A letter to your sixteen-year-old self

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,
2011 Chloe.

If you could write a letter to your 16-year-old self, what would it say? Leave some wisdom in comments!

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25 Comments

  1. Posted June 10, 2011 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Dear 16-year-old Kevin,

    The social anxiety and awkwardness you feel will improve with time. Sometimes you can even make it work for you! You’re not alone and time will be kind to you in that regard.

    Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re still the same person regardless whether or not you’re in a relationship. I understand the feelings of loneliness and isolation, but you can’t validate your own self-worth in other people. And don’t stay in relationships when you’re kept around only as a means to stroke someone else’s ego. You deserve better than that.

    Right now, your peers feel just as gawky and self-obsessed as you do, but they’re not going to be as honest with themselves as you are. Give it time. People change. Never assume that anyone’s life, perspective, and opinions are static. No one is automatically locked into a system of belief. You’re going to be an activist when you get to be 30, so you may need to remind yourself of that frequently.

    In time, you will find a faith group and sense of spiritual grounding you have always sought. But in the meantime, keep searching. You’ll learn things about yourself along the way. And know that God’s love is eternal and never wavering. You’ll always have someone to turn to at any time, for any reason. Someday he will use you for a great purpose, and you will never doubt again. Your path is a mysterious one, but in time, all you need to know will be revealed.

    Keep writing. Though you will probably cringe and/or want to burn the poetry you are writing now when you are 30, keep at it. Your skills as a short essayist have yet to come to fruition, but they, like you yourself, are growing steadily.

  2. Posted June 10, 2011 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Dear Laura, as I suppose you were then.

    Don’t worry, you’ve not gone mad. This is really from me, or, well, you, in the future. You will go mad, briefly, and it’ll take a lot of help from a lot of friends to get through it. Don’t worry – Just flow with it, trust the people you trust now, and you’ll come out the other side. You’ll still be a great believer in Women’s Rights by then, but you’ll be a lot more articulate about it, and you’ll have learnt that the way that men look at you in the street is actually doing more harm than good. You’ll be an academic failure, but don’t worry, because in doing that, you’ve found two of the most inspiring women you’ve ever met, and have finally managed to shift away from the idea that women make poor role models and friends. Keep studying though, because you’ll always love knowledge.

    And that nagging feeling that you’re not the right gender? You’ve found a way of expressing that. I wouldn’t suggest shouting “I’M NOT A GIRL!” from the top of the school, but certain people will be more open to your genderlessness than you think they’ll be.

    Oh, and you will get to live in Japan, just in time for the great Tohoku quake. You’ll live, but you’ll worry that you won’t.

  3. Posted June 10, 2011 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Dear Rachel,

    This is one of many letters I’ve written to myself, but I think this one will give some of the most valuable advice yet.

    It’s going to take a while for you to figure out what you want to do with your life. At 23 I’m still trying to figure it out, but I think we’re getting closer. But don’t just sit around and try to figure it out, just do what you feel you need to be doing and it will come to you.

    If you’re uncomfortable with what’s going on, you need to speak up! It doesn’t matter if you’re uncomfortable in church, school, or any place else. And actually, remember that especially in church settings. There will be some difficult times coming up and you will need to talk to mom and dad about them.

    Be nice to mom and dad. I know mom drives you crazy and makes you feel bad about your body. I know you don’t want to bother dad with what is on your mind. But they love you and they are willing to talk to you about what’s going on.

    In 3 years when you see Chris again, kick him to the curb! However, you should use your freedom to help other women who have been hurt by men they loved. Advocate for them, be their friend, and even if you don’t fully understand the experience understand that being abused is the worst thing a person can go through. Also remember that abuse isn’t just hitting. It’s anything that makes you feel belittled.

    YOU ARE NOT FAT! Also, capris do not make your legs look stumpy. Someday you will be able to wear shorter shorts (like after you move out on your own), but for now it is okay to wear capris.

    I love you,
    Rachel

  4. Posted June 10, 2011 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Dear Miranda:

    Calm down. Take a breath. Audition for that play. Don’t date anyone with a video game tattoo. Study harder. Listen to your mother. Write more.

    Most importantly: You know those things that have always irritated you? Like how it’s okay for girls to be tomboys but it’s not acceptable for boys to be feminine? Or how a girl having sex with her boyfriend makes her a “slut” but a guy having sex with anything that has a vagina makes him a “stud”? How you’re the only one of your friends who is pro-choice? Let me help you out: You’re a FEMINIST. And you’re not the only person who thinks this way. Don’t keep quiet because you think you’re the only person who thinks about these things. Take a women’s studies course in college, you’ll enjoy it.

    Finally: You can’t control what those assholes think no matter what you do, so don’t even bother trying. Make yourself happy.

  5. Posted June 10, 2011 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Dear darling young me,
    I know you’re sad because none of the little richboy dudebro jerkoffs at your Catholic high school want to date you. BUT JUST WAIT – when you run away to college, you will attract them as flies to the sweetest honey. Some of these characters will be complete douchebags, but you will meet some super awesome people as well. Do NOT date D____, for he will only fuck you over a million times for the next 20 years.
    DO study hard & stay in school; DON’T quit college in 1993 because you can’t deal with getting up early, writing papers, and not going out every night. DO get a job and keep one, you’re super good at bartending and waiting tables, and that is something you can fall back on in times to come when things get lean. DO keep your grades up, and DO go for your Masters and PhD, because that will enable you to do what you really want. DO continue to write, more, faster, anything – plays, novels, short stories, poetry. Start a website or something – your shit is hilarious and people will want to read it & perform it, I promise.
    Don’t start smoking, start doing yoga & get back into cross country running, even though you hate it. Take better care of your teeth. Stay out of the sun, no matter how hip it is to be tan. You’ll thank me, I promise.
    Always, always, always, always, always – use protection when you get it on.
    Buy stock in Google, Microsoft, and Apple.
    Save at least $20 a week, and more if you can do it.
    Take more pictures when you go to Europe.
    Make friends anytime you can, and go the extra mile or ten to do favors and help people out; you become known for this, and it saves your butt a few fucking times.
    Be nice to Mom and Dad – they have their own problems right now. Worry about yourself and don’t make them do it.
    You’re gonna be totes rad. I love you.
    -me

  6. Posted June 10, 2011 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Dear 16 year old self- fist I want to tell you- you have bipolar.. get that treated! It’ll be another 7 years until you’re diagnosed. Without treatment you can’t go to college and you’ll end up letting everyone else abuse and mistreat you because you don’t have the strength to fight back. Secondly, that guy you’re talking to who’s way older and so romantic? He’s not- get rid of him right now. Also, you need to stop being so judgmental.. I know that your own experiences are all you have to go on but everyone isn’t you. You can’t expect them to understand you if you don’t understand them. Oh.. also, you have hypothyroidism… go see a doctor and then demand that they take you seriously.

    There is some good news.. you’re vegan now! And an animal rights activist which you’ll love. your husband and son are also vegan in the future! You’ll be so proud! Actually you’re an activist for a lot of things.. you’re a super cool feminist liberal atheist (yeah.. the pagan thing doesn’t work out.. those ghosts you see? they’re hallucinations from the bipolar) and- get this- you’re a fat acceptance activist. Sorry to burst your bubble but what you have is an eating disorder.. and it’s not going to make you thinner, but it will make you miserable. In the future you’ll love your body and you’ll even have an awesome blog where you post photos from modeling sessions (sorry.. you don’t really get paid for it but you’ll love it anyway!). That’s right, people take photos of you.. because you’re awesome. Oh, and stop wearing pants in summer just because that jerk in middle school made you feel bad about shorts (and stop cutting yourself too.. seriously.. you don’t want to be in your 20′s and still struggling to stop.. it gets old really fast).

    Most of all.. learn to stand up for yourself.. and don’t take the abuse. You deserve better.

  7. Posted June 10, 2011 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Dear 16-year old me,

    It’s your 40-yo version writing a letter back to you in time. And I do hope in time to make a difference.

    Try to talk to your mother before you go any further with your first boyfriend. You will have long doubts if that was the wisest decision and for a long while you will not talk to anyone about it. And that might interfere in your future sexual life, which means it is really important to take action now. Do not trust some of your friends just because they’re ‘cool’. They’re basically as experienced in life as you are, and you’ll be all making mistakes together. Again, make your mother talk to you, because if you don’t make a move, she won’t say a word.

    Whenever a relationship seems to be complicated, do not go for it. Learn to trust your instincts, you do have a high intuition about people and if you learn how to use it, it will help you many times!

    You’ll make an enormous life-changing decision by the time you hit 28. And you’ll have a dream-life if you know how to keep it. Try to avoid men that take your time and energy. You will need to learn to keep your focus on your work. And guess what? You’ll be an artist! That music thing you are barely touching now will mean the world to you. Do not refuse a crazy invitation you’ll get from a guy in NYC (yeah, you’ll live in NYC). He was serious and you’ll be devastated if you say no. On the same token do not get all “romantic” to the point of making a second life-changing decision a few years later; because this second one will cost you almost everything you earned by yourself. You will regret it. Remember: avoid men that take your time and energy. Love does exist and it means trust. When you feel someone is lying to you, do step back. Do not ever fall in love with this one guy that shows up in your life pretending to be the man of your dreams. He is not; he’s a liar.

    If you succeed in all this, you might not be where I am today, staring at the window and writing down these words while trying to figure out what I shall do to fix my mistakes so that when my 50-yo writes back to me she will hopefully be able to say: you made it!

    I love you! Remember: you have everything in your hands to be happy!

    Your future self.

  8. Posted June 10, 2011 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Dear Younger Me:

    That hot guy you date will break your heart. It will be worth it. You couldn’t have met The One without dating the dumb-butt first.

  9. Posted June 10, 2011 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    (I wrote a blog inspired by this post. You can read the full text here: http://wp.me/p1jNb1-4l )

    The summer I turned 16 I went on a five-week cross-country bus tour with a bunch of rich, Southern kids. I was the lone awkward Yankee outcast and miserable.

    I spent my birthday on a ranch in Idaho and the day before I had nearly been thrown off a horse so my legs were covered in bruises and I could barely walk. I waited all day for my boyfriend to call, but he never did because he claimed there was no cell service and he was kind of an asshole, which was how most of that summer was. I would call and his ex-girlfriend would pick up. I would cry every other night. I was making myself miserable and acting desperate, but still I convinced myself that I wanted and needed to be with him.

    I was still psyched to come back and be with him, until the second night after I came back when I found out he was hitting on my friends, talking shit about me and being an all-around jerk. So after a night of tough reflection, I knew what I had to do. I broke up with him on the couch in my living room and immediately after he pulled out of my driveway, I ran upstairs and puked.

    While I could have done without the vomiting, I realize now that the decision to end that relationship and suffering has defined the course of all of my relationships and attitude toward men. I know relationships can be complicated, confusing and messy as hell, but some things have always been black and white to me.

    If a man does not respect you, your time or your needs, it’s time to break up. Stop making excuses and don’t second guess yourself.

    If you know that he is being an asshole, if your gut tells you that you deserve better, you do. You can and will find someone better.

    So 16-year-old Heather, I just want to tell you that you made the right choice and to stay strong. You will still have plenty of messy relationships and bad choices in your future, but you’re on the right path.

    Love,

    21 (almost 22)-year-old Heather

    p.s. Stop pretending that you want to be anything else besides a writer. And in about a year, try to avoid side-swiping that UPS truck.

  10. Posted June 10, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Dear 16-year-old Alex:

    Don’t freak out, but the next year is going to suck unless you find a reputable psychiatrist right now. You have bipolar type II and ADHD–that’s why you alternate between feeling awesome and bursting with energy and feeling like complete shit and wanting to stay in bed all day. You’ll be fine, you just need to be properly medicated. Your emotional health is your number one priority right now–don’t worry so much about school, you’ll still graduate.

    And speaking of emotional health: You know that violinist you’re madly in love with and just started dating? You don’t need him to feel good about yourself. You know in your gut that this isn’t going to work, and you’re right–you’ve been depending on him for your self esteem and that’s not cool. Stick by your two best friends–they love you completely just the way you are. And in senior year you’ll meet an awesome transfer student who will come to love you for who you are too! And the two of you will get engaged in the future! You’ll be freaked out by his mother because she’s crazy, but she will get better.

    Speaking of family: Your parents do care about you and love you. They really want to help you out–don’t be so angry with them. When Dad seems like he’s really mad at you, he’s actually just scared but he can’t express that fear so it comes out as anger. Also, pay more attention to your sister. She’s got it even harder than you do right now, believe it or not. Talk to her. Listen to her. Make sure she knows you love her. And when she gets a boyfriend when she’s 16 and he seems like kind of a dick but you don’t want to hurt her feelings, TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. Beat the crap out of him, do whatever you have to do to get him the fuck out of her life, because if you stand by and do nothing, he will rape her and you won’t know what to do about it.

    Now to the mundane stuff: Make sure you floss on a semi-regular basis. Eat enough protein and fiber. Get enough sleep. Also, never stop dancing even if you think you “don’t have time for it.” It’s a lot of fun and it’s good for you. Don’t stop taking French in community college. Make sure you minor in French. Take more theatre classes and more women’s studies classes–you’ll like those. And at university you’ll finally meet a ton of people who are geeky just like you, and feel like you belong! Once you’re at university, stay in touch with Jonathan whom you met at community college–he’ll turn out to be one of your best friends. And whatever you do, don’t stop writing.

    I’m proud of you, and even though you feel overwhelmed right now, you should know that you can do this. When people tell you you’re really smart/funny/kind, listen to them and feel good about yourself, because it’s true.

    Love,
    23-year-old Alex

  11. Posted June 10, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    dear me at 16:
    you’re doing pretty good. try to work up the courage to tell the guy you’re going to meet in october that you love him. i have no idea how that will play out because in my reality it didn’t happen, but let’s just see.
    go to class when you get to college–seriously. you’re smarter than that. moving to new york will be the best choice you ever make, but you already know that. like i said, you’re doing pretty damn good. keep it up. you get to be valedictorian–you show those privileged, snotty douchebags who’s boss and its extremely satisfying.
    you can stop experimenting with drugs if you want to. i know you don’t want to stop, but you also don’t have to keep going. your youth is not slipping away from you. you’ll be better off if you take care of yourself and stop running yourself ragged partying constantly because of your anxiety over life happening without you. read some books, teach yourself guitar, draw some stuff. stop smoking cigarettes. please? no? damn it.
    mom is horrible, i’m sorry. it will be nice to be away from her physically but you will never be away from her mentally. be nice to dad because he won’t be around much longer. it will be horrible, but don’t worry. you feel happiness in the future. its everything you ever thought it could be.
    love,
    me

  12. Posted June 10, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Dear 16 Year Old self:

    I am now twice as old as you were, and that’s kind of mindblowing.

    First, I want to tell you that our life did not work out the way we had planned it at your age. We are not an actress, we don’t have an Oscar. And we never will. We- well, I, at least- don’t regret that, and you won’t. Because the important thing is a) we tried, and b) figured out that it wasn’t going to work out in the sanest way imaginable. I’d tell you more, but spoilers. The important thing is that we tried and we don’t have that “what if” hanging over our heads.

    We learned a lot more than jsut that we didn’t have the ego to be an actress. We learned how to be loud and to use our body and the importance of rehearsing and word choice and phrasing and how to think on our feet. And that will help us. Because right now, 16 years later, we are in law school learning how to be a lawyer.

    Dave is bad news. I’d tell you to not get involved with him, or to dump him as soon as he got possessive, but you won’t listen.

    Here’s the most important thing I want you to get from me, 16 year old self. The msot important thing of all. High school is terrible. It’s hellish. The administration doesn’t give a shit about you. But you will walk out and you will find yourself and you will find friends who love you unconditionally. Mom is right (as she is in most things)- you aren’t washed up and your life isn’t over. We’re a late-bloomer, you and I. As are many, many, many amazing people.

    I know that 32 seems like an impossibly advanced age, but thanks to our non-smoking, minimal drinking (yes, we do drink, we get over our sanctimonious “ALCOHOL IS THE ROOT OF ALL THE EVILS” bullshit and thank god for that), no-drugs policy, our skin is fantastic and everyone thinks we are much younger. But it’s getting so much better every year, 16 year old me.

    Promise.

  13. Posted June 10, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Dear 16 year old Peter,

    Go to bed earlier, you’ll be happier not being sleep deprived. Keep trying to be a good person and trying not to be an ass. Read more YA, its not just for middle schoolers.

    Truly,
    23-Peter

  14. Posted June 10, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Dear Rea at 16,

    Stop freaking out about your breasts. They are not worth the stress. Your body is beautiful and curvaceous, and you will always have people attracted to it and your mind. Your boobs are not who you are, and in fact, you will throw away all of your bras (except one) and go without starting at age 22. The middle school guidance counselor who told you that you needed one was uncomfortable with your sexuality, but you shouldn’t be. Don’t be afraid to experiment a little, since a year from now you will be starting a long-term relationship with a wonderful man that is intimidated by your sexual nature and believes sex outside of the relationship to be a deal breaker. You will remain monogamous for him (he’s worth it), but you will regret all of the fun you missed out by doing so.

    The man you lost your virginity to is a tool, and you play him well. However, your first serious boyfriend is not, and you shouldn’t pretend that the relationship is anything less than it is. K will come off as indifferent to you, but in the coming years, he will come to realize that you meant more to him than he ever acknowledged. That friendship will last, but you should really warn him about wearing condoms when he goes to KCAI. And speaking of K, don’t buy into all of the stupidity that becomes the drama department. Nothing comes of it, and you won’t have ANY good memories past “Epic Proportions.” Stop there – you might think you’ve made it to the top, but the mountain crumbles beneath your feet soon enough. That fall was not fun, and I wish I could save you from the plethora of hurt feelings that resulted from it.

    You think you love chemistry? Let’s talk about entomology: You are going to turn that bug collection assigned for advanced biology into a passion and build a career out of it. Learn your lepidoptera families now. Invest in good supplies – don’t buy from that crappy Christian science supply site – their spreading boards are awful. Go to college knowing what you specifically want instead of just being general about it. You already know you are going to rock college, but it’s going to rock you a little more than you think.

    Play some more video games, but not too much more. Keep writing your book. No, nothing has come of it (yet), but that creativity needs to be fostered. Start reading Girl Genius now, because when you find it in 2010, you’ll wish it had been a part of of your high school and college life.

    Never, ever stop fighting for your rights as a woman and as an atheist. You are right; they are wrong.

    So far, so good, and with very few regrets,
    Rea at 24

  15. Posted June 10, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Dear Gothic Guera
    Stand up for yourself
    No really.
    Don’t allow people to make nasty comments about race, call out your French teacher for being a liberal hypocrite, use that Dorothy parker wit,.
    Don’t let people take advantage of you.
    BE PROUD OF YOU BIRACAIL HERITAGE.
    BE PROUD OF BEING SMART.
    Embrace your love for Indie movies.
    Admit you have a problems.
    Talk back to people who take advantage to you
    Proof read more often
    One day you will wake up and remember you are beautiful and you will grow up to be a very lovely young woman. You are going through an awkward phase and it will end by the time you are 19. Trust me.
    You are smart
    You should never feel ashamed.
    Don’t take XYZ’S class.
    One day this will end.
    Nothing last forever and remember that.
    There is justice.
    One day, the pain of A— will go away and you will find someone.
    You will get geekier in College and it WILL BE FRIKKIN’ AWESOME!!
    Vibrators are AWESOME!
    ARE AWESOME!
    Don’t take French in high school, take it at local community college . Seriously, Madame Darwish full of crap.
    Continues with College classes in Spanish
    High school made you stronger and you will look back and smile knowing you will never see those goddamn bastards again and they gave you AWESOME writing materials.
    oh, tell mom not to rent to A— and R—- in the winter of 2010 REMEMBER THIS!!!!

  16. Posted June 10, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Dear 16 Year Old Jenny -

    I’m writing this to you from NYC in 2011. I suppose that location comes as no surprise since you’ve been insisting you would return to NYC as soon as you could, about a month’s time after your mother and stepfather moved you out to Arizona. Yes, you’re an artist too. Have you ever, since you were a toddler, wanted to be anything else? You may be surprised to know, though, that although you’ve done a bit of work in animation that turns out to NOT be your primary creative outlet. You’re going to also do stuff in comics, painting, music, performance art, an underground film here and there…you’ll also sometimes collaborate with your drummer/percussive sound artist husband. Yeah, you get married. But don’t worry, it was quite unconventional and the guy is as radical in his politics and tastes in art as you. You live in a leftist artist’s collective.

    I know it all sounds pretty great, but I should warn you, there are a lot of hard times ahead to before you get there, financially and emotionally. For starters, and this will explain a lot about things you’re experiencing even now: you get diagnosed with Schizo Affective Disorder, which is why you exist in a state that everyone from religious fanatics to abusive partners will look to exploit or take advantage of. Look out! And be very wary of people who act concerned but make you second guess yourself due to your “condition”. (In a real letter I’d name names, but this is a public forum). Also, I know that you’re currently often confused and angry about your racial status. Mom tries to deny your father’s heritage in you, yet the racist treatment you get from your white Az. classmates lets you know they do NOT regard you as one of them. I won’t lie, you’ll also encounter people in the NYC Latin community who don’t accept you either, sometimes for reasons as superficial as not dressing a certain way or having broader musical tastes(this will mostly be younger ones who have not yet learned to distinguish between what’s “in” at the moment and a deeper sense of identity) –the truth is you’re both. Learn about and learn to accept both your Cuban and Irish heritage. In time your Mom will come around as well, and see this is a part of who you are that can’t simply be erased because her relationship with your father has ended.

    You’re going to live through a terrorist attack. It’s going to change your whole world, in ways that are still occurring as I write this. You’ll also foray into stripping for a couple of years, at a time when there are a lot of differing views on that sort of thing. I will tell you right now, it’s neither the godawful betrayal of womanhood everywhere that some claim, nor is it the height of liberation and empowerment for women that others claim. It’s gonna be a shit job where you indulge moronic clientele while you’d rather be reading or making art or doing anything else. Which kind of makes it no different from other various shit jobs with moronic clientele you’ll hold before the art thing really starts to happen.

    Anyway, I could elaborate more but I’d hog up Feministing’s bandwidth, plus I really should start thinking of what to wear to that art opening tonight. Yes, we’re part of the show. Little something to look forward to there.

    — Chronological Adult Jenny

  17. Posted June 10, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Dear 16-year-old me,

    First of all – THINGS WILL GET BETTER. Even though you can’t imagine right now how they possibly could and you can’t see a way out, you have not lost the capacity for happiness that you had as a younger child. You have not lost who you used to be – you are still funny, attractive, smart, passionate, and filled with ideas and ambitions. You’re going through a (very, very) rough patch right now, but I promise you that the unnamable barrier you see between you and your future will dissolve and you won’t even really know how. You will eventually be a happy and sane person, even those you are emphatically neither of those right now.

    Don’t cut yourself. It will leave scars that you can’t get rid of and you will regret it, and you’re a strong enough person to deal with your pain without hurting yourself like that. Please, really try to stop throwing up all the time, and stop starving yourself. Again, you don’t believe it, but you are actually much more than a walking eating disorder, and people will still find you interesting even if you aren’t constantly on the brink of crisis. The time you’re spending wrapped up in food and your body is time you aren’t spending learning about the world and figuring out who you really are, and you will come to deeply regret that waste of time.

    A lot of the things you think are unspeakable actually aren’t. There is nothing about you that will shock and horrify the people you love, and the sooner you learn to be honest with people the happier you will be.

    Try dating people, even though it terrifies you. The experience will benefit you later on, and who knows, you might actually meet someone you really care about. Despite what you think right now, going on a date is highly unlikely to be catastrophic.

    Try to be more forgiving of people’s flaws and weaknesses, especially your parents’ and your sister’s. Life is dreadfully hard for everyone and most people are doing the best they can. Your sister will suffer terribly during adolescence and she will behave in ways that infuriate you, but try hard to help her. You may not be able to keep her from disappearing from your life, but at least you will know you gave it your best shot.

    And don’t worry – you will actually get to live in New York City one day, and it will be just as awesome as you think!

  18. Posted June 10, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    dear sixteen-year-old me:

    You are trusting to no end right now, which is beautiful. You see the good in people and you love without fear. Sadly, these qualities will leave you and you will spend years trying to heal and learn to love again. I would tell you to stop being such a dumb ass and dump the douche who you’re in love with, but I know that mistake is completely necessary for you to become who you’re meant to be. Remember, time heals and you are a strong woman.

    I can’t tell you how much things will change. You’ll leave the church! unthinkable right?? But you’ll eventually begin to see that the things they taught you are a lot of prejudice, supremacy, and sexism, and eventually you will need your deepest inner femininity to be nurtured. The church does not do that, and it never has. You will be endlessly confused, but totally liberated by realizing this. It will change everything.

    You will have sex with a woman and it will blow your mind. You’ll lose your virginity to a guy before you’re married. You won’t believe me, but when you start drinking you’ll have no guilt. none. In fact wine will be the best damn thing you’ve ever encountered- trust me you’re a wino at heart! You’ll become a bit of a pothead during college, but don’t worry, you’ll kick ass. College will confuse the hell out of you and you’ll be indecisive for a while. But know that the degree you finally settle on will transform you and give your life its passion. You will find one of your greatest role models, and you will find healing through this. So don’t let the doubt get to you. Like I said, you’ll kick ass in college.

    Dad becomes a bigger asshole, so learn to put up with him and at the very least just try, try to be honest. I know being honest with him comes back to bite you, but try. Because your life choices will hurt him and he’ll try to hurt you in return. He will begin to treat mom worse and talk about losings his will to live. He’ll blame you for his problems, he will try as hard as he can to make you feel like shit. Be honest with him, but stay distant because you will be better off.

    Be there for mom. When everything changes she will be the only one there for you through ALL of it. I know right now she is annoying, naggy, pushy, and judgmental… but when it really gets down to it and life unravels, she becomes your light. Love her and treat her right, she deserves it. Your relationship will change and she’ll become your biggest advocate. See how much things will change?? :)

    You will eventually learn the beauty of your body…. but it won’t be easy. You will learn that your self-hatred is not entirely your inadequacy, but is a result of a culture that recreates femininity as a product to be bought and sold. Learn as soon as you can that your beloved American culture has no genuine respect for you as a woman and that it thrives off your unhappiness. Try not to buy into those ideas. You are beautiful because you exist, because you feel so much, because you are a thinker, because you live and try to make your way through life. That is enough. You don’t have to meet anyone’s standards.

    Remember to be a good friend to Aaron, Allie, and Cameron because they will be with you for a long time.

    Remember to keep painting, reading, and listening to music. Stay in touch with your spirituality however you can. It will keep you anchored and grateful.

    Rachael

  19. Posted June 10, 2011 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    Hi, 16-year-old self,

    You have ADD. Go to the doctor, because its going to be really awkward when you’re 27 and just realizing it. And, for that matter, math is AWESOME and being a math geek is going to be a part of the job you love. Make absolute sure to go to business camp this summer because otherwise you may never find out how good you are at marketing. Plus, it’s funny to tell people later about how you were a big dork and went to business camp.

    Be nice to your little sister – she’s going to develop some serious mental illness and you’re gong to feel bad for being kind of a jerk to her. And keep spending lots of quality time with dad because he’s not going to be around much longer.

    When you’re 25 you are going to have to quit smoking cigarettes and it is going to SUUUUCK. It’s worth it!

    Keep reading lots of books, writing all the time, and try to stay away from church. That place just wastes your time. Stop worrying about being gawky and feeling like everyone’s fat friend. You have an awesome husband who is a surgeon so fuck all those high school people! You’ll get to live all over the country (Kentucky is fun, I promise!!) and travel all over the world.

    Best,
    27-year-old-you

    PS: Stop drinking so much. Really. It’s not necessary.

  20. Posted June 11, 2011 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    Dear 16 year old Morgan:

    First things first. Take a deep breath. You will be fine.

    That 28 year old who’s just so sweet and hot and romantic? He’s not. Run as fast as you can. Find yourself first. You’re not going to lose your virginity till you’re 21, but the man you lose it to will be worth it, I promise. While we’re at it, don’t date K. again (because any man who discusses his fetishes on the first date is not boyfriend material; doubly so when said fetish is illegal). And this is really important: You are not scary. Or standoffish. Or a snob. The guys who say that? Too insecure to deal with a woman who knows what she wants out of life, and too afraid of your straightforwardness. Just be patient; he’s worth it.

    While we’re on matters of sex, your attraction to girls is totally normal. Explore it more, please; you’ll thank yourself later.

    When senior year rolls around, try not to let yourself get so down. What happened was not your fault. Don’t let yourself get so depressed you struggle to graduate.

    That college you’re so excited about going to? You’ll leave in three weeks after a professor sexually harasses you. Community college is not a bad choice afterward: You haven’t failed at life, so quit moping when you go home. You’ll never find your ideal major otherwise. Yes, teaching is all wrong for you (for that matter, so is business). Psychology/Gender Studies are where your interests lie. I know, everyone says you sound like a psychologist with a strong bent towards gender studies. Take a hint, girlie, I promise they’re not seeing things.

    Lastly, learn to say ‘no.’ I promise, it seems tough now, but you are strong and you can make it through. I love you, little me.

    Love,
    22 year old Morgan

    P.S. You don’t have to tell your parents everything. Trust me on this.

  21. Posted June 11, 2011 at 1:24 am | Permalink

    Dear Lacy,

    That guy you just started dating? He’s bad bad BAD news. I would tell you to dump him but you probably won’t listen. Not only will you not listen, but if you dump him then you won’t endure all the struggles that he puts you through and you won’t come out strong like future you (er…me) does.

    After all of the nonsense you go through in 2 years, everything else will seem like a cake walk.

    One thing though, don’t start smoking cigarettes. It’s really not worth it and future you is going to have a bitch of a time quitting.

    - 26 year old you.

  22. Posted June 11, 2011 at 3:32 am | Permalink

    Dear 16 year-old Carter,

    Greeting from the future! Move your job+bar mitzvah money out of the stock market and into bonds- trust me. Keep wearing your bike helmet, it’ll come in handy.
    Sorry your summer working at the museum didn’t go the way you expected. But on the bright side, the seed of your interest in solar power has been planted- go with it. Read a lot, listen a lot, talk a little less. Remember that it takes 2 to be awkward and that people are very interesting, so get comfortable with striking up conversations with strangers. You’ll be moving around a lot (back to DC, surprise!) so make sure you work on that. But work on being ok spending time alone. Those two skills will make travel much easier for you.
    Racist, sexist, homophobic and ablist (look it up) jokes aren’t funny- stop telling them now. People may laugh, but you’ll regret it later.
    Learn how to garden. Don’t worry about Spanish, you’ll pick it up when you’re there (I know, you’re gonna actually live abroad!). Shut off your computer earlier and go to bed. Keep working on your poetry slams- you weren’t that terrible, but know your audience.

    Stop eating meat. Get to know Ani, be nicer to the girls you sorta-kinda date. You won’t be moving to Israel, or find a Rabbi you jive with, or ever be able to articulate what your faith means to you- but keep trying. Stop trying to grow your facial hair (trim the sideburns a little).

    The world needs saving, it always has, it always will and you can do it.

    -Carter from 2011
    to save you a lot of time: French films, sushi, books on city planning, civil war history and feminist blogs are awesome

  23. Posted June 11, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Dear Me,
    The next 10 years are awesome. Keep going to concerts and stay close to your family. Don’t worry, soon that abusive step dad of yours will be a memory and you and your mom will be really close.
    Don’t go see ‘The Ring.’ It will scare the crap out of you and you’ll sleep with your mom for a week.
    Stay close with Grandma. She’s your best friend.
    You made a great decision leaving high-school for the community college. You’ll learn more there, and people in the work force will take you more seriously after you graduate. Don’t buy the books new. The college is just trying to make money, you can get them used for much cheaper online. It can save you a ton.
    Take the job at the credit union, you’ll need the benefits.
    Skip the job your step mom hooks you up with, even if it is in walking distance. She doesn’t stay with the company and you’ll be stuck with a creeptastic boss to deal with by yourself. The pay isn’t worth it.
    Learn more about computer science now.
    Go back to community college. You’ll meet some of the most wonderful people.
    Go ahead. Get that degree in history.
    Women’s Studies is a great minor, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
    You will get into a Library Science program, so stop your stressing, but don’t stop dreaming. No, you do not get into the program in Seattle close to home. They turn you down with a piss poor excuse of too many awesome applicants. You’ll move to New York City with D. and commute to Rutgers. It will be awesome. You’ll meet great people and you’ll grow and learn more than you ever thought possible. Apply for scholarships. You’ll get them and it will save you thousands.
    Apply for that dream internship at NYPL. It will be the best thing you to learn about your new city and profession and there are good people there.
    Start blogging so you’re better at it later in life.
    Apply for the Ph.D. program. We still don’t know if we’re getting in, but it’s completely awesome applying and you have huge amounts of backing from the academy.
    Don’t listen to your husband, trust your own instincts, he’s terrible at judging what you want. Yes, you get married. Yes, it’s the guy you love. Don’t follow him blindly, do your own thing; he’ll love you all the more for it and you’ll love you all the more for it.
    About the wedding. Give your family’s about a week notice. The ones that you want there will gladly fly to Vegas, and you won’t have to hear them gripe about watching the thing on YouTube. Elvis is there. Wear the black dress.
    Be good to your mom.
    Buy the land in Alaska. It will be your best adventure.
    Save more for school.
    Get the cat David picks out at the pound; he has good instincts about these things. She’ll love you with all her might and will see you through tough times. But don’t let David give her wet food in the mornings. She’ll grow to expect it and wake you up at 5:45 am everyday like clockwork for years.
    You still refuse to wear shorts, but skirts are starting to work for you.
    Stop watching so much T.V. and read more books. You’re missing out on a much better world.

  24. Posted June 13, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Dear Leah,
    You’re 16, congratulations on getting this far! It’s going to be an uphill battle to make it these next 10 years.
    First of all: stop using drugs. Stop hanging out with all the people that you think are cool; they are not cool, and they’re really not very great people. And please, do everything you can to not have sex with Cody. He is not worth your virginity, or your time. The same goes for mostly the next 5 or 10 guys in your life.
    You will never really be very good at reading peoples’ intentions and personalities. It’s difficult for you because you want to believe that everyone is a good person – but they’re not. Over the years many men will use you and hurt you. Many women will do the same things and your heart will be broken over and over by the same people. It’s okay that you always give people a second and third and millionth chance, even when they keep letting you down. It means that you have faith in goodness. Try to stop letting people take advantage of you. You are still doing it in the future, but try and get a head start to make it easier to say NO! later in life.
    You’re going to help people! You are honestly going to be a source of comfort for tons of women that have been raped and abused and young girls that have been prostituted. Your heart is going to be so filled with love for these people that sometimes it will seem impossible to go on, but keep doing it.
    It is important to stand up for what you believe in, even though you always want to fit in. It’s okay that you don’t want to go to college right away, you will have many important experiences after high school that helped you understand the person you will be.
    You will major in Women’s Studies and Sociology! It will be so much faster now that you have this information up front and don’t have to spend years in college trying to decide what to do! You will love it. You will meet amazing people and hear amazing stories. You’re going to fail Spanish. It will be difficult because you have never had worse than a “B”, but it will happen, and you will get over it.
    You will spend a lot of time searching for reasons for all the terrible things that happen in the world. Unfortunately, this isn’t something you can understand, it is better to relax, and accept that you can only change yourself – not the world.
    You are doing everything you can. It’s ok to feel helpless sometimes.

    Love,
    Leah

  25. Posted June 14, 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Dear Kate,

    Hey it’s you in 6 years. I want to start off by saying that what happened at 15 was not your fault and I’m really sorry that it happened to us. We’ve been hanging out with really stupid people and we should have figured that out by now and I’m sorry we didn’t have better judgement. You will be okay, you will get over it and you will not be hurt by it in the future but you should talk to somebody about it when you’re ready. And please stop hanging out with Derick, he’s not the root of the problem but you are stupid when you’re with him and he’s not any good for you. The same goes for that kid from Buffalo you’re going to meet, he’s just a massive waste of your time that you’re never going to get back and he never gets the hint when it’s finally over.
    These things will not hang over your head for long but if you can get out of the situation sooner it will make the rest of high school much easier. There are plenty of other people there who will be much better friends and you do not need the extra stress. Please, also try to focus on school a bit more and just write your papers, do your work. Everything works out fine in the end but you could make things a lot easier for yourself.
    Now for the good news, They bring back the British Exchange trip for your senior year and we totally get in and it totally changes our life. When you and Ashley joke about you being the one this year to fall in love and get engaged to one of the exchangers, you’re not too far off, so keep and eye out for cute brits falling out of the back of a yellow school bus. We also go to college (I’m sorry, we don’t get into Arcadia and study English but remember what I said about doing your work?) But we do get into PCA&D for fine art. A lot happens the summer you graduate, be there for mom and be a good bridesmaid and try not to be too heartbroken, the breakup is a blessing in disguise. You do a huge amount of growing up at PCA&D and then you move to England and do even more growing up. It’s going to be amazing and you’ll have so many opportunities so go for them. We graduate from a highly ranked arts university next month with 3 shows under our belt and no idea what to do next but we also have some really great friends, a man who loves and cares about us and who we love and care about and a troublesome little cat that we both love and care about together.

    Good luck,
    Kathryn

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