An Open Letter to "Teenage Girls"

Sorry girls, isn’t for you.
Publish date:
October 13, 2011
teenagers, adolescence, nostalgia, unsolicited advice

What, you’re still here?

It’s true that you’re not our demographic, neither do you comprise a significant portion of our readership. However, I was surreptitiously reading my mom’s issues of Cosmopolitan as early as 10. And what an education they provided.

Cosmo’s always been randy, and the late 80s were no exception. I recall a naked Burt Reynolds centerfold, numerous articles about sexual mechanics, and a particular book excerpt that was essentially faux-literary porn. It was all very compelling, even though I did not understand most of it, because it wasn’t written for me.

I know you’re out there, teenage girls. And I know you’re smart and savvy enough to understand this stuff, and to make up your own minds about it, because teenagers are far less impressionable than many of us realize. I’ve never met a teenager who didn’t know her own mind pretty thoroughly, and who wasn’t damn stubborn in her convictions.

I’ve compiled some totally unsolicited proscriptive advice for you, our illicit audience. You will probably think it's stupid, but read it anyway.

Don’t hate yourself. I know self-loathing is the bread and butter of teenage existence. But try to resist it. Don’t hate your body -- it’s the only one you get, and the sooner you make peace with it, the better off you will be. Don’t put things off until your skin clears up or you lose five more pounds: Do it now. Go to parties, laugh with your friends, reject self-consciousness as much as possible.

If you’re like me, 10 years from now you will look at pictures of your teenage self and wonder why you hated yourself so much then, because there was nothing wrong with you. Aside from being a silly self-obsessed teenager.

Don’t pick on your peers. Or anyone else, for that matter. Social dominance is far less important than you think. Harassing other kids doesn’t really make you feel better about yourself; it just reminds you that you have the power to injure other people. And you already know that. Everyone has that power. But you can’t really feel good about yourself when you’re intentionally hurting someone else. Real power comes from kindness and compassion; it comes from seeing the unique good in everyone.

Also, the woman you and your friends are making fun of in the mall, or at the movies, or on the street? Someday, that woman might be you.

Try everything. Be impulsive. Getting older is actually far more awesome than anyone has told you, but with age comes bigger responsibilities, which can make trying new things more of a challenge than it is for you now. Wear crazy outfits, go crazy places, explore and experiment. Meet everyone -- connect with all kinds of people, no matter how different from you they may seem. Be smart, and think about everything. Learn to read people; learn to be an excellent judge of character. This will come in handy for the rest of your life.

The world, right now, is wide open to you, or least more open that it is ever likely to be again. This time will go so fast. Experience as much of it as possible. Be brave, because you already are -- you just don’t know it yet.

Believe in stuff. At some point, your passionate response to injustice and hypocrisy will become blunted and dull; this is necessary and often inevitable. But for now, stand up for yourself. Stand up for others. Talk back when you feel as though you have been wronged. Talk back even when the party wronging you is an authority figure.

Always speak for yourself. Own your opinions, and recognize that your experiences are not universal. Understand that the world does not revolve around you, but that you are a part of the world along with everyone else, and as a part of it you have some ability to change it. This will be easier if you find other people to collaborate with, so speak out, and do it loudly. You never know where you’ll find a friend.

Feel your feelings. Don’t crush them, don’t avoid them, and don’t deny them. This is the hardest part. You’re entitled to your feelings; you're allowed to be overwhelmed by them. You will never again feel things so keenly as you do now, and this is a blessing and a curse. Embrace it. Embrace your dumb, insecure, self-recriminating, mean, scary, courageous and passionate teenage years fully, for they will not happen again.

Now go back to reading Tumblr or whatever, and leave us at xoJane to our lentil soup and our crafts and our footie pajamas and our 90s nostalgia. You’ll be an adult soon enough -- there is no need to rush.