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When I was a senior in High School, my parents moved from the small Texas town I was born and raised in, to an even smaller town in Mississippi. I was getting ready to go to college, and I made the decision to stay in Texas. My parents were 10 hours away from me, and for the first time, I felt totally alone.

That summer was spent alone. Where a lot of my friends were making their best attempt to have the summer of a lifetime before college inevitably changed everything, I felt like a lifetime had passed me by. With no family to go home to, ever-changing ideas about my future, and just a general feeling of loneliness–I was forced to examine the person I was, and the person I wanted to be.

For the first time, I really had to take a look in the mirror and think deeply about who I was. There was no one around me to impress and no one to judge me. And I began to realize that I had spent my life contorting who I was in order to be the most consumable.

At various times in my life, I had pretended to care about video games, about heavy metal, about skateboarding. I decided pop music was lame, and I tended to have negative opinions on female pop stars. I had been picking traits that I thought would make me cooler, or more palatable, to those around me.

I edited myself whenever something wasn’t giving me enough attention. I had totally detached myself from myself, and most notably, my femininity, in a desperate attempt to prove I was worthy of something to those around me.

This realization has taken almost the entire three years since my parents have moved, and I still am not done unlearning all I had etched in my brain. But slowly I began to try to take the pressure off of myself. I tried to detach myself from the ideas of what others wanted from me that had been haunting me for so long.

Slowly, I returned to the things I enjoyed before I lost sight of myself in my teenage years. I began to read and write for pleasure again, and to play guitar. I watched trashy movies and let myself like them. I listened to Taylor Swift. I bought my first dress in years.

As time went on, it occurred to me that it really didn’t matter to anyone except me whether my favorite movie was “Pulp Fiction,” or “Brother Bear.” And for the first time in years, I let myself say that “Brother Bear” was my favorite movie without feeling guilty, childish, or like I needed to explain myself. I was allowed to just be.

Though I look back at the “pick-me” years of my life and cringe, I can’t help but feel grateful for all they have taught me. At this point, I feel much more connected to myself than I ever have before. Much of that is because I have let go of that part of my life, but I know that if I never had those experiences I would not have anywhere near the understanding of myself as I do now.

Going through that period graced me with the understanding that femininity is what I make it.

My interest in skating, metal music and whatever else I pretended I was into during that time wouldn’t have made me any less feminine. I am not made feminine by the fact that I love a good late-night watch of “The Devil Wears Prada,” or the fact that there is at least one dress in my closet. Nor am I made feminine by the fact that I have a shaved head and know how to rig a fishing rod.

The only accurate definition of femininity is the one I constructed for myself, and I am not made more or less worthy of anyone’s attention based on the things that I like or that I dislike. I don’t need anyone’s permission to like something.

I do not lose anything by liking things that some may say are cringey, and I certainly do not gain anything by pretending to like things that I don’t. I am much happier constructing my own home for myself than I ever was trying to put myself in places where I simply did not fit.

Though at the time I felt that my family moving away and my friends going off to college would be the end of the world–it was really the beginning of everything. I am so grateful that I had a time when there was no choice but to find out who I really am, and I am pretty happy with the person that I found.

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