I Enjoy Being a Girl
I just watched a few old movies, and I was delighted to see some old favorite musical numbers remind me that I have been wanting to write this blog about going from the ultimate tomboy to an ultra-feminine girly-girl. But wait, there’s more to this story, COVID-19 and all.
First, Flower Drum Song, an old movie that featured Nancy Kwan singing her heart out to, “I Enjoy Being a Girl,” and then there was Bye Bye Birdie, with Ann Margaret memorably singing “How Lovely to be a Woman,” and both reminded me of my little girl self transitioned into my post-puberty self. In those songs, which appear to be written for girls celebrating their transformation post-puberty – the Ann Margaret one for sure, celebrated femininity – and so did I when I finally blossomed. Yes, I enjoyed being a girl! Especially when the boys noticed. (I was completely boy crazy from Kindergarten on up.)
This was a big change in me as I was SUCH a tomboy growing up – I was skinny and athletic, and friends with a lot of the neighborhood boys. I loved watching sports, especially baseball, and I collected Baseball AND Beatles cards. I played with borrowed Barbie dolls, but was just as comfortable playing chase or bicycling around with boys in the neighborhood, or playing bottlecaps with them, or climbing apparatus at the local playground. I even looked like a boy. I was completely straight and flat, with nary a curve to be found for many years, and shortish hair for the longest time. When I look back on my middle school photos, I remind myself of an Italian boy due to my Mediterranean easily-tanned skin. (Semitic in my case.) So that best describes what I looked like from elementary through junior high, except that I was a Jewish girl. Here I am walking across the top of Monkey bars – look Ma, no hands! Snapped POST development and puberty.
My elementary PE teacher, Mr. O’Connell, who later developed quite a sordid reputation, zeroed in on my athletic nature and recruited me for our elementary track team. I joined only because my crush was also on it. (Boy Crazy)
In high school, my PE teacher immediately detected this now reforming tomboy and my athleticism, and made me a “gym leader.” It was a chosen position that helped the teacher teach drills, mark apparatus accomplishments (gained a lot of friends this way) and marked attendance. (gained even more friends this way.)
The tomboy phase came to an abrupt halt due to one thing: Puberty. As I finally developed into a girl, I only wanted the girliest items of clothing, shoes and accessories. I learned about makeup, and how to flirt. The deal was sealed with my first “real” high school boyfriends. I went from having boys who were friends, to real boyfriends who took me on dates, and who called me pretty.
The boys in my advisory even noted my attentiveness to dress in my yearbook messages. It was power at the time to be able to have my feminine self emerge. Think of me as a Cher type character from Clueless, not interested in my high school classmates due to a boyfriend (As If) but interested in turning heads.
As an aside here, a guy from my class who remembers me as the boyish junior high school friend and classmate, and who did not see me all through high school, caused him when he saw me at a reunion, to be incredulous. “You’re Arlene Nisson? I can’t believe it.” My blonde adult self was of course dressed to the nines.
In college when I was beginning to date a guy I worked part time with, he had a burning question for me on our first date: “How many tops do you actually own?’ (I was dressing to impress him at work because we had a well-known mutual crush.) During those years, I held glamor jobs as a Phillies Girl, as a model, and as a Boss Chick for a radio station.
It’s odd to even look back at the majority of my childhood and remember how boyish I was, and even write this, as my adult friends would never guess my past as a tomboy in a million years. My entire adult life has been lived as a girly girl, a fashion maven, always impeccably dressed in the latest fashions and accessories – always with hair and makeup done subtly but stylish. The way I collect shoes, perfumes, jewelry, and clothes, and wear them with the most girly flair, it seems highly unlikely I was ever anything else. As I must throw in my favorite Yiddish word here, I am always Fahpitzed. (also known as fahrpitzed.) I am known for wearing skirts and dresses most of the time rather than those nondescript black pants favored by many.
But wait, read on! What goes around, comes around again. When COVID-19 quarantining began the girly-girl who would not be caught dead without nail and toe polish, suddenly went braless and all-natural in every respect including leg shaving. No polish, no makeup, no hair mussing, no dressing. Working from home, I could make due on five tee shirts and gym shorts a week, plus two weekend outfits of a sleeveless top and shorts. Flip flops or bare feet with unpolished toenails was the new standard. Back to an androgynous natural look with boyish gym clothes on every day was the new norm. My husband who likes me au natural, was fine with this.
One day in the middle of this COVID stay-at-home period of time, I stared into my massive closet at all my pretty things – my clothes and shoes and accessories, and I just sighed a huge sigh. I did not know when I would ever make use of my clothes and accessories again, even though in my former active social life, I always needed a nice outfit at the ready. The clothes in my closet looked kind of sad, just limply “hanging” around, (Best line that just was, no?) collecting dust from lack of use. Just since March, there were numerous video baby showers, Zoom BIG birthday parties and at least two weddings that took place with just immediate family that I could have pulled out all the stops with my wardrobe but did not need to because there was no in-person event.
After writing this, I got kind of sad again, and decided to decorate myself just a bit for my day. It lifted my spirits and reminded me just how much “I Enjoy Being a Girl” to just put on a single feminine bracelet to gaze upon during my work day. One day I will have a life beyond my four walls and I will become the best dressed fashionista again and I will sing, How Lovely to be a Woman.
Note: Since this was first written, we have ventured into outdoor visits with friends (take out dinner) where my feminine self emerged once again. I did not want to scare anyone who knows me.