Open Letter to My Cousin and Every Other Young Girl on the Verge of Womanhood

We celebrated your 14th birthday last night, and after dinner had been eaten, presents opened, candles blown out, and cake devoured, you made a few comments that caused me to worry.

I need to lose some of this (referring to your barely existent stomach).

I can’t fit into last year’s jeans.

I feel bloated.

My butt is too big.

I know these phrases. I’ve heard these phrases. I’ve said these phrases. These phrases became my worst enemy. They ate away at my self-image until I refused to eat.

I thought that in order to be beautiful, I had to look a certain way. I knew I never would look this way because it’s not in my DNA, but I tried to anyway.

I tried to make myself smaller to fit in the box labelled ‘Perfection.’

I was willing to give up my individuality, what makes me me, to gain a definition of beauty that I realize now I don’t want to fit.

And I’m not saying you’re going to be like this.

I’m not saying you’ll struggle with an eating disorder. I’m hoping you don’t. But I’m saying to you, watch out. Eating disorders are uncomfortably common in society today, and it’s easier to fall into their trap than you think it is.

I never thought it would happen to me.

Unfortunately, it did. I started to believe the whispers in my head that told me I wasn’t beautiful enough.

It starts with a whisper, and then it escalates to a scream in your head that you’re not beautiful enough.

And not everybody develops eating disorders, but everybody compares themselves to others.

If I had her legs, her face, her hips, her hair, maybe I’d be beautiful.

It starts with comparing, but it can escalate from there, which can be extremely dangerous.

So, when I hear you make comments like this, I have to respond.

I need to lose some of this (referring to your barely existent stomach).

I can’t fit into last year’s jeans (it’s called “growing up”).

I feel bloated (did you know your weight can change from day-to-day?).

My butt is too big (it’s not too big. You’re getting hips. You’re a woman, not a 2×4).

One day, you’re a girl. The next day, you’re on the verge of womanhood. And society is so quick to rush the process along, we forget to teach you that it’s ok to take your time. It’s ok to not look like everybody else.

It starts with that wonderful (but not-so-secretly terrible) gift that Mother Nature gives us every month. Then it moves to developing breasts and hips. Your clothes stop fitting the way they used to. You’re becoming a woman, and it’s terrifying.

You move from child to woman overnight, and suddenly you’re wearing adult clothes. One day, you wake up, look in the mirror, and see your mother. When did this happen?

You see all these magazines and movies with women who don’t look like you. And that’s ok. We can’t all look the same.

You’re beautiful anyway.

You’re beautiful despite your insecurities (and it’s ok to be insecure. We all are at times).

You’re beautiful despite, and because of, your imperfections.

You may have a bigger butt than you like. Your hips may be wider than you like. You may be too tall, too short, too fat, too thin. You may have too many curves or none at all.

That’s ok.

You’re a woman, not a 2×4.

I need you to know this now before you become like me and enter your Freshman year at college and realize you can’t remember the last time you ate a full meal or three times a day.

I need you to know this now before you lose yourself trying to become like other people.

I need you to know this now because it’s harder to unlearn poor body image later. It’s harder to unlearn your insecurities than it is to learn what you like about yourself.

I need you to know this now because you’re beautiful. And maybe looking in the mirrors some days is painful. You don’t have to look. The mirror can’t tell you how other people see you. The mirror can’t tell you how smart you are, how funny you are, how athletic you are, how musical, how bright your future is.

I know society teaches us that beauty is important, but it shouldn’t be the most important thing.

I’m telling you to be more than pretty. Be pretty amazing, pretty smart, pretty kind, pretty funny, pretty eager to change the world.

A five letter word does not describe you.

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