Writing and artwork by Tatum Van Dam
PART 1 OF 4: “ladylike”
Tatum, don’t sit like that. That’s not ladylike.
When I was little, I would sit with one leg crossed over the other — but not in the way that the right leg is hanging over the left, dangling slightly above the left foot that is flat on the ground. I sat in the way that kind of makes the shape of a “four” — with the right ankle hitting just above the left knee, placing all the pressure onto the left calf. The kind of position that causes your right foot to fall asleep after all the blood has decided to rush down your leg and into that foot. The kind of position that was, apparently, deemed as “not ladylike”. I couldn’t help myself — I grew up in a house with three brothers and a father who all sat with their legs crossed like that. And because I was supposed to “sit like a lady”, I had to refrain.
Don’t get stains on your shirt, that’s not ladylike. Don’t slurp your drink, that’s not ladylike. Don’t say that word, that’s not ladylike.
The phrase “that’s not ladylike” became a recurring statement throughout my childhood, despite the fact that most of these not-so-lady-like actions came as derivatives from growing up in a household predominantly filled with boys. We would skateboard around the neighborhood, collect peacock feathers in the creek, play video games until our Xbox got the red ring, run around in the sprinklers with water guns, and bruise our legs by climbing up the hill behind our house. I mean, not to be that girl that claims she’s “one of the boys” (or to perpetuate gender stereotypes) — but that’s exactly what I was. One of the Van Dam brothers; or, at least, that’s what I thought I was until I got a tad bit older. And, by that, I mean when my body began to “change”. What I’m trying to get at here is that I did not really understand the phrase “that’s not ladylike” up until the point I realized that I was, indeed, a “lady”.
Why am I getting these horrible cramps? Where did this acne come from? Is everything supposed to be hurting all of the sudden? Am I supposed to be wearing a *voice quivers* bra like my mom does?
My body was different from my siblings’ and no matter how many baggy sweatpants and hoodies I wore or how many of their video games I at least attempted to play, there was nothing I could do to change about it. I had a hard time adapting to the adjustments a girl faces when she is developing into a “woman”, and I did not know how to handle any of it. I was too scared to speak up to my mom, my other female relatives, or even my closest friends, so I tried to figure it all out on my own. As a result, I became self-conscious about the way I looked and the way I presented myself to this world. And as much as I can keep reminding myself that beauty is subjective and the way I see “Tatum” is entirely different from the way others see “Tatum”, I can never a hundred percent accept me for me.[share]