Updated: Nov 19, 2019
Years ago I happened upon a picture of a girl, hand on her hip, knee popped, and an expression bursting with unrestrained satisfaction. Though the flash hid some of her face, the command in the picture spoke of an innate behavior, something not taught. Rather, something she was.
“I remember her,” I breathed in.
It was me.
I hadn’t seen her for ages. Then I had a daughter.
My Fiona is the youngest, below two stinky boys who are befuddled by most of what she does. From birth she’s had a keen eye on the world. She’s ambitious, announcing that she will dance the Black Swan at Lincoln Center. She’s quick-witted, quipping on the fly better than most adults. She’s silly and fun. But, she is also supremely outspoken, candid, and insistent. Chances are someone will tell her that she’s too much. It won’t be me.
There comes a time in the lives of most girls when our muchness is noted. Sometimes it’s by an adult put off by our loudness or self-imposed spotlight. Sometimes it’s by other girls, who feed the lie that what is unique is uncool. Or, we bring it on ourselves. We notice us for the first time. Before, our thoughts revolved around our possibility, but suddenly our possibility is too noticeable, too much. At once, we’re quiet. Over time, that little girl, who hanged upside down from the monkey bars while directing a squad of giglettes on the rules of the game, becomes just a whisper of what she once was. By the time her schooling is complete and she’s finally ready to take center stage in the big bright world, she is a mere shadow of the past.
There’s a line drawn in Little Girl World that persists starting around age three. I didn’t see it until I observed Fiona navigate it. It’s a line between frankness and “mean girl.” It sounds simple, but turns out, Little Girl World isn’t so basic.
Often when Fiona masterminds what is played before anyone speaks up, if she raises her voice when enough is enough, or if she simply announces that she doesn’t like something, eyebrows raise. Comments on her brass ensue. Ultimately Fiona is labeled bossy, a mark that has plagued girls forever. And it’s my belief that it should never have been an insult at all.
It’s trendy to say, “She’s not bossy. She’s a leader.” I get the implication. Lead insinuates guidance, not dominance. Lead suggests Fiona looks out for the greater good of those whom she… “leads.” Here’s my question, though: why is being bossed or being “The” boss taboo? Are we so sensitive that we can’t see someone boss? There are times when dominance is necessary, when motivation must be dominant, even in hopscotch and Barbies. I propose this: there’s boss and there’s bitch. The line lies between those two. Teach empathy, yes. Don’t stifle the girl bosses on the playground because long ago someone told us what was too much.
I was too much. (I probably still am for some, let's be honest.) I put on spontaneous performances. I ran the show with my girlfriends. I chased boys up trees. I delighted in my moxie. But over time, I’ve lessened my act. I’ve grown quieter and the spotlight I cast upon myself isn’t nearly as bright. Some of it is wants; I honestly don’t want to be the focus as much. That came with understanding what’s important for me. But rather than embrace my boldness, I shut some of it down. There is nothing unique to this. You were once a handful, a ham, or bossy, as were your sisters, nieces, or children. Think about your friends today. How many still embody girlish confidence? There are those who discovered the secret of bringing the spitfire on the playground into womanhood. Unlike me, they don’t require tequila to get there. The rest? Where’d they all go? Already, I see cracks creeping across Fiona’s foundation, a new shyness bubbling up at the surface. It reignites me.
I know enough to know that when we are too much, we simply aren’t acceptable. What’s acceptable anyway? History is written by those who don’t accept what has been decreed acceptable. It takes a loud voice. It takes gumption. It takes a boss to spark the flame of change. It takes a girl crossing into woman, hearing that she was too much for the world, so she changed the world. Little girls have it in them right now. This very minute, while we’re quiet or finding our voices again, they’re directing. They’re speaking up. They’re bossing. They are too much. They are not mean girls. They are looking to us to see what’s acceptable.
My wish is that Fiona dominates kindness, always running alongside a natural girl boss within.
Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.