Letters of Note, one of my favourite blogs, recently posted a few pages from the book Dear Me: A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self. The book was compiled a couple of years ago as a fundraiser for HIV/AIDS prevention, and it consists of letters, written by a range of famous people – Yoko Ono, Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson – to their teenaged selves.
TV presenter and comedian Jonathan Ross told his young self to “stop worrying about the opinion of others and be yourself,” and offered this reassurance: “You will eventually lose your virginity and go to Disneyworld (though not on the same day).” Debbie Harry said, “go for it girl… Dreams Do Come True. Keep Dreaming.” I particularly liked the contribution from Emma Thompson, who wrote, “Don’t EVER EVER EVER bother to go on a diet… Just be you & get on with it, I cannot tell you how much time & energy you’ll save & how much happier you’ll be.”
All wise words. And they got me thinking about what I would want to tell my sixteen-year-old self. At sixteen, I was a high school senior in Sydney. I studied a lot, I danced a lot, and I was falling in love with an amazing young man who remains a dear friend to this day. I watched Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show a lot and followed American politics, because I found it so much more interesting than Australian politics. I was already a raging feminist, having read The Beauty Myth the previous year, but I hadn’t discovered the feminist blogosphere yet. It wasn’t all that long ago, but a lot happens in seven years, and there are some things I wish I known then. So here goes:
Dear 16-year-old Chloe,
Greetings from the future! It is really hot here. Not because global warming has sped up dramatically in the last seven years, but because New York gets really hot in the summer time and New York is where future you lives. I know you got excited reading that, but future you is not a Broadway dancer – sorry to burst that dream, but we didn’t really have the talent for it, and besides, Bob Fosse was a pretty misogynistic dude. Future you is a feminist writer who lives in New York. So just think about that the next time people at school roll their eyes and make fun of you for “making something a feminist issue”: one day not long from now, people all around the world will be rolling their eyes at you for doing that! A few other important things:
Be nice to Mom. She knows more than you do about pretty much everything. I’m pretty sure that when 30-year-old Chloe writes a letter to 23-year-old Chloe, she will say the same thing. So be nice.
You are not fat. You are Chloe-shaped. Please stop wearing jeans in the height of Sydney summer – there is nothing wrong with your legs. Your legs are not fat. Your legs are Chloe-leg-shaped.
Sex is not supposed to hurt. Seriously, it’s not. Please do something about that, stat.
Empathy and kindness should come naturally to every human being, but for some reason, they don’t. They take practice, and you should start practicing now.
Don’t stop asking guys out on dates, even though some people think you’re weird for doing it. The guys who are intimidated by a young woman who flips the dating script aren’t the ones you want to be dating anyway. Besides, it’s excellent training for pitching freelance writing pieces, which future you does all the time.
Stop biting your nails. It’s gross, and they look really pretty when you let them grow. I’m pretty sure that when 30-year-old Chloe writes a letter to 23-year-old Chloe, she will say the same thing. So stop it.
OK, that’s all I’ve got – a lot happens in seven years, but I won’t pretend that we have it all figured out at 23. Besides, you should probably get back to studying (believe me, it will pay off, big time). See you in the future. Pack shorts, because your legs look fine, and it really is quite hot here.
Lots of love,
If you could write a letter to your 16-year-old self, what would it say? Leave some wisdom in comments!