist meant – it completely transformed my life. Feminism liberated me in ways I didn't even know I needed. It gave a different outlook on life and, more importantly, a different outlook on myself. I realized that I didn't need to box myself into a category, into a stereotype. I could be my own definition of a woman and whatever that meant to me. The more I read about feminism and the ways we, as women, are told not be certain things and not to act certain ways, the angrier I grew about all the things I had missed out on throughout my life. While my friends were experimenting with makeup I retreated into my books, thinking that I could not enjoy those things and still be perceived as intelligent. Feminism threw that out of the window and opened a new door for me – a door that allowed me to be whatever I wanted to be.
I allowed myself to fall in love with makeup, with skirts, dresses. I wore pink lipstick and painted my nails with bright colors, reveling in all of the traditionally feminine things that I had denied myself the pleasure of being involved in. I really fell in love with pink. I used to see it as a weak, demeaning color, but now, I saw it as the lively, bright, effervescent color it is and I loved it. I still love it. I used to run away from anything pink and, now, I embrace it. Pink shirts, pink shoes, pink bags. Pink everything! I'm not afraid of my femininity anymore. I understand that human beings are complex, multifaceted individuals, that can be multiple things at once; that being feminine, loving makeup and being a strong, intelligent and capable individual are not mutually exclusive. They can and will coexist together, if you let them.
Understanding feminism and the ways women are set up to fail, by never being perceived as good enough, really changed my perspective on life and the way I saw myself. Feminism allowed me to be feminine and to be unapologetic about it. Feminism allowed me to love pink and lipstick and dresses without feeling ashamed and without feeling like I couldn't be both intelligent and girly. You can be whatever you want to be. You can love pink and be girly, you can love pink and not be girly, you can dislike pink and still be girly, you can be a girl in whatever way you feel is best for you. Feminism made me love the color pink, because loving pink meant breaking the bounds I set for myself as a teenager.
I hope you find ways to break any boundaries you're setting for yourself that don't allow you to live life to the fullest. I hope you find a way to stop apologizing for who you are and the things you love. I hope you find a way to, truly, be free.
Inêz Mendonça is a Lisbon-based writer who has worked with GirlGaze, Polyester, LAPP the Brand, and now Pink Things.