I have lifted this idea straight from Oprah’s magazine, April 2006 edition.
If you could write a note of advice to your teen girl self, knowing all that you know now, what would you say to her? I love this exercise as it encourages reflection, empathy with the plight of our young women and affirms the wisdom and strength we have gained.
Below is the feminist Naomi Wolf’s contribution:
And here is mine:
Dear Teenage Danni,
What a conflicted young girl you are! Your head and heart tell you that your strength lies in your intelligence and willingness to fight for what you believe in, yet you spend most weekends drowning these voices in cheap spumante and focusing only on your body’s imperfections. Stop fighting with yourself Dan – you are magnificent as you are. You can’t airbrush all your perceived imperfections and guess what? Even if you could, later on in life it is these very scars that you now hate so much that will make you unique and shiny. It is just going to take time for you to grow into yourself …trust me. It will all be more than just ok. It will be brilliant.
In the mean time, just breathe. And keep reading . The words you are surrounding yourself with are slowly healing you. Words will always soothe you.
Be kind to your sister.
Go and kiss your Grandfather. He will always remain one of the great loves of your life and you will miss him terribly when he is lost to you.
Make up more “secret” clubs with your friends and continue nominating yourself to be Captain. It is all good practice for when you will run your own company one day.
Know that mistakes are not devastating. You’ll make many and will learn from them all.
Ditch the 80’s perm.
Love, light and laughter to you growing girl,
I’d love to read your letters!
I also wanted to share the image below with you as after writing this I went searching for a picture of my teenage self and this photo literally fell out of the album and landed at my feet; and how special that it is a photo of my Grandfather and I! I actually don’t even recall ever seeing it before – and what a gorgeous shot it is. I am 8 years old. You can see the love written all over my little face can’t you?
Let’s never understimate how vital connections to the older generation are, and how influential we can all be in shaping our children.
Love you Grandpa. Miss you always. XXXX
14 thoughts on “Letter to my teen self”
Dear Teenage Melinda,
You are such a talented person. You could go so far with your clarinet playing and dancing. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you want to do when you leave school, you’ll eventually work it out. It’s actually not as urgent as everyone says.
I’m very concerned however about who you are hanging around with. Yes, they are fun, yes, they are even hilariously fun, but some of them have some major issues. Do you realise how bad some of those issues are? You know the ones i’m talking about. Melinda, you need to see a counselor about that and so do they. Even though you think you know everything, you are too young to advise them, it is too much for you.
There can be a lot of pressure to have the sort of “fun” they’re having. Do you remember what you said about that? You said to yourself – and to everyone else – that you’d never take drugs and you would wait until you were married to have sex. So why are you associating with people that do these very things? I know you think you are helping them, being a role model, trying to get them to stop. But you can’t, as I said, this is too much for you alone.
It was a mistake to get drawn into that way of thinking and acting Melinda. Just because they seem happy with what they are doing, doesn’t mean they actually *are.* You don’t need a boyfriend. Let me say that again, you actually don’t need a boyfriend. Every time you get a boyfriend, it distracts you from being you. And that one boy? Your Dad was right, you should have listened to your Dad on that one. It might have been annoying to hear, but given that your dad is around 50 years older than yourself, he does know a few things, on that issue, he was spot on.
Melinda….throw away the cosmo and cleo magazines, they are full of crap. They are a joke. Go and find someone to talk to about your troubles at home.
One last note: Don’t stop hugging your Dad and telling him you love him. You’ll regret it if you don’t, he won’t be around forever.
ps. you’re not fat, you’re not fat, you’re not fat, you’re not fat……..
Melinda I LOVE your letter! SOOO many of the points you made were points I also considered writing in my own letter. It is uncanny how similar our experiences must have been really. What does that tell me?
Teen girls do feel similar pressures – to be thin, popular, hot. Many girls often feel disconnected from adults who can, and would, help them. Many girls take risks and engage in activities that are self-destructive.
Let’s not forget what teen girl world is really like – behind the “I am sooo all over it” perfect girl facade.
EMPATHY, EMPATHY, EMPATHY.
Thank you Melinda for sharing this and for sharing your hard-earned wisdom. 🙂
Well thank you Danni 🙂 That letter could actually go a lot longer! I made quite a mess of things as a teenager.
This would be such a good exercise for all people who work with youth to do.
I always look forward to your posts, keem em coming!
Mmmmm what on earth are you thinking girl. Yes I know you think you are SOOOO MATURE!! But I know that in years to come you will be embarrassed by what you are doing now. You are not ready for drinking, sex, boys, boys and more boys!! If you keep relying on them to feel good about yourself and you break up – where will your self esteem come from then??
Stop watching TV and numbing out.
Be kinder to your mum.
Think about what you say before you say it.
Stop acting too big for your boots.
Have a long look in the mirror and see the beautiful girl staring back at you. Size in this case doesn’t matter!
Don’t listen to your Dad about what he thinks you should be.
Listen to your heart.
Save more money and invest in a property.
Know that you will have children and a partner who is brilliant – you will have to kiss a few frogs first though.
Buy more books.
Study, Study, Study anything and everything!!
Keep hold of the knowledge that you are special and will contribute to the world in a positive and empowering way.
Keep yourself safe and listen to your intuition.
Stay at school.
Don’t accept no for an answer.
Know that you will achieve what you began to dream of when you were 8 years old…. working with girls on body image and self esteem issues!! And owning your own business!!
Be true to yourself and others and live authentically.
xx Jane at 41 years old xx
Isn’t it interesting how we so often relied on others to tell us how valuable we were? And that our value was often perceived as being dependent on our sexual desirability. I am so delighted that you and I both get to work everyday with teen girls Janey and show them that they can set their own value – and that it is the various qualities they have that make them shine. They are three dimensional, whole beings!
I love too that girls clearly tell us EVERYTIME we present that they do not see us as “just another boring woman lecturing them on self esteem”. They listen to us and by connecting them emotionally to our authentic messages, we are able to shift things. A Year 9 girl I worked with recently summed it up beautifully:
“I thought it would be a boring lecture where the whole time all you are thinking about is “When will this finally end?” BUT Danni really connected with everyone, and out of all the things people in my life have ever said to me, and out of all the lectures I’ve been given, I really listened to you and to everything you said and I TOOK EVERYTHING IN.” Courtney
I was reading back through some feedback from girls just the other day as preperation for the book I am working on and was so humbled by all the girls we have worked with enthusiasm and gratitude! Teen girls do not have to saythank you and they certainly don’t have to tell us they love us – and line up to kiss and hug us – but they always do. 🙂
Perhaps I had forgotten just how desperately girls need to hear voices of difference who can help them make sense of it all.
This exercise has helped remind me of how it feels to be a growing girl. Alternating (almost hourly) between hope, anxiety, joy, sadness, anger, frustration, pride. So many emotions and often nowhere to put them.
I love them all. That’s my “thing”. My gift. LURVE!
I have plenty of fond memories from my years as a teenager in the early ‘90’s. These are mainly from the great friendships I formed, a couple of sporting highs (we won bronze at rowing Nationals) and some success in a couple of subjects at high school.
I also have a handful of vivid memories of put-downs. Why is it that I can remember not just where I was but the exact position, lighting and sometimes even what the person was wearing when they said something hurtful?
I know I received compliments during my teenage years but I can’t remember the exact details. So, with that in mind, my advice to my teen self would be:
Dear adolescent Kel,
o Disregard hurtful comments quickly by remembering that people generally only say them when they are envious and have low self esteem
o Store compliments in your memory for the ‘shaky moments’ during your teenage years, write them down if you need to and keep them at hand
o Surround yourself with like-minded and positive peers
o Spend quality time with your special grandparents
o Stand up for what you believe in
o Trust your instincts
o Always remember what Libby’s older sister told us regarding pushy boys wanting more than you feel comfortable with.
“It is always okay to say no……No I’m too hot, No I’m too cold, No I’m not feeling well, No I have a cold-sore coming on, etc etc etc……”
o Don’t worry about what boys think of you, the good ones (i.e. the ones that treat you with respect) are attracted to happy, vibrant, positive girls
(and you are that type of girl when you follow the advice above)
o When you start experimenting with alcohol always do so with friends you can trust, watch your drink carefully, avoid mixing drinks and don’t drink too much (you are smaller than others and can’t drink as much)
o Remember that you are a role model for your younger sister –so be a positive one
o Continue to love life, your family and friends, make the most of everyday, and respect and accept yourself as the unique young person you are
Enjoy the journey, love & hugs,
Kel ’08 xx
Welcome aboard Kelly! Kels is our new Program Manager for New Zealand. Yep – she’s bringing Enlighten to NZ!
Read about Kelly here:
Dear Teenage Sonia,
It is o.k. to put yourself first sometimes.
You are not alone in this world … yes you have been through some very big things by the young age of 14 but there are so many people who love you, and people who want to listen and help.
Continue smiling and making others smile:-)
You are gorgeous but not just for your body … your intelligence is above and beyond what you believe it is. YES SONIA … you are more than your body. Your intelligence is POWER … use it beautiful girl.
Stop buliding walls and pretending everything is o.k. – reach out and share your fears. Not only will you grow but you will also inspire others.
Drinking at those parties may be fun and cool at times, but you know the times that I’m talking about when you feel open and vulnerable. Stop it – before you get yourself in to a position you may regret. You know it won’t be so cool then and there is no turning back the clock. Empower your friends with the knowledge you can feel so strongly from within.
Your sense of humour is one of a kind – keep that snort going strong.
REMEMBER – your Mum and Dad would be so proud of you and it is true what they – and your No. 2 Mum and Dad say … “YOUR BODY IS A TEMPLE. TREAT IT WITH LOVE, RESPECT AND ADMIRATION. YOU ARE SPECIAL AND UNIQUE.”
I love your snort too Sonia! I love that whenever we are together I manage to make you snort at least once every day. 🙂
Laughter is so healing…I think that’s why when I was a confused teen I sought out friends who were funny ( and yes, as Melinda said in her letter above, mine too were often hilariously funny!).
Dear teenage selena,
STOP worrying about what others think of you.
It is NOT compulsory to show lots of flesh. If you are wondering why you feel so uncomfortable and self-conscious a lot of the time… who are you dressing for, anyway?
You do not need a boyfriend. You already know the ones that are no good – trust your intuition and defeat your need for attention… get rid of them or say no before anything starts!
It’s great that you don’t do drugs or binge drink. But stop trying to appear cool by being blase and knowledgeable about drugs and alcohol. Don’t laugh about it. It’s not cool or funny. It’s stupid and tragic and dangerous. Drug overdoses will kill several people you know.
Your parents love you and they were teenagers too, once. Listen to them and show your appreciation. Take care of your little sister instead of competing with her. If you stop to think about it – she’s actually your closest friend.
Read some stuff on media literacy, body image, sexuality, friendship, etc. Try to understand how the world got to be the way it is. Try to imagine how it could be better. Listen to people’s ideas about how it could be better.
Learn about mental health. Do a mental health first aid course. Watch yourself and others for signs of depression and other problems.
Practice being a good friend. Find the girls who have no friends, and be a friend to them. Some girls you know are in serious trouble, and you don’t even notice. Some won’t live past 20.
Laugh more. Don’t be so serious.
PLAY SPORT or do some exercise!!! It’s a gift to yourself for the rest of your life.
And most of all… BE HUMBLE. You’re priceless, and so is everyone else. You don’t know it all (and you never will). But some people know lots of stuff! Most people have something to offer. Accepting criticism is absolutely necessary for personal growth.
Loving reading all these letters! Thank you Selena. I hope you found the exercise meaningful too.
Dear Teenage Callie,
Spend more time on the piano. It is ok to love music that others don’t.
Don’t be afraid to be the person u really are. If people cannot respect you for that, they don’t deserve you.
Spend less time trying to get a boyfriend. And remember that God made you the way you are for a reason. It may not be clear to you now, but the struggles you will go through will make you a stronger and wiser person.
Get over the hangup you have about ur birthmark. It is part of your body and who you are. If they want to stare, let them stare. Their focus for those few seconds is totally on you. Enjoy the attention. Trust in the fact that there is a wonderful man out there who you already know, that is going to make you a very happy wife one day, birthmark and all.
Include your grandfathers name when you send letters to Grandma. He isn’t going to be around forever, and when he is gone you will feel empty for quite some time. Learn from him, spend more time in the woodshed with him, tell him more often how much you love him.
Stop fighting with Mum and Dad. Remember that they are human like you, and may not always make the right decisions, but they always have your best interests at heart. And stop being so horrible to your brother. He isn’t the wisest, but one day you will have a great friendship with him.
Don’t stop going to church. The church isnt the people, the church is God. People make mistakes, so let them and focus on God more. You will regret it later if you leave.
Most of all, love who you are. Revel in the fact that your parents are still together and love each other. And never forget to smile. Even if your not happy, smile. It will improve your mood, and eventually become a habit.
Lovely to hear from you Callie. 🙂
All these letters have been so beautiful – and I’m glad that things can be learned from bad experiences, but it’s still heartbreaking that all of you have had to go through it.
I’m going to write a letter to my 12 year old self, because I’m 19 and most of my issues started at 12.
You are not ugly. You are not fat. You are not stupid. You are not worthless. You do not need to diet. Do not think for a minute when you get that vomiting virus in a few weeks that it is a smart way to lose weight. IT IS NOT. It will completely change your life, destroy your health and throw yourself into a living nightmare.
Don’t hide so much from your family. They’ll be angry that you’re destroying yourself, but they will be supportive. Heck, they’re even going to borrow a lot of money to pay for treatment to save your life, so let’s not let it get to that point, ok? Besides, they’re going to move to a different country when you’re 19, so try and spend more time with them.
Don’t lie to so many treating professionals. When you see that first doctor, at 14? Tell her the truth, she will understand. Don’t be conned into the void – don’t listen to that snakey little voice in your head that says “Ella, you don’t really need or deserve that help. You’re not sick at all…fainting is a sign of weakness, not an illness.” Because hearing that little voice in your head is a sign of illness – that’s the voice of your eating disorder and you will hear her a LOT more in the next few years. In fact, it goes will go from a whisper to the point where her thoughts are shouting so loud that you can’t even hear yourself.
Don’t be so desperate to avoid professionals and hospitalisation that you cause physical damage to your body. Don’t ignore those nights when your heart is fluttering, or you’ve passed out on your bathroom floor, or you can see black spots in the corner of your eyes, or you’re having difficulty breathing. DO NOT pass that off as nothing, because that is an electrolyte imbalance, and has serious consequences for you later in life. Call an ambulance as soon as it happens. You need help.
Don’t be ashamed of not going out partying, or clubbing underage. Not all the cool kids are doing it. Stop stressing about boys. Don’t worry about what other people do and get involved in what you are passionate about. You are sensitive and not like the other girls at school, it will take time for you to find your niche.
Stop trying to find ways to hide your illness. You are good at starving yourself. You’re good at bulimia. So good, in fact, that you nearly kill yourself through it. You do not need to be any better.
Don’t stress so much about work – because your illness will take you away from study for nearly 2 years anyway. There is no point going to bed at 4am after trying to perfect an already perfect assignment all night. Your work is good enough. You are good enough.
Know that you have the risk factors of developing a serious eating disorder and seek help as soon as they start to cause problems. Do not delay in help seeking. Don’t let fear of judgement affect how and when you receive help. You are a beautiful teenager, braces, glasses. long hair and all.
Love yourself and respect your body – because when you’re 19 you will regret all of the damage you’ve done and the time you’ve wasted. This illness won’t stop at 19, you will have even recovered a few times but always managed to relapse. At least by this time you will have a better perspective on the disease and know triggers very well.
You WILL make a difference in someone’s life. Don’t be so scared you won’t.
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