Fem by Sarah Waring

Author's Note

Female. Feminine. Feminist. A lot of my existence, growth, and identity has to do with girls: being one, protecting them, admiring them, and occasionally having crushes on them. A lot of my growth has been about recognizing that femininity doesn’t have to be something to be ashamed of. A lot of learning to love myself is wearing feminine clothes, getting better at makeup, trying to destroy the voices society put in my head that say I need to be masculine to be taken seriously. When considering what to write about for this project, the first thing that came to me was always girls. My fairy tale is about how beauty standards have been forced onto me and made me think I wasn’t beautiful, and about how people have helped me realize that I am still beautiful. “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Girl” is about how hard it is to be a girl in a world where sometimes it feels like we’re moving backwards. “This is 14” is about what being a teenage girl is really like, complete with body issues and questioning your feelings. Writing these pieces helped me realize that the parts of me that society wants me to push down are the strongest parts of me. There is strength and empowerment in being soft and loving everyone, because the world has not been kind but I will try my hardest to be. I feel empowered in a dress and lipstick, because I can be feminine and still mean business. A lot of my childhood was spent trying to make people treat me equally by trying to make them forget I was a girl. I will, sadly, admit that I was a “I’m not like other girls” girl. I tried not to let people know that I cried, tried to be perfect enough and “chill” enough that people would forget I was a girl. But now…. now I will fight to be treated equally as a proud girl. I am feminine. And if you have a problem with that, it’s your problem, not mine.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Girl


A porcelain doll on a shelf,

The only moving thing

Her helpless eyes.


They are of two minds,

Like two roads

On which walk not a single girl.


A girl tries to speak over the wind.

She is a small part of a world that does not care.


A man and a woman

Are not one.

A man and a woman

Will never be one.


They always know which to prefer,

The beauty of polish

Or the beauty of reality,

The magazine cover

Or the woman that reads it.


Raindrops streak across the window

Diamonds racing away.

A shadow of a girl

Sits, alone, on the floor.


Traced on her body

A sign of what she lost.


O men in the velvet chairs,

Why do you imagine goddesses?

Do you not see how the girl

Stands alone

In the crowd before you?


I know history

And distinguished, flowery writing;

But I know, too,

That the girl has not lived

Such a life.


When the girl was pushed out of sight,

It marked the end

Of one of few freedoms.


At the sight of the girl

And the fire inside her,

Even the emptiest soul

Would feel jolted to life.


She watched the world move on

With tired eyes.

Once, excitement struck her,

In that she mistook

The eye of the storm

For progress.


The courthouse doors have opened.

The girl must be crying.


It was dark all month.

People were dying

And people were going to die.

The girl lay in bed, under the covers.

the encyclopedia of a new life


A symbol of redemption. I started to heal when I started drawing them on my paper, putting them in my room, wearing them as a crown, taking pictures of them among the grass.


Lines were what ruled the last three years: lines walked on the brick wall, lines skated shakily in ice, lines scratched into your skin, lines at a movie theater, cropped lines of your hair, lines of a sad song that I memorized because of you, lines of poetry I write about you. I always wondered at parallels.


When people bring you milkshakes even though they didn’t know you were sad that day.


I love sweaters. I spend nearly all year waiting for sweater weather. When it finally comes, I buy new sweaters and find my old ones until my drawers overflow and I have to stack like ten of them on the floor. I pull the sleeves over my hands and bat at people like a kitten. Sweaters are old friends, hugs in a piece of fabric. The only problem? Lint.


I was in a thrift shop one time when I found some old photos. Happy couples, dogs racing through meadows, girls laughing. There were several photos of a windowsill of an apartment, and it took me a while to realize there was a bird on the sill. It made me smile, thinking of someone frantically pulling out their camera and snapping all those pictures when they saw that bird. There was a life behind the camera that took those pictures. Someone discovered a songbird on their windowsill one sun-soaked morning, and now I was discovering them in a store one city afternoon.

Once Upon a Time...

or the story of the ugly princess

Once upon a time there were a king and queen. They lived happily in their castle, and they loved each other more than anything. They were kind and fair rulers, and their kingdom adored them. They had been married two years when they had their first child, a daughter. They were overjoyed, and gave her a name that meant “princess,” so she'd never forget her identity.

The girl grew up happily, with hair the color of sunshine and wide honey eyes. She didn't cry. She loved everyone. And everyone loved her. They knew she'd grow up to be a beautiful princess.

But she didn't. Her hair became darker and knotted, and never behaved properly. Her face stopped lighting up with smiles and became ugly, covered in unwanted marks. She cried nearly every night. She had friends, but they all secretly whispered about how ugly she was. Everyone tried to persuade her to let them change her face, but in the end they all knew it would do nothing.

The princess always dreamed of finding her prince. But in her dreams, monsters came to her and whispered that she was too ugly to find true love. She wasn't the kind of princess that princes would fight to rescue.

From her palace window, she watched beautiful maidens pass by. She hated everything about herself, watching them walk. She hated how she wasn't delicate. She hated that she had to stare at her face in the mirror every morning, more of a witch than a princess. She even hated her name, reminding her that she was meant to be something she couldn't.

One night, she decided that she’d had enough. Enough of the hate mail disguised as love letters. Enough of everyone avoiding looking at her during balls and feasts. Enough, in the way that everyone in the kingdom had decided she wasn’t enough for them.

She knew that she had to leave. So that night she snuck out of the palace, carrying a bag that contained clothes, food for a few days, and her favorite book. She hopped on the back of a horse(she wasn't very good at riding, but there was no other option) and galloped away. Her hair flew behind her in the wind, the moon hanging almost low enough to reach. The sun was rising as she reached the border of the kingdom.

“Wait!” Someone shouted behind her as she was about to ride off into who-knows-what. The princess didn't recognize the voice, but something in its tone made her turn around.

A handsome prince was sitting atop his own horse, staring at her. “Who are you?”

She looked down. “It is of no importance.”

“I must know,” he said earnestly. “I think you are the most beautiful maiden I have ever seen.”

She paused and looked at him. “What?”

“Your hair,” he said, “is the color of warmth in the winter. Your eyes have the most incredible fire in them--I could follow them through the forest at night. Your figure is like a willow tree, and your face--there are many beautiful women, but none are quite like you.”

“Oh!” she said. It hadn’t occurred to her that she didn’t have to be sunshine anymore to be beautiful.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

She shook her head. “I don't know. I just need to get away.”

He grinned and held out a hand. “Me too. And I'm awfully lonely.”

She took his hand, realizing that maybe she didn't have to be a princess after all. A flower crown was just as good as a tiara. She could spend the rest of her life riding wild across the land, never have to be perfect again. She could spend her nights lying underneath the stars. She could have an adventure with this boy, this boy who thought she was beautiful.

Maybe she was beautiful.

This is 14

tide on the shore

This is 14.

Fourteen is the tide on the beach. Highs and lows come constantly, sometimes all in one day, sometimes at the same time. Some days will be the top of the world, as you laugh until you’re giddy and dance through the hallways. Some days will be the worst you’ve ever had, and you’ll cry until you don’t have any tears left and then you’ll scream or just sit there and let your whole body shake. But more than that, 14 never stops moving.

The world is all around you, all at once, telling you what you’re meant to be; and if you decide you don’t want to live in a box, the world will proceed to say you’re too young to know yourself. You’ll wonder why 14 is too young to have a heart that beats so fast and so strong, and out of tune.

You’ll have to read articles and listen to people say that your generation is ruining society, while you wonder if they know that society ruined you. (But of course you don’t say anything.)

Fourteen is when everything is fluid. Sexuality is a fluctuating wave, and it’s not something you can limit to words, no matter how much you try. You’re always growing, flower gardens inside your soul--sometimes there are weeds, but everything grows nonetheless.

At 14, you realize that the people you hate the most have suffered more than you can imagine. At 14 you also realize that someone having suffered doesn’t mean that you should stay with them.

At 14 you finally get your first period and instantly hate everyone that tells you you’re lucky to be a late bloomer. You watch, but your boobs still aren’t getting any bigger. But you’re okay with it. You get stretch marks and run your fingers over them, feeling like a real woman and like there’s something to show how you’ve changed.

You come out and try your hardest to remember that you are valid. At some point something clicks and you understand what pride means. You wave tiny flags and pin a rainbow to the pocket of your flannel.

You start wearing eyeshadow and lipstick and fall in love. Makeup is no longer about the foundation and concealer, no longer about hiding your messed-up skin, and now about having fun.

You watch the news and what the world thinks and you realize that you might live in a country that doesn’t want you anymore. But you decide that means that your very existence is a revolution, and you hold your head up high solely because it’ll make the bigots angry.

At 14 you’re already dreaming of the future, planning tattoos you’ll never get and colors to dye your hair even though you know you’re a very nervous and shy person. You dream because what else is there to do?

Fourteen is when you find your own empowerment; your softness becomes what makes you strong. You wear flower crowns and rose gold rings. Femininity, a concept society told you to reject, becomes your favorite weapon. Pink is a pretty color, and it’s not all that bad to be like other girls.

It is a year of complexity. There is more to you, and the people around you, and the world you live in, than you used to think. Your morally and ethnically monochromatic childhood is slowly bleeding into a brightly colored reality.

14 is full of great times and terrible ones. You run as fast as you can, feel like you can’t even walk. You make friends, lose friends, are afraid for your life and feel like you’re truly living it. You write like you’re running out of time, but you have so much time. 14 is a tide, but you let it carry you and hope for the best.

This is 14. This is me. Now.

Love, Sarah

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