In honor of International Women's Day, I decided to write a letter to my younger self inspired by the #DearMe initiative on YouTube. Of course, it ended up a lot longer than I expected, but thanks for reading. Happy International Women's Day!
Dear Teenage Amanda,
I want you to know something: life isn't perfect.
You haven’t moved to New York (I know you’ve been wanting that for a long time). You don’t work in publishing. You still don’t understand how to relationship. Your parents end up getting divorced (you actually handled this pretty well, all things considered). You’ve lost a lot of things: from trivial things, like bobby pins and pens (so many pens), to more substantial ones, like best friends and relatives.
But here’s the thing: you’re in a good place right now.
I don’t necessarily mean that physically — you still spend a lot of time dreaming about New York life and you’re hoping to start moving towards that dream soon — but mentally. You’ll still have stumbling points; your base level of anxiety never seems to leave you, and you’ve perfected your self-depreciating sense of humor, but you have a pretty okay handle on things. You’re pretty okay.
You'll go off to college thinking that you’ll meet new people who’ll replace your high school friends (the ones you, I’m very ashamed to say, sort of abandoned your senior year in order to hang out with another group, who only accepted you on the surface). But while you’ll meet some pretty awesome people (who you still keep in touch with), you’ll come to realize how special your home friend group is during breaks from school and especially after you graduate from college. They sort of become your cornerstone; you don’t have to pretend to be something that you aren’t with them. They'll accept that you’re still changing and will continue to change. They accept you. It's pretty cool.
Speaking of friends, you’ll also get caught up in this crazy thing called fandom. While it’s kind of exhausting at times (and you’ll encounter jerks who want to put a damper on your excitement just because you’re a girl), you’ll also end up with some pretty awesome friends from all over. Embrace them — they’re good people.
You end up changing a lot in college. You prefer skirts and dresses and tights and cardigans now (even though you still nerd it up with a fandom tee). You paint your nails and wear makeup. You have a slightly worrying obsession with red lipsticks. You like wearing shoes with high heels. You took the plunge and got bangs (it was a good look for you!), but you’ll come to realize you like a short, above your shoulders style best (this is a recent development, who knows what your next style will be). You’re still toying with the idea of getting a tattoo.
You’ll change a lot on the inside, too. You still love reading, but you’ll come to prefer comics more (you’ll also develop an insane affinity for Captain America). You mainly read books digitally — it’s totally all right. Social media will become very important to you. Your love for bands like Arctic Monkeys and The Killers stays as strong as ever, but you’ll also grow to be more accepting in your musical tastes and end up loving Taylor Swift and Beyoncé too. I know it’s kind of crazy to think about now, but your love for Doctor Who and Joss Whedon will end up waning, but don’t worry, you’ll find new things to grow to love, and you’ll always have Gilmore Girls. You’ll also finally learn how to crochet and knit and sew (and you’ll stockpile patterns and fabric and yarn like crazy and you have a little side business making cute things for people). You drink your coffee black with sugar but take your tea with sugar and soy milk. You’ve discovered tons of new and tasty foods. You enjoy baking (cookies, mostly), and you’re really into soccer. Your favorite painting is Edvard Munch's The Scream.
You still cry at books and movies and holiday-themed commercials. You’re still absolutely confounded by guys and flirting. You still stay up way too late sometimes, just for the hell of it. Your sweet tooth never lessens. You have your good days and your off days. You’ve come to accept that there is no such thing as a perfect person.
This realization isn’t as depressing as you think it’ll be. There’s not a pinnacle point of perfection, so you can always aim to become better. You’ll find this intangibility comforting. You’re a constant work-in-progress. You’re still working out how to be a better friend, daughter, sister — a better person. You’ll still make mistakes, and that's okay — own up to them, and accept the fact that, sometimes, the blame really does lie on you. Apologizing isn’t the same as backing down — it doesn’t mean you’re being walked over — it doesn’t mean you’re weak. There so many interpretations, and you’ll learn how to piece them together to help you gain a larger perspective about the the world.
Despite your insistence that you won’t ever take theory-heavy English classes, you’ll end up taking two near the relative end of your time at university (by the way, you graduate a semester late — it’s fine; don’t worry about it). These classes end up being two of your favorites. The first one will expand your thoughts about literature in so many mind-bendingly cool ways, and the second one will open your eyes in so many other important ways. It’ll introduce you to deconstructionist theory and feminist theory and LGBTQ theory and intersectionality, and I can’t stress to you how important you will find all these things to be.
You’ll learn the importance of female friendships. The importance of building other women up, instead of making everything into a weird sort of competition, where the only winner is a society that treats all women poorly. If there’s anything you could have learned earlier, I wish it were this. Value your female friends; value your femininity; value your voice and your agency as a female. Seek out good representations of women in the media. Don’t shame other women. You don't have to tear other women down in order to build yourself up. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground, especially with guys and especially with your guy friends. You’re always going to have to work on this, but please please please, don’t back down.
You still have a lot of things you would like to improve about yourself and about the world. That’s fine. Embrace change, but don’t get yourself down when things aren’t progressing as fast as you would like them to. Keep up with your friends. Don’t stress yourself out too much. Sometimes, all you’ll need to do is cool down for a bit and unwind with a cup of tea and a book or something to watch.
Most importantly: keep doing you. You've already been doing a pretty amazing job.
Amanda, aged 23