This post was originally published in Medium.
Dear, sweet girl,
Right now you’re feeling equal parts glamorous and annoyed, really. Your mother — bless her heart — is insistent on taking these posed pictures of you around the cabin that your family rented for the week, and it’s making you feel extremely exposed. Still, you found this very cool antique umbrella in the mud room and you figure it will make the perfect accessory.
This picture will be beautiful.
Sporting a messy bun and your brand-new emerald green swimsuit—which is actually a leotard, but who cares about these things? — you walk out into the grass, barefooted. As you open up the umbrella, delighting in the unusual shape of its spokes and its delicately carved handle, you channel that kind of sultry innocence you see plastered on magazine covers everywhere.
You own it.
In a couple of weeks, once these pictures are developed — we’re still in the 90s! — you’ll see this exact picture and your heart will sink. What were you thinking?
And even more precisely: How dare you exist with this body? How could you not know EVERYTHING that was wrong with it?
Years later, you will destroy that picture, in a desperate ploy to destroy the evidence.
Still, even with it no longer in existence physically, it will remain crystallized in your mind. Forever, this picture of a 13-year-old you posing in an awkward attempt at al fresco charm will symbolize the moment when your illusions about how good you looked were irreparably shattered.
Dear, sweet girl, you don’t know it yet, but you’ll go through decades believing that there is something inherently wrong with your body; you’ll squander countless hours agonizing over every fold, every bulge, every curve or lack thereof; you’ll waste thousands of dollars in products and magazines, believing deep down that if you just found the right one, then you’ll finally be good. At last, you’ll be worthy.
Except that’s not how it goes.
Years will pass, during which you’ll try every trick to make your body look right, from attempting to reach virtue by starvation, to contorting yourself — physically and mentally — in order to project what you believe the world asks of you.
You will come to believe that you’re doing this out of a sense of duty, never realizing that you’re playing the game of corporations, intent on keeping meek so that you keep purchasing their wares.
Dear, sweet girl, I wish I could tell you that things will turn out otherwise. They won’t though — not for a few decades. You’ll remain convinced that there is something fundamentally flawed about the way you look, and come to believe that there’s a moral imperative to being thin, to being what society considers beautiful.
On a few occasions, life aiding, you’ll step away from this logic, only to be swiftly yet mercilessly brought back in the fold by well-meaning others — how dare you refuse to play by the rules?
With a growing sense of unease, you’ll take part in countless conversations with others of your kind, meticulously deconstructing your own looks as well as others’. As if your salvation lay in this dehumanizing ripping apart of yourselves — as if you could still find, in doing so, the one right thing that would transform the rest and make you worthy.
Dear, sweet girl, brace yourself: there are dark, difficult years ahead of you, although you will not perceive them as such. You’ll simply accept them as punishment for not being quite enough, further internalizing the idea that you are hopelessly flawed.
Even though you’re not even yet aware of having entered the tunnel, dear sweet girl, I want to assure you that there’s some light at the end of it, however long it will take before you even perceive its first glimmer.
Hang in there.
All this self-loathing still won’t be able to snuff your little light. It will remain, quiet but rebellious, biding its time until it can come pouring blindingly out, a supernova in the making.
As dizzying as it may seem to you now — even a year seems an eternity when you’re 13 years old — you’re only a quarter of a century away from understanding that every part of you is perfect as is, because it makes you perfectly you.
Once you do, dear sweet girl, you’ll be absolutely damn unstoppable.