To My Girls as Teens,
I’m probably the last person you want to take advice from on being a teen. After all, I am your mom and so old. But old though I may be, I was once a teen. I have lived through it. I have come out the other side. And I have a few words of wisdom for you.
After all, it can be overwhelming to be a teenager, can’t it? Just a couple of years ago you were playing with dolls and reading books and magazines about animals. You wanted to spend all of your time at home, and the pictures on your walls were of your family and perhaps some nursery rhymes from when you were younger.
Since then, you have put the dolls to the side. The books you read now, when you have time to read something non-school related, are about relationships and growing up and entering into new worlds. Your magazines no longer tell cute stories. Instead they teach you how to protect yourself against rape and how to appear sexy enough for the boys to like you. Every single issue has stories about losing weight and hiding problem areas and cultivating the perfect abs. I know this because the stories are about the same exact things they were about twenty years ago–only the fashion and technology have changed.
You might wonder where this leaves you. All the media you consume tells you that you are now becoming an adult. But sometimes you really don’t feel like it, do you? (That feeling, by the way might never go away. I’m 36 and I still find myself confused by being an adult.)
But why I am writing is to talk to you about those ideas of being a woman.
If our culture teaches us anything, it’s that being a woman means being sexy and smart and accomplished and nurturing and educated and inquisitive, and any number of other things. Most of these things are great. The one that concerns me is the sexiness.
There’s nothing wrong with a person being sexy once they are of an age where they fully understand and accept what that means. But the problem is that people who want to make money off of you make it seem like all of us should be sexy — even those who aren’t ready to accept what that means.
And the thing is that this is a really effective way for people to make money off of you. Teenagers want to be liked. They want to be noticed by the opposite sex. And they want to grow up. And marketers are right there to tell you that the best way to do all of these things is to make yourself sexy. To use your body to sell your sexiness.
But let’s look at that for a moment.
You are a person. A whole person. You have strengths and weaknesses. You have aspects of your life you are proud of. You have a brain that hopefully you like to share with the world. You are kind. You have big dreams and big goals. You have multiple interests. There are some things you really dislike. You have groups of friends and a family. Perhaps you are involved in sports, or perhaps you are an artist or a writer or an aspiring fashion designer. Maybe you have dreams of being a biologist or a doctor or a stay-at-home mom. Maybe you really aren’t sure yet what you want to be, and maybe that simultaneously excites and terrifies you.
These are really great, cool things that make you you… They make you into such an interesting and rich character. If you show them to the world, they will draw people to you. The unabashed sharing of your passions will give others permission to live their own passions. You are really cool.
So of all of those things that make you interesting and unique, which are the ones you want to emphasize in the way you dress? Which are the ones that you want to put on the billboard that is your body? Do you want to emphasize the sexiness, or would you prefer to advertise your sense of style or your artistry or your intelligence or your class?
Please don’t get me wrong. No one has a right to treat you any way they choose based upon how you dress. No one has a right to expect things from you, and most especially, no one has a right to take from you. Regardless of whether you dress in turtle necks and long pants or you wear a string bikini year round, your body is your own and will always be your own and no one else’s. I’m not implying you should dress in any way for any person ever.
What I’m asking you to consider is how you want to dress for yourself. How do you want to present yourself to the world? Sexuality is part of being human. But is it always the number one aspect of yourself that you want to portray? Is it the most important aspect? Is it really what makes you you? And if you find it’s what draws others to you, I would gently caution you to consider whether those are the people you want to draw.
I wish you luck and laughter and peace and confidence during these years. They aren’t easy. But they can be beautiful. For perhaps the first time in your life, you have the freedom to make some choices about who you want to be. Make those decisions with wisdom, with the future in mind, with your self respect in mind. You are an awesome person. Let the world see that.
Image credit: Irelynkiss