Tomboy versus Princess

Monday, 18 October, 2010

An Actor’s Confession


Vicki Holmes, actor. (c) Diego Indraccollo 2010


I’m your typical tomboy. A good old fashioned Lincolnshire lass with a passion for the beautiful game I spent many a Saturday afternoon at Blundell Park watching the Mariners with my Dad, my brothers, my father’s close friends, and their sons.  Aged 7, I climbed my first tree and by the time I started secondary school my wardrobe was packed full of football shirts (various seasons and teams) and cargo pants.  I only attended my own parents wedding ceremony on the agreement that I could wear my DM boots. I was blissfully happy with life – my clothes were there to keep me warm and comfortable and not much else.

Cue curves. Quickly and with absolutely no warning (rather rude, I think you’ll agree!) a teenage body emerged. Hips. Breasts. An actual waist! Boys stared and I stared back. This wasn’t the plan! How could I become a famous footballer when the mere thought of running, jumping and diving made me blush? The t-shirts got baggier and the frustration grew. This wasn’t good enough anymore. For the first time in my life I wasn’t content with my looks – I wanted to look pretty but I couldn’t bear flashing the flesh. My sporty wardrobe was gradually replaced with mismatched and rather random articles of clothing that could quite frankly be described as bloody awful.  Needless to say my heart jumps into my mouth every time the old family album is produced. What this time? The days of the dodgy perm? The “gothic” phase? How about the time I dyed my hair orange? That’s always good for a laugh! I needed to find my new identity – and fast.

Unfortunately this didn’t happen as quickly as I’d have hoped. I longed to look like a girl but had no idea how. Such a huge male influence in my life had made me strong, confident and individual but it also made me unsure and uneducated when it came to things like hair, make-up and clothes. This continued into my late teens and even into my early twenties with many a scathing comment about my mismatched outfits and my unexplainable adoration of the colour brown. Yes, brown. Brown boots, brown tights, a brown dress, and on a cold day a brown hat. I loved brown. My hair was brown so surely the colour must suit me- right?! A flat mate of mine once begged me to let her give me a makeover and one hour, three costume changes and a nasty burn from a set of GHD hair straighteners later, I politely thanked her for her hard work and proceeded to shower and change back into my regular wash of brown comfort before daring to take a step out of the front door.

Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to be feminine. I longed to be feminine. I wanted to wear pretty dresses and talk to boys. I wanted to be the girl in the bar with the perfect hair. I was a slim size 8 with a young and feminine face but I felt an allegiance to my sport, to my boyish energy and to that little Lincolnshire tomboy who knew exactly who she was and what she wanted to be. If she saw me stood there, as this arkward twenty year old who refused to pull her hair out of her face she’d laugh. Giggle at me for caring so much and urge me to go back – slip on the old Spurs shirt, Grimsby Town shorts (you need to represent your local team AND your Premiership team) and Adidas jacket. Don’t wear high heels, they hurt! And definitely don’t waste an hour every morning choosing outfits and applying make-up! She’d think I’d gone mad. She’d have had me committed, wouldn’t she?

Heading off to drama school certainly didn’t help matters. Suddenly I found myself on the funky streets of London – everyone knew how to style themselves to perfection. The outfits draped over the bodies of Carnaby Street and Covent Garden were perfectly put together… and if they weren’t, they clashed boldly with an almost arrogant confidence – “This is me, whether you like it or not”. All of my time was spent with trainee actors who oozed confidence and style. Nights out were painful with each and every female member of my year group offering me advice which I was too embarrassed and stubborn to take. Cue the reoccurrence of the brown dress and boots combo for every party.

I tried to find my inner fashionista during my first few years in London. I bought outrageous clothes and took a pair of scissors to them all. I cut, I sewed (albeit not very well!) and I even glued but there was no heart in it. The outfits turned into half-arsed, tacky looking Blue Peter projects and this, for a short while, was what I thought made me “individual”. Of course it didn’t, it just made me look like a crazy student with a distinct lack of style and an obvious lack of funds. It may seem like I’m being hard on myself but I can assure you I’m not. I was confused, young and dumb and it shows all too prominently in our old family photos. Friends and even boyfriends have guffawed with laughter at outfits my early twenties and I turn beetroot red every single time the old photo albums are pulled out. Cringe.

For casting purposes whilst studying at Drama School we were constantly asked to define ourselves, to pin point who we were and be proud of it, but I had no idea who I was. I’d long since given up playing football after a barrage of lesbian jibes and I hadn’t ran or swam for months so even my “sporty spice” persona had become void. This had also led to a recent bit of weight gain which brought on a further drop in confidence. Great stuff! We had every type of girl in my year – the hippy girl, the model, the princess (oh, how I longed to be the Princess!), the diva, the boob-job, the girl with the eating disorder and the sporty chick. I was none of these. I was possibly the least memorable member of Italia Conti’s class of 2008 and I couldn’t wait to get out of there. And in June 2008 I did.

There it was. My identity epiphany! I’d spent years considering how I was labelled and viewed by others and because of that I’d been terrified to take risks. I was scared of other peoples comments and preconceptions and most of all, I was scared of standing out and scared of blending in. I was a young woman in one of the most competitive professions in the whole universe and I was scared of being different! Ridiculous. What sense did that make? So I started my slow search for Vicki. I avoided meeting up with any members of Italia Conti face to face for a few months and I met new friends who didn’t know me as arkward, shy Vicki. I started running again and cycled to and from work every day, gradually slimming down to the size I had been pre-Conti. I also met Troy – A confident Australian with an open heart and an open mind who pushed me when I needed pushing and was my shoulder when I needed support.

I started to buy clothes because I liked them and banned the sentence “that wont suit me” from my vocabulary. My new mantra became “if I like it, then it’s my style”. In Australia, early 2009, I discovered the maxi dress which covered enough skin to make me feel comfortable but with a feminine and floaty edge. And now I live in them, with flip flops and a flower in my hair in Summer and cute ankle boots and a woolly hat in Winter. Christmas 2009 and a role in Dick Whittington at the Gala Theatre was my first introduction to a real costume designer. Tony was there to make me look good on stage and that’s exactly what he did. He told me which colours suited my hair type and skin tone most (blues and purples) and which didn’t (yellows and – you’ve guessed it – brown!). I learnt that spending an extra forty minutes putting an outfit together was okay… it didn’t make you a diva and it gave me a chance to mix and match my wardrobe on a trial and error basis. My outfit choices became more bold and most of the time more feminine and soon picking a set of clothes for the day became second nature. I became confident in how I looked and confident in who I am and it turns out I’m still quite sporty. When how to dress stopped being my main concern I began to take up more of the hobbies I’d left behind. I joined a local ladies football team and bought a new bike as well as registering for the marathon and starting training. These things were me through and through! It turns out my little tomboy was still inside, kicking and screaming and dying to get out but now she was older, she wore pretty dresses and got a kick out of scoring goals AND wearing that perfect pair of heels (but not at the same time). She loved running on the treadmill and running to the shops. Who’d have thought? My tomboy and my Princess weren’t enemies, they were best friends. In fact they’re actually the same person; they’re me. Me when I’m happy and relaxed and all grown up.

As I sit here right now as a twenty-four year old actress, writing this piece I realise that I’m not playing to any kind of stereotype and maybe not having a label has been, and is, a good thing. I’m simply Vicki and none of my fashion alter ego’s (the tomboy, the princess, the sporty one, the rocker) could exist without each other. So I guess what I’m saying is this mish-mash of personas is just me and if you don’t like it… well…. I’m afraid I don’t really care.

(c) Vicki Holmes, 15 October 2010


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