When I looked up definitions for tomboy, I was surprised that they sounded and felt a little harsh: A girl who behaves in a way that is perceived to be stereotypically boyish or masculine. A girl who enjoys rough, noisy activities traditionally associated with boys. A girl who dresses and sometimes behaves the way boys are expected to. Maybe I am just overly sensitive. I considered myself a tomboy growing up, and others described me as one.

I would define myself as a young girl this way: I loved being outside, playing sports, and doing physical chores on the farm. I preferred long pants to dresses because they were more comfortable and less restrictive. I wasn’t into dressing up and girly-girl stuff because I didn’t have the time or desire for it. I was too busy with the things listed above, especially sports.

Growing up on a farm as part of a large family likely contributed to my tomboy approach. We were busy doing our part to help, from an early age. Money was sufficient for the necessities, but we kept it simple in terms of attire, haircuts, and accessories. Even if I would have wanted ribbons in my hair and frilly dresses, it really wasn’t in the budget.

Mom and Dad didn’t impose feminine and masculine stereotypes on us in some ways, but they did in others. Today, I appreciate that I wasn’t made to wear matching dresses with my sisters and have long hair to fit the part. I don’t think it was a conscious effort by our parents, it was just easier, quicker, and more affordable to keep it basic with short haircuts and hand-me-downs.

Gender lines existed in other ways though, especially when it came to chores. Girls did both house chores and smaller outside chores. The boys did more outside work and were spared the dishwashing, laundry, and housecleaning tasks for the most part. I resented that at times, but mostly we all were expected to do our share without having to be reminded too much.

One of my favorite jobs was to help my dad make “swill.” Swill is a mixture of water, ground grain, and feed additives. It was mixed in a big wooden barrel and then fed to the pigs. I liked helping stir it and I also liked how it smelled. Better than the pigs smelled for sure.

At hay baling time, I liked helping “pull the rope” when I was too young to do anything else. We used a fork, rope, pulley, tractor set-up to get bales of hay high up on either side of the barn. After the tractor pulled the fork to the highest point in the barn, it would have to be backed up to be ready for the next load. Someone had to pull the rope in as the tractor backed up. It was a good job for us younger kids, and helped us feel like we earned that lunch that was always an extra bonus to baling days. Kool-aid and store bought bologna never tasted so good.

When I got old enough to actually help unload the bales themselves, I was proud of my efforts and the sweat that rolled off my face on a hot and humid summer day. I realize that wasn’t every girl’s idea of a good time, nor every boy’s.

I was out playing games and sports in the backyard with my siblings as soon as I was old enough and they would let me. I didn’t grow up afraid of a ball or taking a swing at one either. If you would have accused me of “throwing like a girl,” I would have shown you just how hard and accurately this girl throws.

There were occasions that required dresses and I apparently put up a fight about that more than once. This is a classic photo from my First Communion:

The picture says it all. Today, I appreciate having grown up a tomboy, and I have embraced my femininity more as an adult. I got my ears pierced in my mid-twenties, and keep adding to my collection of earrings. I never wore rings until I got engaged at 32. Now, I have rings typically adorning 6 of my fingers.

Makeup is still a rarity. My days are full enough without adding time to apply that. My anti-aging and anti-wrinkle secrets are simple–good, clean living and drinking lots of water.

Being an athlete, appreciating the outdoors, and contributing my physical labor on our farm have all served me well over my lifetime. The tomboy within started early and still lives on.


  1. Your reflection resonates with me. Big family. Resentment that the boys weren’t expected to help with laundry, dishes, etc. In the end, I think it fueled my desire to push those boundaries. I made a conscious decision that my sons and daughter would equally rotate the “chores”. My daughters-in-law thank me for that now. 🙂

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  2. Such a great photo. You were always obstinate! I wanted to be girly girly but didn’t really get there until in my twenties. Unfortunately I thought girly girly meant boys(men) wanted girly so that’s what I did. All about attracting men and the wrong kind. Today I am pretty invisible because I am an older woman, but I make lots of noise.

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