On Being Womanly


What does being womanly mean to you?

Does it mean breasts and hips? Long, lustrous hair? An hourglass figure with a defined little waist? Enviable eyelashes for flirtatious fluttering? Manicured nails and pedicured feet? Smooth, hairless skin? A sassy walk on long, slender legs?


Does it mean youth? Beauty? Sexuality? Softness, voluptuousness, and pliancy? Grace and poise? Posture and composure? Wisdom, maturity, and responsibility? The capacity to nurture, the desire to mother, the instinct to protect?


Does it mean wearing skirts and perfume, flowy scarves and heels? Does it mean wearing anything that allows you to wrangle small children? Does it mean wearing a power suit and architectural glasses?

Intellectually, I know that being womanly encompasses all of these things, their opposites, and a whole universe of traits, preferences, behaviors, styles, and quirks that I haven’t mentioned and may not even have dreamed. Womanliness is everything that women are, do, and want to become.

And yet, I am still waiting for the day to come when I feel like a woman myself. I look at all these images and see endless, inspiring portraits of womanliness. I see the ineffable womanliness that infuses females everywhere. But I feel like an outsider, waiting at the kiddie table for an invitation to dine with the real ladies of the world. And I wonder if I’ll ever feel like anything other than a girl-woman hybrid

What does being womanly mean to you? Do you feel womanly yourself? If not, why not? And does it even matter to you?

Images courtesy kk, kptyson, Jasper Gregory, just.Luc, OlsenWeb, kaseymarcum, Jasper Gregory (again), sean dreilinger, modenadude, happyshooter, ftbester, vestitoverde, KungFoodie, loungerie, watchsmart, philippe leroyer, zeiss66super, puck90, uneduex. Man, I hope I got all those credits right …

  • Casey

    In a way, I have always felt like you: on the outside of the "woman club" looking in. Perhaps it's just a reflection of my own insecurities about myself. ;) But the more I think about it and realize woman can express their womanliness in so many ways (as you aptly demonstrated in these photos), the more comfortable I have become with my "brand" of womanliness. To me, you are fantastic at expressing your womanliness through your words on this blog and even in the way you dress! :)

    To me, being womanly is one of those intangibles in life; it's not necessarily anything external that totally encompasses the state of mind. Rather it's a mixture of how you think and feel that shows in your physical self and actions. For some women that manifests itself in certain ways (for instance dressing in a very feminine manner), and for others it's a way of how they approach themselves and life.

    Just my $0.02. ;)

    ♥ Casey
    blog | elegantmusings.com

  • Oranges And Apples

    First off, can I just say that I LOVE all the gorgeous pictures you've assembled!

    I personally try not to identify myself as a woman too much. I know that sounds odd, but there are a lot of aspects to my personality that are what would be traditionally be described as masculine, e.g. I'm very rational and not particularly emotional. Other aspects are very feminine though. As you say, women can be all those things and more, as can men. I just want society to stop categorising everyone into men and women in such a constrictive way (I have HUGE problems with all this men are from Mars, women are from Venus pop psychology). Everyone, both men and women, should have access to the full range of behaviours and appearances, without being branded 'manly' or 'efeminate'. That's what I believe in.

    However, when you draw the distinction between a woman and a girl, I definitely feel a woman, i.e. grown up. I think it's to do with the fact that I have realised over the last year that I want to have children, and am capable of caring for them properly. Two years ago the idea of me having a baby would have struck me as ludicrous.

  • Tina Z

    For me being womanly can be summed up by situations that require a certain toughness but let me shine as a woman. For me this means putting a feminine stamp on everything I do.

    Example: bare-bones camping in Death Valley and bringing mascara with me (which I sneakily applied every morning using random car mirrors). Or leading a panel on a serious research topic while dressed to the nines in a sharp suit and great lipstick. Or kayaking 20 ocean miles, dragging my own boat out of the water, and changing into a jersey dress on the beach afterward (and spritzing on a pretty body spray).

    Embracing and showing off my curves, wearing bright "feminine" colors, using makeup to enhance my features, being quick-witted, being confident in my intelligence, fighting for my opinions to be heard, exercising my powers, using my athletic prowess, and fighting for all women to be heard and accepted for who they are. These things make me feel womanly.

    Thanks for the post, that gave me a much needed jolt of positive motivation on this dreary morning.

  • Clare

    This is a beautiful post, and those photos are truly moving. This is the first thing I read this morning, and it was a perfect way to start the day, sitting in the living room drinking coffee, with the snow coming down outside, and looking at all these photos of these strong, beautiful, different women. I'm really intrigued by this topic, too. I've only recently started to feel "like a woman". There are definitely days when I just feel like a girl, and I see women that seem to embody their femininity (whatever that even means) and I wish I was more like them. But lately I've been staking claim to my womanliness. I've planted a flag in myself stating "this territory is mine", mine to define, mine to change, mine to understand. And in doing that, I understood myself as a woman more than I have in the past. It is fleeting sometimes, but at other times it's overwhelming, and I am surprised at just how much woman I have become.

  • WendyB

    I think it can mean anything except being like Chaz Bono, which is sort of anti-womanly.

  • Kristin

    oh wow, amazing post, amazing pictures.

    This is something I think about daily, and even though it's on my mind, I'll answer a question about my life by saying something along the lines of,"I'm holding onto 12-year-old Kristin as hard as I can!" I loved being a little girl, and there are so many times that I'm thankful that I can still feel that way.

    But, I also know that in order to be the person I want to be, I have to own my womanly-ness and all that entails: my wider hips, breasts, nurturing tendencies, powerful resilience, intuition, compassion, intelligence. I'm sure many others would feel the same way, but for me there is no other example of the ideal woman than my mother. Physically, yes, she is womanly. But she has the sparkle, strength, and skills that I will forever associate with womanhood. And now, in my late 20's, married, and thinking about starting a family at some point, I realize that I have a lot of her traits in me, but the little girl will always be there as well. And you know what? I'm seeing lately that my Mom still has that girl-side of herself, too! It's not about turning a corner, but allowing all the parts to grow together into the full woman we all are on the inside.

    Bird on Your Shirt

  • Linda

    Wow, great post!
    I cannot even begin to answer this… sometimes I think my voice isn't feminine enough. But what is a feminine voice really?

  • BookGirl

    I think I know what you mean, Sal, about feeling like an outsider in the "womanly" discussion. I think it's because although I believe that the very act of being female (i.e., women) make us "womanly," I hold to the notion that being "womanly" means having fully come into one's strengths as a woman.

    The strength of character, resolve, and action that I think of as the attributes of being "womanly" are not yet what I aspire to. And yet, as I write this, I wonder if perhaps my continuing efforts to achieve these qualities are enough to qualify me. Perhaps that's truly what being "womanly" is: to do one's best to face each moment with integrity and good will, and the intent to do one's best.

    Thanks for asking the quesiton.

    Clara

  • futurelint

    Beautiful selection of portraits!

    I often feel the same way… I'm a girl, not a woman. I think I've come to accept my flaws and short-comings in a self-deprecating humor sort of way, and I think that is a big part of it… I just can't take myself seriously enough to feel womanly. I fall down, I spill things, I might accidentally walk around with a spice stuck in my teeth or mascara migrating off my eyes, I eat Easter chocolates for dinner sometimes…

    However, when I really think about it, I am a woman. A self-made woman. Yes, I have great parents who helped me along the way and I have a supportive boyfriend of close to three years but ultimately I am proud of the woman I have become. I educated myself in topics I found interesting. I attained my degrees. I found jobs I am passionate about. I bought a car, a condo with five closets and a wardrobe to fill them! I fill my spare time with projects and people I truly care about! I have traveled and contributed to people's lives in life-changing ways. I am self-sufficient and I am proud of that! And that feels pretty damn womanly, whether or not I just got a zit at the age of 28…

  • Andie

    I've found that being womanly, to me, is embracing everything about myself that encompasses femininity. I embrace my body, curves, features, etc. as well as the growth I've experience as I've gotten older.

  • Denise

    Good post; so many thoughts came my way while reading it and the comments. Isn't it funny that "womanly" has a more positive vibe for me than does "manly"? At first I was a bit sad when you said you felt like you weren't included in "womanly," but then I understood you to mean that maybe you're in between girl-woman, and I think that's common for women of a certain age. For this woman of a different certain age, I can't help but feel womanly all the time, and I find pleasure in it, and in all the other women I see. Just the word 'womanly' made me smile when I read your title!

    And, like Oranges and Apples, I can't stand that "Mars/Venus" BS, either, but I don't find that identifying myself as a woman to be constrictive. But I know what she means.

    Last note: I ADORE that swimsuit photo! How cute is that?

  • Jenniferocious

    I definitely agree with you! I don't yet feel like a woman myself, and hell, I have a hard time remembering that I'm even a grownup sometimes. I'm forever referring to women older than me as "grownups… REAL grownups", as opposed to myself, who is a grownup, but just doesn't feel like one yet. I have a hard time realizing that I'm at an age where I can get married, have children, a career, etc. And I think part of that is because I feel very much the same age as I always have. I don't think I acted like a typical teenager even when I was one, so I don't feel that my personality or maturity levels have changed a lot since I've entered my mid-20s. I guess the illogical part of me always thought there'd be some tangible difference, some epiphany, that would say "taa-daa! You are now a woman/grownup/adult! Congratulations!"

    I don't think it has to do with immaturity, either. I pretty much always felt older than my age when I was in high school or even college. I always felt some distance from my peers, because I didn't usually enjoy doing all of the teenager-ish/college student activities that they were into. Now all of a sudden I'm expected to be a woman, an adult, and I feel like that sort of snuck up on me. I keep surprising myself with the fact that people I grew up with are almost all married and having babies… it seems like so short a time ago that we were all still in school.

    I assume that some of this will change when I get older. But right now, at the age of 25, I still feel like I'm waiting for my invitation too.

    (Incidentally, I've had a similar discussion with my boyfriend in the past, about feeling like "grownups", or like we're just playing dress up. He too feels like an outsider in this world of "real" adults, so I guess it isn't just a thing we women have to deal with.)

  • Muse for Hire

    Lovely, inspiring pictures. :) Great post.

    By girl-woman, do you mean that you feel that womanhood is somehow a more mature thing than you are?

    I can understand this, for a long time, I think I've been trying to live to an ideal that didn't exist. I'm a silly and youthful, but I'm no longer a girl. I'm a gal, a lady, a woman, but not a girl. I don't need that word to be youthful (at 30, if you're curious), I just am.
    And that strength, that comfort in my skin, is part of being womanly for me.

    I've scribbled about it in greater depth here:
    http://parasolmuse.blogspot.com/2009/12/being-woman.html

  • Sal

    Muse for Hire: Funny you should choose the word “mature.” When I was five, people were already telling me I was mature for my age. Only recently have I started to feel like I’m no longer acting older than I truly am. But I also think a HUGE part of that is just being an articulate human: Several factors in my upbringing meant I had to be level-headed and pragmatic from a tender age, but mostly? I was just well-spoken, not emotionally advanced.

    And my feeling of being left out of the woman’s club is more just not knowing what I need to feel, do, or be to get IN. I’m finding the responses to the question of womanliness fascinating … but also quite varied. And that shouldn’t surprise: It’s like asking someone what makes her feel like an artist. Each will have different reasons.

  • hope505

    I was born a woman. *haha!* I think present-day society encourages us to stay "girls" for as long as conceivable possible…'girls' are more valuable…younger, sexually available, with more potential, and easier to manipulate.

    But WOMEN…women make decisions on their own and take responsibility for their choices….women have been alive long enough to get a taste of the world…experience things personally, not just read about other peoples' experiences…a woman inhabits her sexuality naturally and unapologetically.

    I think it's curious how here, in the 21st-century, most (full-grown) women are still encouraged to think of themselves as 'girls'. I think it can be disempowering.

  • Iva

    such an amazing post!

  • angie

    Sal, I love these pictures and the words you’ve used to describe womanliness. Very fab.

    I'm intrigued though. Why are you still waiting for the day to come when you feel like a woman yourself? Penny for your thoughts!

  • LaShaune

    What a great post! I will have to share this all around.

  • La Belette Rouge

    To me it means that I will pluck away any stray facial hair and I will shave my legs, wear a bra, makeup,and paint my toe nails and once a month I will have incredible chocolate cravings.

  • Charlotte

    Interesting responses to a thought-provoking post (with some fabulous photographs). I think of the old Bonnie Raitt song, where she sings, "I been around the world, I'm a woman, not a girl. . ." and longs for "a real man" because she "don't need no baby boy." For me, being a woman is all about what's going on inside. It doesn't matter what you look like, if you wear canvas cargo pants or a chiffon skirt. What defines you as a woman is what's between your ears: You're a grown-up female who is capable of taking care of herself.

  • Rad_in_Broolyn

    Great post and amazing pictures. I feel, like many of the posters, like kind of a woman most of the time. I don't think I look very womanly at times, because of my build. But other times, my status as a woman is imposed upon me, by a student who is questioning my authority or by various people's actions. And then I feel vulnerable as a woman.
    I am turning thirty this year, and I think this qualifies me as no longer being a "girl." I suppose feeling like a woman comes more as I accept myself more. My mom, who is like a super woman, did not encourage me to think of myself as anything but strong, and to reject feminine things as weak. As I've gotten older, I've learned that vulnerability, sensitivity and compassion can come from strength and are to be admired, and I think that's all part of learning to accept myself.

  • SWF_Terra

    These women are so beautiful. Some days I feel like a woman, through and through. Others, I feel barely human.

    I don't think it's a bad thing to say women have a role (nurture, love, support, provide) as long as we understand that role does not define or limit her.

  • lopi

    So many questions, none of which has a definite answer.
    I, on the other hand, always felt more womanly than my age, perhaps because of my hips and boobs which made their appearance early on my school years. Maybe that's why I now long to appear more childlike and innocent than most of my friends.
    I don't know if I can help answer those questions of yours myself, but I do know that you're gonna love this book:
    The Naked Woman, A Study of the Female Body by Desmond Morris
    I've read it a couple of years ago and I'm now planning of re-reading it, it was THAT interesting.

  • The Waves

    What a wonderful post, I love the photos, and the questions you posed are important and interesting.

    I grew up being told I was not womanly because of my body type, and perhaps because of that I have always felt like an outsider in the world of "real" women. It is not just about the looks though, but also being the type of person I am. I am a lot of things that are not traditionally linked to being a proper woman: I am outspoken, opinionated, I am interested in politics and science fiction, I am not the traditional home-maker/mother type, and I hold onto my childhood faith in what is good and beautiful in the world.

    As a result, for me, the notion of "being womanly" is a stereotype, and it is a stereotype I don't fit. Having said that, I am perfectly okay being a woman (or girl), and I don't have the need to identify myself within the stereotypes that are out there. I guess what I am trying to say is that I recognise other women as womanly, but not myself, mainly because there are so many aspects of the chiche of womanhood that don't fit my personality. Hope that made sense!

  • Danielle

    I feel "womanly" when I'm with my husband and he looks at me in that certain way. I can see that I'm his woman and in his eyes, I'm all he can see.

    I feel "womanly" when I laugh with my students, when I discipline my students, when I guide my students' thinking and they show me in their eyes that I am their teacher.

    I feel "womanly" when I cook, when I clean, when I take care of my home because that is my role and I love my role as a wife.

    I feel "womanly" when I understand and put my trust in my husband because he is the leader of our home and our marriage and I humble myself and submit to him out of love and respect because that is my role as a Christian, a woman, a wife, and a daughter of my Heavenly Father.

    Being a woman is defined in Proverbs 31. For an amazingly strong female leader of family and community; look up Lamuel's Mother. She is my definitive portrait of the type of woman that I want to be.

  • spacegeek

    As I've gotten older and more settled in my career, I feel much more able to embrace my femininity and feel womanly. Also, (and I hate to admit it because I railed against it for 12 years!) now that I'm a mother, I also feel far more womanly than ever before.
    I think I'm just more comfortable with myself these days–heavy, thin, wrinkles, pimples and all. I feel I'm getting better with age. :-)

  • Law Girl

    I really like this post! And the pictures are beautiful.

    When it comes to feeling like a woman, for me its less about how I look and more about my experience. I'll be 26 next month and I know that I look young for my age. I'm petite with narrow hips, small boobs and a "young" face but I feel like a woman because I've experienced a lot. I got married at 22 and divorced at 24 after two years of dealing with A LOT including alcoholism and constant infidelity. I certainly grew up quickly and I pride myself on being a woman rather than a girl. I think this plays out in my career as well. I don't want a judge or attorney to think of me as a girl. I want them to think of me as a woman.

    This doesn't mean that I don't have a lighthearted silly side of course! Because I totally do. But that's part of being a woman too!

  • FashionTheorist

    My husband calls me "Woman Woman" (a la female superheroes such as Wonder Woman or The Invisible Woman) because he says that being a woman is my superpower!

    I get very reductivist about it: I am a woman, therefore whatever I do is womanly, whether it's traditionally feminine things like wearing pretty dresses, putting on makeup, and hennaing my hair, or activities outside the traditional feminine sphere, like weightlifting, plumbing (although that was my mum's bastion when I was a child, so it's part of my core definition of "things women do"), or soldering the connections to bring an antique radio back to life. I have a strange view of the world, though; social theory taught me that "womanliness" is a constructed concept, quantum physics taught me that I can construct the world be what I perceive it to be.

  • Sal

    FashionTheorist: Wow. Now THAT resonates with me.

  • LENORENEVERMORE

    all the cravings in the world & nurturing others at the same time!
    Lovely post Sal, your readers have great & intelligent answers here, I'm so lalalaleeh~ sorry darling!

    xo*

  • Caroline

    I love the photos you chose for this post. Each one exudes "womanliness" … What inspiration!

  • Courtney

    Thank you for posting this! It's amazing how many different ideas of womanhood there are. I think it's wonderful to be able to look at all of the possibilities for womanliness, the multitude of sometimes self contradictory attributes, attitudes, and decisions, and to be able to pick and choose those aspects that we can enjoy and embrace. It is powerful to be able to celebrate your own personal corner of womanhood without feeling any less for not encompassing all of it.
    And my computer is being bizarre, so I apologize if this is posted multiple times.

  • englund

    It's interesting how many comments have equated womanliness and femininity (that is, gender stereotypes). I don't think they are the same thing at all. For me, womanliness is about competence and composure: to be able to do what needs to be done–to take care of myself and others–with a sense of calm purpose. I can do that. And I am definitely a woman, not a girl, despite a tall, slim build and some conventionally masculine tastes.

  • Chicago Mom

    People might hate me for saying this but after I got my period I felt womanly. Even though I was built more like a man (6 feet tall, little boobs, no hips, huge feet & hands).

    After I had 2 children I feel even more womanly. Nursing them was probably the most "womanly" act I've ever done.

  • Lemondrop Marie

    Totally get the girl woman hybrid feeling- have that myself! Perhaps it's because I don't have children. I think so many woman are giving, empathetic, and nuturing to others. When I can give of myself to family or friends I think I feel more in the woman than the girl club.
    Marie @ Lemondrop ViNtAge
    Happy Chinese New Year giveaway

  • Nina (Femme Rationale)

    i def. feel more womanly as i get older. not in the physical sense, but more mentally & emotionally. i'm just a lot more confident and comfortable with who i am and a lot of my insecurities have been quieted down.

  • Amanda

    Thank you so much for this post! I often struggle with what it means to be a "woman" over what it means to be a "girl." I feel more immature than I think a woman would, and I feel that at 31 I should be a lot more grown up emotionally and intellectually than I am.
    I like what you said about part of being a woman means that we have kids or are good with them, because part of my struggle with feeling like a woman is that I struggle with infertility. For a long time I didn't feel like a complete woman because I wasn't able to give birth, but I have finally accepted that I can still be a mom by other ways. Two songs helped me with this: No Less A Woman (Infertility) by Lady Saw and Spark by Tori Amos. Spark is a song about Tori's struggle after a miscarriage that she had.
    That said, I think as I become more secure in myself and have more confidence, I begin to feel more like what I think a woman should be: radiant, ladylike but able to get down and dirty when the situation calls for it, and the ability to trust in herself and her intuition and not be afraid to be herself. There's a great poem you might be interested in called Imagine a Woman. It's from the book Imagine a Woman in Love with Herself: Embracing Your Wisdom and Wholeness by Patricia Lynn Reilly and SARK.

  • MBZ

    Honey,
    You'll feel plenty womanly enough when you look back fondly from your Fifties to the smashing Thirty-Something's… don't rush it :))

  • The Raisin Girl

    I don't usually feel like a "woman." It sounds odd to me to even apply the word to myself. Perhaps that's because I'm 21 and just barely grasping the idea that I'm no longer a teenager.

    But I don't really mind being a girl. To me, girl doesn't necessarily imply youth, naivete, or inexperience. You have women's studies, but you have girl power. You have Wonder Woman, but you have Super Girl (I've always thought she was pretty awesome). You have Catwoman, or Batgirl (who doesn't love Barbara Gordon?). I'm not saying there's anything wrong with woman or womanly, but I think the word "girl" gets a bad rep. I never think if it in terms of immaturity, though, unless the word "little" is affixed to its front. I always think of girl as casual, sort of fun and cozy and companionable.

    My pro-girl rant aside…it's ironic that you have trouble seeing yourself as womanly, because you're one of my paradigms of womanliness (and you're still an awesome girl as well!).

  • …love Maegan

    what a glorious post! {as usual ;)} …I always wanted to be a woman. When I was a little girl I so looked forward to being one and being womanly …however, now that I am one, I don't exactly feel like I thought I would. I think, for me, it included being a mother, which I am not.

  • lisa

    Wow, your description of feeling like a girl-woman who's still waiting to join the women's club is spot-on, Sal–it's how I often feel about myself. For me, "being womanly" denotes self-assurance, maturity, and sophistication, but also a sense of having arrived at your place in life, hit your stride, and come into your own. I think I'm still fumbling through and trying to find that, so not quite a woman yet. ;-)

  • Julia

    Such an interesting post! I've thought about this too, yet somehow I don't feel like a "woman." I feel like a post-teenager. I don't know if it's because I'm [still] in grad school, but at this point grad school is like a job (no classes, teaching, only lab research.)

    How do I graduate from post-teen to woman? I teach younger kids at church who are ~8 or so and they probably view me as a "woman."

    Maybe I will feel like womanly when I get married and start a family? (That won't be anytime soon.)

    Until then, I will stay here as a post-teen, not quite woman.

    Thanks for such a thought-provoking post!

    Until then, I'll just be

  • Kyla

    Although I've felt like a "woman" since I was about 18 or 19 (when my friends were insisting that they be called a "girl" instead), I've felt like I've been growing into the term ever since. For me, "womanly" is being confident and self-assured in your body and in your own head. It's understanding your strengths and your weaknesses and making peace with them. I feel womanly when I embrace my empathy, my flexibility, and my ability to talk things through and think of those traits as powerful. A female police officer friend of mine said that in a tense situation she feels more comfortable with other female officers than male ones because while the men may be better at taking a violent person down, the women she works with are better at making sure a take-down never becomes necessary.

    That's not to say that women who are physically strong or masculine are any less womanly. I think a woman recognizing that trait in herself and embracing it as a strength is being very womanly.

  • Rosie Unknown

    I know I'm probably a bit young to be weighing in on this, but despite having quite a few years before I'm no longer a teen, I think I am a woman. To me, being womanly doing what needs to be done, and doing it with confidence and grace. There are other aspects too, but for me it's mainly taking responsibility.

  • Isisingonthecake

    such love for all these beautiful expressions of womanliness!

  • Jane W.

    First, I love those photos!! All of those women are so beautiful.

    To me, being womanly is about acceptance. When I was in my 20s I went on a vacation with friends, and over my protests they took pictures of me a bathing suit. My face is all scrunched up from trying to suck in my stomach. Looking back at those photos, I think it's sad that I wasted energy when I looked so beautiful (I know how that sounds).

    So as a woman I think, "This is it." Time is finite and I have a lot to be thankful for.

  • Sal

    I am just LOVING the amazing variety of responses, friends. Thank you all for your thoughtful and heartfelt replies. We could write a book together on what it means to be womanly!

  • Icy @ Individual Chic

    Wow, what a post, and what comments.

    For me, I always though of it in the old pagan idea of madien-mother-crone. For many years I was a maiden, well into my 30s, even with a husband and half a large mortgage.

    I didn't feel I was a woman until I had a baby, and even then I didn't feel like a woman until she was a few months old.

    For me, having a baby was the trigger, but I don't think it's the case for everyone. I have a freind who will never have kids, but she has a successful business, and that's her baby (her transition if you like) from maidenhood to womanhood.

    It's funny, I loved the transition in the end. And oddly, I'm looking forward in a funny kind of way to moving to being a crone.

  • tiffany

    Wonderful photos. I don't think I have ever felt 'womanly', which I associate with physical traits. As I'm 'petite' (how I hate that word) and usually wear my hair in a very short pixie cut, I've always been told I'm 'tiny', 'cute', etc, none of which I associate with being womanly. When you're told that 'curves are womanly', it's hard not to feel excluded if you're not curvy. As for character traits associated with being 'womanly', I'm not sure about those either … Much food for thought here.

  • marmaladetabby

    This is something I've been thinking about a lot recently. When I was in middle school and high school, I would think about the woman I wanted to become, my definition of womanhood. She was strong, responsible, intelligent, loving, compassionate, funny, sexy and comfortable in her own skin. She was a wife, a mother, and a career woman, and she balanced all of her roles with grace.

    Now, I know that I'm not there yet, but at 20, I can see and feel myself becoming and, in some situations, being the woman I always wanted to become. Knowing that, and feeling that, makes me feel more womanly than I ever have before.

    I still feel like I'm not entirely experienced or wise enough to be considered a woman, but I'm at peace with that. All of that will come in time. Right now, I'm the woman that I'm supposed to be.

  • Jingle Bella

    Interesting discussion indeed!

    I feel like a woman, rather than a girl. I'm strong, I'm capable and you know what? I actually do feel grown up. Now, I'm only in my early twenties, so I have a lot more growing to do! Nevertheless, I've done a lot of growing over the last 3 or 4 years. Of course I'm not there yet, but I do feel like a responsible adult. Does that make me the odd one out?

    Getting married was a trigger point for me, I think – moving out from my parents' house and embarking on this new level of relaionship.

    I'm also secretly looking forward to being a) 35 and b) 60. My brain seems to have come up with this idea that women in their mid-thirties can be particularly amazingly strong and capable, still full of vitality but with a lot more experience than I have now – and women in their 60s have accomplished so much it's amazing – but still have years and years of life ahead of them.

    (Of course pinning attributes to ages is always logically sketchy, but I figure having these thoughts is a good antidote to all the "youth is everything" advertising we see everywhere)

  • Luinae

    E) All of the above

  • LegacyOfPearl

    The answer is in the amazing pictures you picked, your beautiful write up and questions, i.e., there's no one answer to this question or a definite feeling of womanly-ness. It is our reality and fabric of our nature. Everything we do is womanly because we are women! Can we define manly?

  • Frances Joy

    I am IN LOVE with the pictures.

    Today one of my students asked me how it felt to be a grown woman and what I had done to get there. I was kind of amazed that they saw me as a real adult – a WOMAN. I HATE being called a "girl" (I'm TWENTY-SEVEN! Not a little girl anymore!), but since I'm often mistaken for a 15 year old, I have a hard time remembering that I am in fact a grown woman.
    Apparently sometimes other people see it, though.

    I think womanliness, to me, is that confidence in one's body, mind, and spirit. It's such an intangible, inexplicable thing to me. Thanks for reminding me that one of my favorite things about being a woman are the CHOICES available to us. Hard or soft, long hair or short, modern or traditional, skirts or pants. Yes. Love it!

  • rb

    Being a mother is just about the most uniquely womanly thing possible, I guess that was my ticket. I recall those days of not quite feeling like I was there yet (though I really feel the term woman should be used in the workplace rather than girl or gal so have been comfortable referring to myself as a woman since my twenties), but those days feel long ago. It's hard to describe, but the whole process of pregnancy and birth is so messy and human and earthy that it made me feel like I belonged to the woman club of all those generations past that had gone through the same experiences. There's nothing girlish about it.

  • Carol

    What an incredible post! There are some really thought provoking comments here as well. I agree with Clare that I have only recently began to feel like a 'woman'. For me, I realise now, being a woman is being in total control of my life, as Clare said about staking a claim in herself. I have stopped being the person who was a reflection of everyone around her and become me. The girl is still there in me, as so many commenters have also said, but the person that has now emerged feels powerful and womanly and for the first time I have understood what generations of feminists have been telling me. I can be a woman while wearing muddy work clothes just as much as I can be a woman wearing sexy lingerie. I decide who I am and what I want and I am responsible for getting it. It feels good. Thanks for opening this discussion today, I've really enjoyed it.

  • The Closet of Kim (ShopKim)

    I still struggle with feeling like a woman. I know I'm a grown-up, a mother and a wife and those are all woman-ly type things, but I still don't feel like one. I guess because I don't know how I would define one. I'm not sure what it is that I think I'm missing that a woman should have, or what age I think I would/should hit it. I guess the term woman has a hit of sexiness to it for me and I don't feel like there is an ounce of sexy about me.

  • a blonde and a brunette

    Oh wow, I just found your blog – what a beautiful idea you have! I love this! Great message and beautiful photos of beautiful women!

  • Malvina

    I first felt "womanly" when I traveled to another country and learned that my plus-sized curves were viewed as attractive in that culture. I feel girlish when I teeter or trip over crossed legs, but I feel womanly when I stretch my legs out and stride and my hips swing. I feel womanly when I look in the mirror to see my broad shoulders and back that are simultaneously strong and uniquely feminine. I feel womanly when I can be compassionate, passionate, and firm all at the same time. Recently I am learning to appreciate parts of womanly me that I never imagined–for example, my unshaved legs that my partner loves because they are "so soft" in a way his stubble never would be. I must say that clothes or makeup rarely makes me feel "womanly" (they do make me feel "pretty", which is different in my mind). Womanly to me is a sense of strength, succulence, rootedness, and intrinsic grace.

  • Anonymous

    Life and experience will make you a woman if you choose them. Choose love, choose wisdom, support your man, be the glue. So much relies upon a woman. Beautiful post.

  • Connie

    Being womanly means being yourself and not trying to be something you are not just to please another person.

  • mrs sweet pea

    i don't feel womanly…mayve i've always had the wrong image of being woman, like cute, sweet, pink, quiet y poses…i couldn't fit…never, i've always felt akward every time i tried it…even wearing lash mascara made me feel wrong about my self ( now i can, and i like it). Now i'm a mom, but still, i can't fit in the womanly image that the media presents…and i'm getting old, and it's scary…sometimes i feel & people tell me o make me feel that i am not mature enough for being 30… i just consider my self some kind of rebel…girlish mom

  • delfinelise

    Thank you so much for an interesting post, look at all the amazing and thought-through comments- this really hit the soft spot for many.

    Well, I just want to say thank you, and that the pictures embraces womanhood in so many levels that words wouldn´t come near what the images describes.
    Keep up the excellent work!

    Thank you!

  • Aramay

    I feel confused. I love all the things that a woman is supposed to enjoy, such as the salon, painting nails, shopping, sexy nighties, make-up, etc. I’ve been told (too many times to count) that “You’re so pretty!! You’re so beautiful!” And to my husband, “Where did you meet her? She’s pretty!” Yet I grew up a girlie tomboy, so I like some sports (to a certain extent) and at times like playing sports (even with guys). I can be competitive no matter who I’m up against. Who doesn’t like to win? why does a woman have to lose or be weak so a man can be strong. Why do I have to play stupid and hide that I’m intelligent? Why does my husband think I am between “Ugly & attractive” and thinks I “act more like a thug than a woman?” I feel a woman is allowed a bad hair day and so what if when I get angry I don’t roll my neck or snap my fingers (I grew up with guys). I was a single parent and abused woman at one point in my life. I made it through and became stronger. Now I’m told I’m too strong and lack softness (at the same time I’m told I cry alot & am too sensitve). He said he’s not attracted to me because I’m not womanly. I’m raising 3 kids, working full-time, a student, cooking & cleaning, & trying to do it all while looking halfway cute. What is a woman?

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  • April

    Being womanly to me means, loving yourself from the inside and out. Being proud of who your are, so its more of a mental thing. I do NOT believe a woman’s figure defines her as “womanly”. To say you are womanly based on curves, breast, hips, etc. is an insult to those who are slim, or whos genetics gave them certain physical traits.

    being womanly is an individual feeling that you hold true for yourself.