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My True Colors: A Small-Town Girl Breaks Gender Norms to Find her Identity

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By Ashley Maddox

There seems to be a certain type of sparkle in the eyes of those who push societal boundaries. Some children know they are different very early in life. This was no different for me growing up in a small town in Southern Georgia. There, people were raised to live in a way where men and women dress and act differently from one another. For a young girl with a wild imagination for life, I questioned everything and believed nothing—a rambunctious girl who counted her scars and competed with boys. How on Earth could I play outside in the dirt with a dress made for looks? I obtained my answer quickly in childhood and came to the conclusion that in order for me to be me, I would not wear dresses and definitely not pink.

Ashley Maddox
Ashley Maddox

Mother understood early that I was a very determined child—she quickly let me be for most of my childhood growing up into my teen years. With that being said, I was considered a “tomboy” who was different from the other girls my age, and it did not bother me one bit—for the most part. What was hard at this age was being not only judged by those my age, but also being judged by adults. Why should it matter to anyone but me if I wanted to wear jeans?

Growing up I had many questions, like, “Who decided that boys get the color blue?” and “Who decided girls get the color pink?” I really did not see this as fair. Why did I have to live by this person’s rules anyhow? If boys were to play and be strong in life, then why was I, a girl, just as strong if not stronger than the boys at that time? I felt as though society was robbing my generation of sisters of their inner abilities and, surely, this would allow them to be behind in the race for adulthood. I often asked myself if I was the only one who thought this way. No one else was speaking up, so it must be true—or so I thought.

For many years, I asked this question as friends came and went, and schoolteachers judged me in their minds before knowing the real me. I was fine with it, or maybe I was just used to it. Either way, little did I know that I was learning one of the biggest lessons of my life—society cares more about how a little girl or little boy dresses than their character.

Here I am, now in my 30s, looking back and remembering how the young girl in me questioned those societal norms. To this day, I still dress the way I want—though you may catch me in a dress on a good night. But the overall lesson I learned was that only when you allow someone to be who they truly are do you see their full potential. I thank my parents for allowing me to be myself while growing up, as today I am a confident and opinionated woman. Expressing oneself and not succumbing to one’s small hometown mindset is just the beginning of one’s greatness. While my true colors were not noticed by many, those who mattered, they saw them all.

This is Ashley Maddox’s first contribution to OutSmart magazine.

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