I received my education through the fine art of eavesdropping.
When I was a kid, I used to pretend to be deliriously lost in the crayon-rich world of coloring books, but really, I was listening to the grown-ups talk, my open ears eagerly taking in every spoken word of their salacious gossip, judgmental quips and pervasive opinions.
My curiosity about life beyond elementary school was seemingly endless and all-consuming.
The most powerful memories of my childhood are images of a younger me with ears pressed up against a locked door, listening to conversations not suited for the likes of small children.
The tricky thing is when you’re a kid, you don’t think to question the words of grown-ups.
You think all “adults” serve as the moral police of the world and every bigoted term and sweeping generalization flying out of their uncensored mouths is absolutely, without question, TRUE.
So you better believe my young, tender heart cracked into two parts when I discovered, in the fascinating Island of Adult, girls could tragically only fall into one of the following categories:
Stylish or Intellectual. Sexy or Smart. Brainy or Beautiful.
I was sorely flummoxed, for I wanted to be both.
I direly loved gazing into my big sister’s vast collection of NARS lipstick.
I found the Amazonian-looking girls who peered down at me from the billboards on Sunset Boulevard, modeling luxurious lingerie and pouting into the clouds, to be insanely beautiful.
I was fashion-crazed, dizzied by the glamorous outfits displayed in the department store windows, and I longed for the fine day in which I could strut around the mean city streets looking impossibly chic in my very own pair of Manolo Blahniks.
I equally loved the books that fruitfully scattered the shelves of our family living room. I was a vivacious reader, hungrily inhaling written words like Saturday morning cartoons.
I spent my free time writing short stories, drafting up business plans for the future, daydreaming about the day I could be my very own girl boss.
The notion of being a razor-smart entity, of being a girl who could soar through the intellectual world with a reckless abandon filled my 10-year-old body with heaps of pure 10-year-old excitement.
So how, dear HOW, could I choose one identity over the other when I so deeply identified with both?
Luckily, by happenstance, a few weeks after my sixteenth birthday, I chose to think for myself (and never ever went back to the shackles of gendered stereotypes).
It’s such a poignant, life-affirming moment in a girl’s life when she finally questions all the “truths” that society, her parents, her friends and her teachers have bestowed on her.
I can remember the moment with such a crystal clear, almost vibrant specificity: I was tormenting over an outfit for my first day at a brand new school.
It was my junior year. My parents had decided to switch states, and I was pissed.
I knew whatever clothes I chose to wear on that fine day would inform my identity for the remaining two years of high school:
Did I want to be known as a stylish and sexual creature?
After all, my hormones were raging with a fervent relentlessness, and thoughts of sex were madly sweeping across the surface of brain at all times.
But what about the part of me that wanted to break down the complexities of a Woody Allen film?
The equally consuming side of myself that wanted to curl up with a like-minded stimulating soul, and, together, we could lose ourselves in the thick of thought-provoking documentaries?
The part of me that wanted to be taken seriously and have a powerful girl voice that could maybe, possibly, maybe, one day make a life-changing impact on another human being?
I blankly stared at the array of suggestive halter tops and platform boots and loose-fitted T-shirts and Converse scattered across the contents of my comforter.
As my eyes blinked, I caught a glimpse of both sides of my personality between the snippets of fluttering darkness, and I realized it was impossible for me to choose one over the other.
To choose fashion over intellect and vice versa would be to deny a part of my soul.
And isn’t it all bullsh*t anyway? I grew angry. Why were women always forced to make such soul-binding choices anyway?
And anger set me free.
My anger drove me to realize contrary to what the patriarchal system would like you to believe...
We can be sexy and smart.
You can be the brightest bulb in the supermarket or as dumb as an artificial rock in a gated community: We are all sexual beings. One is not connected to the other.
We can wear heels and get raises.
If you’re like me, and you feel your most attractive and fabulously stylish when wearing sky-high heels, simply wear them.
So many girls dumb their style down because they fear the boys at work won’t take them seriously if they’re fashionably enlightened.
Girls, this is a horrendously sexist system we absolutely must challenge.
Go to work strutting around in your highest stilettos if that’s how you feel your fiercest because when we feel our fiercest is when we do our best work.
Anyone who judges you for being a style vixen and a brainy babe in the workplace is only threatened by your multifaceted prowess, and you should never, ever let the frightened masses stifle your expression of self.
We can stimulate both intellectually and sexually.
Nothing bothers me more than a girl proclaiming she won’t have sex with her boyfriend because she doesn’t want to appear like “every other dumb girl.”
What the f*ck does that even mean? Since when did sex become synonymous with being stupid?
We can rock a bold lip and still impress with our words.
Vacuous idiots are so thrown by the advent of a bold lip. As if a fabulous pop of red is so intimidating they must deem us vapid in order to not fear us.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. We can rock that fantastically fuchsia, remarkably red or bluntly blackberry lip for any occasion -- and our mouths can still release words more articulately than any non-lipsticked mouth on the block.
We can wear a little dress and have big ideas.
Just because we're rocking a short dress doesn’t mean our brain isn't brimming with massive, world-changing, innovative ideas.
Our hemline has nothing to do with our brainpower. If you're comfortable in that little dress, rock it and fearlessly bring your incredible ideas into fruition whilst wearing the shortest, tiniest baby-doll dress imaginable.
We can be trendy and topical.
Who decided that people who indulge in fashion magazines, love to follow trends and are passionate about their daily attire also can't follow the sophisticated news outlets of the world and be up on current events outside the realm of Milan Fashion Week?
We can play with both hearts and minds.
We can unabashedly flirt to the point where we make the HEART of any person of any gender racked with a flock of butterflies and a slew of nerves.
We can also still challenge that very same person’s brain with our pressing questions and thoughtful opinions.
We can dress in all black and have a colorful imagination.
Women inherently love to rock all-black attire; it’s ingrained into our genetic makeup.
Certain people, however, seem to be under the false impression that a woman in black is cold and soulless.
An empty vessel filled with only fashion magazines and eyeliner.
When really -- us women who wear all black have the most colorful imaginations.
We can be stylish and sensitive.
Just because we love designer clothing doesn’t mean we're not complicated, deeply sensitive, insanely smart and multifaceted forces of nature.