Thursday, February 14, 2008

A letter to myself at 14

I'm copying an idea that's been making the blog rounds, prompted originally by a post at Big Fat Deal, where a 14 year old girl asks for advice on how to like herself. That set off a round of bloggers writing themselves letters they wish they'd had when they were 14.

Personally, I've always tried to live without regrets, because changing any decision earlier in my life would change who and where I am today. I rather like who and where I am today. Some of the biggest mistakes in my life, if avoided, would cost me my current best friends, whom I met through those mistakes.

Still, there's a few things I wish someone I could trust had told me. Considering that at 14 I didn't believe I actually could trust anyone else, I'm the only one who could have made a difference.

Dear me at 14:

You’re about to start High School, and it’s going to suck even worse than junior high. I’m not going to help you avoid a lot of the bad stuff coming up, because it makes you who you are as an adult. Try to make good choices, stay honest (you never were a good liar and have a highly developed guilt reflex, so don’t bother), stick by your friends, and try new things with the understanding that any embarrassment won’t be remembered by anyone else after you graduate.


People are cruel. Guys are asses, chicks are bitches. In general. Don’t become them. All you can do is sort out the exceptions. Only surround yourself with people you trust, and then prove yourself trustworthy to them in return. That second part is the most important. Your closest friends right now are the ones who will stick with you if you let them. It’s you that’ll screw things up by driving them away so that you don’t have a best friend to leave behind and miss when you go on your exchange tour. You won’t realize that’s what you’re doing until Matt points it out to you. He’ll be right, but too late. Always remember your responsibility to those who give you their trust.

You’re fat. See the above about asses and bitches. Your body is the result of a hundred generations of Vikings and sturdy Irish peasantry. There is nothing you can do to change it… not by dieting, exercise, dressing differently, not eating, eating too much, cutting, closing yourself off to the world and pushing it away, or sticking pins into poppets. You’re stuck where you are. Once you stop focusing on your fat and look elsewhere the world becomes much more interesting.

While you’re working so hard to turn the outside into something it can’t ever be the inside is being neglected. Figure out what you really want. It isn’t to be thin; it’s all the things you associate with being thin (happy, outgoing, athletic, beautiful, desired, confident, etc.) The problem is that nothing is actually stopping you from being any and all of those things, right this minute, as a fat person. Find out what makes you happy. Work on reaching out to others. Wear clothes you like. Be proud of what you do well.

Do not accept any implication that there is something wrong with you. When your 9th grade school counselor has the bright idea to try and force you to be friends with the “other fat girl” at the school even though your weight is the only thing you have in common, stand up for yourself. Tell her she’s out of line. Tell her she’s stereotyping, and that she would never try this on two kids who happened to both be black in a predominantly white school. Tell your parents so that they can say it for you. They will.

Do not accept ownership of the shame and anger directed at you as a fat person. You have only to be ashamed of wrong action or words which hurt yourself or other living beings. That’s it. You do not have to take responsibility for anything else, including what others think of and do to you. If you do not accept the shame others try to instill in you, then it is only for them to feel it. Hold on to that when it gets bad.

Your family is your greatest ally. You are so wrapped up in your own hurt and resentment that you don’t even realize it. Your brother has and will always defend you, and will be a great friend if you let him. He’s your connection to people (gamers, geeks) who are most likely to accept you for who you are regardless of what you look like. He will also forgive all the rotten things you’ve done to him throughout your life. Your friends liking him doesn’t mean they like you any less, but your completely illogical jealousy and torture of him makes you look like a crazy, petty bitch. You resent him because you feel invisible, but that isn’t his fault. Don’t put your self-loathing onto other people, that’s always a mug’s game.

The level of anger, hurt, fear, resentment, paralyzing embarrassment and numbness you feel every day isn’t normal. It isn't something everybody else feels and just deals with better than you. It isn’t supposed to be this hard. Ask for help. Do it while you’re still on your parents’ kickass company insurance, because the kind of help you need costs money. You won’t get another chance.

When you get a bit older, and this is hard, remember it isn’t about who you can have; it’s about who you want. The two are NOT the same thing. You are not defined by who will sleep with you, because some men will sleep with anyone. Don’t mistake sex for love, that’s not how some guys are wired. Don’t accept less than respect from a partner, but make love your standard. (P.S., when Tyler asks you out…throw something sharp at him and run the other way. Fast. Far. Don’t look back.)

Until you have your own head and heart sorted out, sharing them with someone else is just going to end badly. No one is going to do it for you, or keep you on a little pedestal without ever noticing your faults so that you can ignore them as well. No one else is ever responsible for knowing when you need help, and it's unrealistic to expect it, no matter how well connected you are. You have to ask. No one is going to save you from yourself, or change you from the outside. That’s all on you.

Your half-brother is a bigot, a loser, and consumed by his own insecurities. He is not someone you should worry about impressing. He will not get any better in the next 15 years, and in fact will get worse. Do not place any importance on what he thinks of you.

Avoid the credit cards. I don’t care if you have to shop at Goodwill and eat ramen noodles the rest of your life (you won’t). Your credit balance will bury you just when you should actually be able to afford all the things you wasted money on too early.

Don’t be afraid of being the fat girl who loves to cook. Don’t give up anything you love because of how it might look to others.

Own your actions. Take responsibility for your own headspace. Take pictures, be in pictures, label pictures (trust me; it’s the only way you’ll remember what happened). Be careful what you project onto others (either demonizing or idealizing). Let people in, at least a little more. Write everything down, even the bad stuff. If nothing else, it’s practice. It’s all practice, so you don’t have to get anything right the first go-around. If you do hit 30 without finding that one person who can keep up with your constantly switching tracks in life, the world does not end. You’re an acquired taste, wait for a connoisseur. Trust in the universe, but lock your car. Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s all small stuff.


Jo, 15 years later.


TanteTerri said...

You made my eyes leak. I remember the 14 year old girl you are talking to. I wish I had been there to help, but I was a coward and ran thousands of miles from my family so I could find my own life.

But what makes me so proud is how far you have come. You are so young to have learned so much. So many people go through life and never come an inch closer to understanding all that you have. And you write of it so elegantly and poignantly.

Tante Terri

Anonymous said...

that was truly awesome