An Open Letter to My Teenage Self,
Wait. Another letter? Didn’t I write one of those last week? To my Teva sandals? (Answer: Yes.)
It’s just that when I was at the library this past weekend, I saw a book called, “Dear Me: A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self.” And while I didn’t read it, the idea intrigued me. If a person could, in fact, write a letter to a former self, what would he or she say? (Not that this former self would listen. Hello. She’s a TEENAGER.)
Still, I have something I want to say to you, the girl I used to be.
OK. You’re feeling pressure on a number of fronts, right? You want to do well in school. You’d love to be popular although you always say (out loud) that you don’t care about stuff like that. You wish you had a boyfriend, especially now that your best friends, Gigi and Becky, each have one, which means you’re not quite sure where to sit in the cafeteria at lunchtime now.
Above all, you’d like to be pretty.
That sounds shallow, right? But at some level it’s true, because there’s soooooo much pressure on girls to look a certain way — tan and tall and willowy with long shiny hair that smells like Flex Wella Balsam shampoo and conditioner.
It’s true you have the tan part down (you inherited your mother’s olive skin), but you’re not tall. And you’re definitely not willowy. Your brother is the one who got all those genes. According to your driver licenses, both of you weigh the same amount, only he lied “up” and you lied “down” to arrive at that number.
In fact, you’ve always struggled with your weight, haven’t you? At your young age, you’ve already tried every diet under the sun. The grapefruit diet. The cabbage soup diet. The cottage cheese diet. That diet where (oddly) you ate a lot of pork chops. And Weight Watchers, of course, which finally worked.
But even when you were thinner, you still didn’t feel like you were slim enough and certainly not pretty enough. You even began to view your body as the enemy — something that would submarine you and your adolescent dreams in a heartbeat by gaining a few extra pounds. Your relationship with your body is prickly.
And here’s the bad news. You’re going to have that same prickly relationship for years to come.
Which is why I want to tell you about the experience I had the other day. After washing the bedding, I decided to hang it outside to dry where it soaked up sun and a slight breeze, and by the time I brought it in, the bedding smelled glorious — like air and light and leaf. I hugged that load of laundry to my chest. Buried my nose in it. Took a deep, deep breath.
And thought how truly good it felt to be alive in that tiniest of moments.
It also occurred to me as I stood there with an armful of sheets that it is such a waste of time and psychic energy to hate a body — any body — that lets you experience the physical world.
So. Here’s what I want to say to you, 16-Year-Old Self. Stop disparaging your body for all the things it isn’t. Focus, instead, on the amazing things it can do. Honor it. Take care of it. And for Pete’s sake do NOT wait until you’re my age to make that decision.