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February 29, 2024

How I Learned to Embrace my Femininity & Make Peace with my Body through Getting Muddy Working a “Man’s Job.”

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As a teen, I used to be a tomboy.

I had a phase when I did soccer and dressed like a boy. I hid the first signs of my sprouting femininity under baggy pants and oversized T-shirts and boys hoodies.

I felt ashamed of my darkening hairs on my legs and around my intimate parts. I hated the way how my flat chest suddenly emerged and became a magnet to curious male eyes. Receiving my first period in fourth grade was a shock. I remember pulling my panty down in the toilet and seeing a bright red spot. I touched myself and the sight of my bloody fingers almost made me faint. I got hysteric. I thought I am going to die; I simply had no idea of periods even existing. I was so unprepared to it.

I grew out of my tomboy phase (for my mother’s greatest relief) and got used to monthly bleeding and that my body was constantly changing, but I couldn’t befriend the things that came with being a woman.

I struggled a lot with my accepting my entire being. I was always an outsider even in the group of my friends, always felt like I didn’t belong and that something was wrong with me because I just couldn’t be like everyone else; and the fact that I was bullied for being fat and having pimples as a teen made it even worse. (I was clueless back in the day about the bloating, weight gain, and acne being symptoms of untreated Celiacs disease.) So naturally, my friends ended up being boys as a teenager too and the few girl friends were weirdos just like me.

In my late 20s, I started to become more feminine, but it mostly manifested in the way I presented myself to the world. I wore skirts more often, I lost a lot of weight so I had a bit more confidence to put on more shape-following dresses and tighter skirts, and I learned to do makeup and to do my hair.

I tried to find the connection with my femininity through outward things but never from within. Of course, it only helped me look like a woman, but deep within, I never actually felt like a woman. So, you see, I tried. I tried hard, but my body always felt foreign and my femininity seemed more like a myth than an existing thing within me. I was a woman, but I always was afraid to be busted one day—that someone might come, see me, and tell it to everyone: she’s just pretending! But I always longed to find the missing link, to build the bridge that connects me with my feminine essence.

When I started tree planting in 2021, it didn’t come as a surprise that I was the only female planter in my crew and only heard stories of other badass girls in the industry here and there. As years passed, I worked with some female planters, but as you might guess, they aren’t the typical girly-girls who are into makeup, nail polish, and fashionable clothes. This kind of job is not for everyone, especially not for every woman.

Tree planting can be everything but glamorous. You should see me after a day of planting in bad weather: camouflaged in mud all over (I always get dirtier than anyone else), my hair most resembling an abandoned bird’s nest, my nose dripping, and anyways, my clothes are old and ragged (they get ruined in the brambles, so why waste new stuff?) Yet that is where I found my real treasure. Something I thought was long lost, and the last time I can recall having it was when I was a child—the feeling of being alive. The feeling of being myself.

It was hard and I struggled at the beginning and at times I hated every bit of it (sometimes I still do), but at the end of the day, I felt like I was doing something with my life; I was creating something and giving life to something. I felt alive, ageless, and powerful. I was making something of myself, something with myself. More than that, I started to feel feminine for the first time, and actually beautiful as I am, and despite all the physical discomfort and pain that comes with it, I felt at home in my body.

One thing I always loved the most about planting is that, eventually, you have to be yourself. You can’t pretend to be something you are not for long. It’s just impossible. We share home and work 24/7, it’s hard to get private space, the job is though at times, and the mask falls off easily in those situations, and as we say in Hungary, you get to know a person the best when you live with them.

Strangely, when you are actually planting on a field, yes, the crew is there, but you are alone. It’s doesn’t happen often that someone is constantly next to me in the line and we have a similar speed and we get to chat. So, I mainly spend my planting hours with myself only and it’s not your typical me-time. It’s work that is challenging for both body and mind, and when you have no one else to talk to, you start to talk to yourself.

I often find myself in some kind of a meditative mood, one that feels kinda flowy, where there’s no time or space, and within that realm a lot of things come up. Things from past experiences, long forgotten memories and conversations, and they allow me to grow through some emotional processing.

This type of processing brought me closer to myself. That mask I just mentioned? It won’t only fall off for everyone else to see who you really are, but you won’t be able to hide anything anymore from yourself. You can try to suppress things, but they keep circling back around until you finally take a look at them. It bared my soul and showed me that it doesn’t matter what I did or did not do, or what I went through before, I am still here and I am still trying to be better and do better. That is the most important thing and that makes me human and lovable.

In that moment, something clicked and I saw myself differently. I felt a tremendous amount of love and compassion for myself for the first time in my life. I looked at my body and I didn’t see a broken, dirty, sweaty bio-machine for my soul to reside in. I saw the temple my soul lives in. I saw all my body does for me—my heart beating, my lungs breathing, my legs walking me everywhere—and I just felt love for my body always being there for me, no matter what. It never gave up on me for one minute, even when I treated it terribly. I saw a warrior spirit that cannot be broken, come what may. I saw a goddess that can give life to anything, a person who can turn a house into a home, any vegetable into a nourishing meal, and change around everything with the warmth of her love.

Our femininity doesn’t come from glitters and shimmering nail polish, wearing pastel colors, perfectly winged cat-eyes, mini skirts, or romantic hairdos. It doesn’t come from doing chores around the house, cooking for a man, or heck, even giving birth. And while these are things that can help many women connect to their true femininity and their bodies, not all of us work the same way. After meditating over this many hours, I came to the conclusion that for some of us (like me), true femininity comes from a deep connection with ourselves.

You don’t have to switch to a hard physical job or a “men’s job” and move to another country to find connection with your body, femininity, and self. In fact, you don’t even need to want to connect with those parts of yourself. You might already be connected, but maybe you’re looking to find something else inside of you.

Anyways, my discovery was that you don’t need to do anything but go back to your roots. I always felt most home in nature. I loved to wander alone in the forest by our village as a child and I loved to get dirty and create something with soil. (And heck, it’s even in my blood! My family owns a little stretch of trees in the forest and my dad originally studied to be a forester.)

When I was young, it looked like jumping in puddles, making disgusting dirt and plant potions, climbing on and then falling off trees, driving through mud with our bicycles as fast as we could, or just helping my grandparents in their backyard planting, nursing, and harvesting corn, paprika, tomato, beans, potatoes, and whatever else they were cultivating, come rain or shine.

As a grown-up, it looked like work-exchanging on farms and bio-dynamic gardens, working in forests and planting trees, or going on two-month hikes in the mountains. And let me tell you, the hardest the work got, the dirtiest I’ve ended up, the better I felt. Both about myself and about what I was creating—even if it was just chopping and piling firewood.

That’s my recipe that works for me without fail, and I can only suggest you try it out, and as you should with every recipe, adjust it to your taste buds:

>> Think back to your childhood. What were the things that made you the happiest, the most alive? What were you doing when you forgot about time and space existing? When you got into the “flow experience” as my fellow Hungarian, Csíkszentmihályi Mihály cleverly named it. I believe it’s the same kind of things that will excite your soul as an adult, too.

>> Once you find what those things are do more of them. Take time our of your day that you dedicate to these activities. If you did martial arts, it might be time to find a dojo near you and visit them say twice a week after work. Or go hiking on the weekend somewhere nearby with your partner or your dog, or alone if you have to. Order yourself that set of Legos you always dreamed of and start building.

>> In the process, a lot of discouraging thoughts might come up. You might end up worrying what others will think, how you’ll look to others, that you’ll be the oldest in the group, the only man or woman…let these worries come up to the surface and then let them go. They don’t need your attention.

>> Follow your joy. The thing you try out first might not be the thing you stick with. The only thing matters is that you keep following the feeling—the excitement, the joy, the peace, or whatever feeling comes natural to you that you’re seeking. A friend of mine used to do ballet as a child because her mother signer her up to class. She loved dancing but stopped in adolescence because she had other obligations. Later in her 40s, she picked it up again only to figure out it isn’t what she wants to do. She knew she still wanted to dance. Guess where she ended up? In Irish tap dance class and she feels more alive then ever when she’s tapping her toes, and you should see the sparks in her eyes when she talks about it. And she’s in her 50s now. So no excuse; it can be done at any age.

>> Now that you’re doing something you love, it will be easier to find the right people for you. So be open to meet your group, the people who’ll love you for who you are, who are like-minded and supportive. They are the ones you want to surround yourself with. My grandma started to ride a bike after she retired. For years, she rode the area alone, but now she has a whole bunch of people either riding with her or just following her example.

>> Check-in with yourself frequently and be honest with yourself about what you find within. Maybe your epiphanies won’t come to you as they did to me, while working on the site, but they might visit you in your meditation, when you’re half asleep at 2 a.m., or when you’re journaling about your day, or while you walk home from work. Whichever it is, pay attention to the things coming up and follow them to their roots.

Despite the fact that I took a grand detour from my childhood self, I came back around. I seldom still make detours, but I always come back to this method as these steps have never failed to help me to connect to myself on various levels.

I finally feel like a woman in every cell of my body, and I don’t need girly clothes or make up for this. Even having my period now turned into a sacred time where I enjoy my cocooning and nurturing my body. I stopped doing things to make myself look better. Whatever I do now is for my own pleasure, even if I shave my legs. Simply learning to be myself allowed me to naturally find these missing pieces of the puzzle that is me.

It doesn’t matter how old you are, there’s a part of you that has been there since you were a kid waiting for you to rediscover and reconnect with her or him. And as you heal and connect with one abandoned part of yourself, you make progress in other neglected areas as well.

The more you practice it, the better you’ll get at it. You just have to make the first step.

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