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In honor of the National Organization for Women Foundation’s 13th annual Love Your Body Day, I’m taking part in the Dove Movement for Self-Esteem, which is asking women: What advice would you give your 13-year-old-self? I invite you to read my letter, then write your own. Need some inspiration? Definitely check out this goosebump-inducing National Poetry Slam performance, entitled "Mom, Will I Be Pretty?”, by artist Katie Makkai.
I know you’re not going to listen to me because I’m an aging, uncool family member who has to say nice things to you, but please hear me when I say this:
You are not fat.
I know you spend your days cursing your “gigantic, disgusting butt” and wishing you were petite and skinny like your BFFs Jennifer, Jennifer and Jessica. I’ve watched you sweat it out to Tamilee Webb’s Buns of Steel in Dad’s home office. I’ve sat beside you as you begged Mom to please just fix you a salad for dinnerwhile everyone else has her delicious ketchup-topped meatloaf with melted cheese in the middle -- one of your favorites. But you simply are not overweight. You are tall -- one of the tallest in your class -- and there is a difference. So please, stop letting yourself get so distraught by the fact that your eighth grade graduation dress is a size 13 from Casual Corner. You just need the length.
It astounds me how early your preoccupation with weight began. I was peeking around your room and found your Hello Kitty diary. In an entry dated October 4, 1987, you wrote: I lost a pound! (You were 11 and, admittedly, equally excited about finding a quarter that day.) In a postcard from camp: “Puh-leeze send sugar-free lemon Kool-Aid!” Letters from grandparents during college will one day inquire, “Are you eating enough? Don’t get too thin!” Eventually, you will develop anorexia. If only I could convey through the obsession-clouded years to come the futility of starvation. Get a therapist. It’ll be all the rage in a decade.
Did you use to be a teeny bit chubby in fourth grade? Perhaps, but only because you had inherited Mom’s and Grandma’s delightful hypothyroidism. But the doctor put you on medicine that allowed you to sprout up like a weed, and any baby fat you may have had disappeared. It pains me to see how you mentally carry around that extra weight, how you trudge beneath the pain of being called a cow by a dim-witted male classmate. You are the furthest thing from a cow -- you are a lovely gazelle.
You have not yet gotten your period, and I know you are worried; all of your friends are shopping for bras and tampons. So what? They also have cramps and zits and have to shlep maxi pads around. You’re not jealous of those, are you? And I hate to burst your bubble, but when you turn 34, you still won’t need a bra all the time. Consider it a blessing in disguise.
You have not yet been kissed. It’s OK. The boys in your class are probably atrocious kissers right now anyway. In two years, you will sit in the kitchen with Dad late one night, crying over the fact that boys don’t like you, that you’ll never go on a date. Dad will brush away your tears and, as a news report about Operation: Desert Storm plays on the TV in the background, he will promise you that one day soon, a very smart, nice young man will recognize you for the treasure you are. A week later, on a family cruise trip in the Bahamas, you will have your first kiss with a sophomore football player from New Jersey, and it will be magical. (Three days after that, you will worry that you are pregnant, even though no clothes were ever removed. You’re not pregnant. Stop being a freak.)
You might not be the most popular girl in junior high, but you are smart and funny and a leader. Intelligence and wit will take you much farther than perfectly teased bangs or an ability to squeeze into Guess jeans.
In high school, you will go out for cheerleading and poms, but never make it past the first round of tryouts. Devastation will ensue. You will, however, make the flag team. Don’t fret -- this will provide entertaining conversation fodder for decades to come. I do encourage you to get more involved in sports, though. You might not be the most athletic girl in the world, but there’s still a place for you on the track or basketball team. One of your bigger regrets as an adult will be that you never participated in school sports. In college and beyond, you’ll make up for this with a manic dedication to working out, often spending hours at a time in the gym. (This, from a girl who refused to run The Mile in gym class because she didn’t want to ruin her hair with sweat!) Please, give it a rest. You will look the exact same whether you spend 30 minutes on the Elliptical or 60. I speak from experience.
Button up your jacket -- no one thinks you look cool when you wait for the school bus in 25 degree weather with your down coat flapping in the breeze.
Stop perming your hair.
Oh, and that black and white Herb Ritts poster you have hanging up in your bedroom? The one with Cindy, Christy, Stephanie, Naomi and Tatjana, all naked and looking flawless? It’s airbrushed.
PS Don't throw out your red key chain that says, "Sexy bitches carry red key rings." It's so you. And I want it.
-80% of women are dissatisfied with their appearance
-49 percent of 3 to 6 year old girls worry about being fat.
-By the fourth grade, more than 80 percent of girls have tried a fad diet.
What would you say to your 13-year-old self? Chime in below.