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I was 8 years old when I started puberty. I gained weight, I had to learn how to shave my armpits, and at age 10 I started wearing training bras. The boys were friendlier toward me once I started wearing bras, but before that, they were casually cruel.

I didn’t experience bullying in the same ways many do. They would call me fat in passing. They would make fun of me for crying when I was sad or angry or frustrated or injured. They would call me lazy when I didn’t participate in gym class.

When I look back on the bullying I experienced, it doesn’t seem like it was too bad. But it left a strong and lasting impression on me.

I was a bold kid--brave, vocal, smart, caring, independent, fierce, confident, loyal, opinionated...the list goes on. I was probably intimidating, too. And then I hit puberty.

I ditched my best friend because the popular girls didn’t talk to her and I wanted them to like me.

I wrote in my diary about all the boys I had crushes on. My crushes seemed to change daily.

I taught myself how to not cry and how to suck up the pain, frustration, and sadness.

I became introverted, sad, lonely, depressed, angry, invisible, unwilling to share my opinion, and by 6th grade, “Karlin” didn’t seem to exist anymore. In her place was a ghost of a person, floating through the hallways, begging someone to notice her.

The ghost Karlin accepted what others said about her. She hated herself and wished she could be anyone but her.

I was cruel--a bully--to myself in a casual way. It didn’t seem like a big deal.

“Date: September 27, 2001 (11-years-old)

Dear Diary, I’m so sad. I’m a sorry sight. I do think Frank* is cute. Who am I supposed to like this year! I don’t know. As I said, I’m a sad sorry sight. I have bad handwriting. I wish you could write back to me. I just wish. This [drawing] is me. I’m really gross. It’s sad. Gotta go!


*name changed for privacy

My heart SHATTERED when I read this diary entry and saw the self-portrait 16 years later. How did I, an 11-year-old girl, have such a poor sense of self and such hatred for me and my body? At 11? I cried, feeling all the pain my 11-year-old self felt.

I’ve been unknowingly working on releasing that little girl’s pain for several years now, allowing myself to love me, to be me, to reconnect with the me I was before society and my peers influenced who I was. My true self.

I was angry and prone to explosive episodes until I was about 25 because I bottled up all of my emotions instead of expressing them. I was convinced that showing emotion was a sign of weakness. I was embarrassed if I ever cried in public (or around anyone).

I was embarrassed to be girly. I didn’t want to be manly, but I definitely adopted many masculine traits and thought it was better to be masculine than feminine. Guys didn’t make fun of me if I was “one of the guys.” I adapted to survive emotionally.

I am grateful for these experiences because I feel like I’m a more balanced human than I would be without them. I’ve had to learn how to be feminine. In fact, my health coach recently challenged me to figure out what actions/activities make me feel feminine and to embrace them and develop/rediscover my femininity.

What makes me feel feminine? What makes me feel girly (something I have actively tried to NOT be)? Keeping my nails painted, dressing stylishly, and wearing makeup. These actions don’t make me less smart or trustworthy. They don’t make me less strong or independent.

When I look good, I feel good. When I dress sloppy, I feel sloppy. Why would I do that to myself? I don’t need to wear makeup. I don’t have to look fancy when I leave the house. And if I don’t want to, I don’t. But, more importantly, when I DO want to, I do it, and I do it unapologetically. It makes a huge difference.

I’m slowly learning more about the feminine Karlin and what feminine traits are for me, such as my instinct to take care of others or keeping my nails manicured. There are many, many ways to be feminine and express femininity; but for me, the external stuff helps me feel it on the inside.

Though the process is slow, I’m grateful to be learning about my feminine self and how to balance the masculine and feminine traits that I express.

I wholeheartedly acknowledge the ghost Karlin of the past, and I release any hold she might still have on who I am today. It’s time to live up to my full potential, and it’s time to do it unapologetically.

With Love,


Which traits do you ascribe to femininity? What do you do daily (whether or not you’re female) that makes you feel feminine? Do you feel badly or apologetic for being or feeling feminine? Do you embrace it? How do you let your light shine? Please let me know in the comments or in an email!