To My 13-Year-Old Self on the Cusp of Becoming an Adult
Hello, 13-year-old Sarah.
I think about you often. You with your crunchy, gel-soaked hair, bright eyes filled with contact lens you can barely get in. Your world is a lot to handle right now. Middle school girls in the cafeteria are teaching you what it means to deal with social power structures at a micro level and American Idol results shows are teaching you how to deal with media-fueled power structures at a macro level. You’re babysitting, which means you are responsible for another life for the first time, and yet you still rely on your parents to guide you through everything. You’ve been busy preparing for your Bat Mitzvah, which everyone tells you means you’re about to become a woman. And you couldn’t feel farther from one.
A whole decade has gone by since then, and I suppose along the way some growing up did happen. I’m an adult woman now, and as I think about you, my 13-year-old self, there are some things I want to tell you. I’ve written a guide for you: “How To Grow Up.”
First of all, go with your mom when she wants to take you to yoga, and don’t complain. Push yourself to stretch, even when it hurts. You might not believe it now, but pretty soon you won’t be able to start a day without doing a sun salutation.
Stop playing Sims. Write something instead. I know you won’t listen to me, and that’s okay. I suppose we all need to waste a little time when we’re young to help us understand just how valuable that time is later on. Anyway, someday you’ll forget all the names of your Sim families, and you’ll need to buy new hard drive space to hold onto everything you’ve written, and some of what you’ve written will be preserved forever in the deep recesses of the Internet as published work. Really. And it’ll feel fucking awesome.
Right now you think New York is the center of the universe, the only place you could ever live and be happy. But within the decade you will have called three other cities home, and truly meant it. Be open. You’re going to become an explorer.
Watch good movies. Read good books. Listen to good music. I know that you with all your 13-year-old indignation are probably insulted that I might insinuate that you’re not already doing all these things, and I know that you are. What I mean to say is to keep on keeping on. Someday art and media will pay your bills and be the reason you get up in the morning. So celebrate the fact that you cry watching the finale of Will & Grace and that you paper your walls with your favorite quotes. Your walls and your life will always be filled to the brim with art.
Oh, and look out for Netflix. It will change your life.
You think you’ll never be able to swallow a pill, that your throat will close tightly every time a practice Tic Tac nears it. Your body is mysterious and wild; when the cramps or headaches or mood swings come, there is nothing you can do but succumb.
Well, there will come a day when the tension lessens. You’ll be amazed by the pills you down each day, pills to heal your head and your bones and your gut. And you will know that your body is yours and you have the control to make it strong.
You think you’re such hot shit right now cause all the boys at camp are into you and you turn them all down. You strut around with the glow of knowing you’re wanted, without any of the risk or pain of wanting back.
Your best friend jokingly asks you if you’re a lesbian because in middle school when a girl turns down a boy, of course homosexuality is the natural conclusion, and of course that’s hilarious.
But you simply aren’t interested in those boys. They can’t keep up with you and that’s okay. Don’t give in to your best friend’s teasing. Keep strutting and knowing you’re hot shit, all the while reading and writing and maybe even playing Sims if it makes you happy and running faster than the boys can keep up. It’s going to make you so much happier than you ever would have been holding hands with a skinny teenager who only sees you for a fraction of what you are and what you will be.
It also will make it all the more worthwhile later in life when you do find the boys, and then the men, who are worth your time. Oh, how they’ll be worth it, how they will see the beauty in you, how they’ll make your heart soar. You’ll be so happy to spend the time with the guys who can keep up, and the ones who give you space to run ahead. You’ll also learn the hard truth that even when you do meet the ones who make your heart soar, the time still might not be right and you’ll just keep on running and making your heart soar for yourself.
Of course, not all the guys will truly see you, not all people will make your heart soar. There will be the football player whose dead weight crushes you; lying beneath him is the first and only time in your life that you feel like a body and nothing more.
There will be the 50-year-old drivers ed teacher who tells you you’re too smart for your own good, and there will be the boy in English class who tells you you’ll be the first female president but still talks over you because his voice is louder.
There will be the teenage boys who shout as you walk down the street, and the old man who follows you up and down the aisles of Barnes and Noble. There will be the night a drunk guy spots you on the platform at Penn Station and follows you onto the train, choosing the seat next to you in a near-empty train car. He doesn’t leave until you’ve yelled at him long enough, muttering something about you being rude.
There will be the guy who attacks you in your freshman year dorm room, turning your safe space into one filled with shaky fear.
I tell you all this not to scare you, but to prepare you. To give you word from the other side of the battlefield, saying we survived it all and we continue to survive and thrive. Yes, you will learn that the world is rough, but it will also help you to learn your own strength. Because, leaving the football player’s bed, you will be happy to now know better how to find what you want and deserve. And the drivers ed teacher will just give you reason to prove how good your being smart can be. And the catcallers remind you of the autonomy of your body. And your attacker will show you how to claim and reclaim space for yourself.
And you value the people who make your heart soar all the more.
You are a generous, thoughtful friend. There are people who will try to take advantage of this. Don’t let them, but also don’t ever let go of that spirit. Your friends are your family, and your family are your friends. Your life is and will be filled with so much love.
Learn the word feminism. Breathe the word feminism. Feel the word feminism. Let the word vibrate on your lips, starting with that fiery “f” and ending with a buzzing “m.” Hum that “m” forever; the word never has to end. Let the word feminism ring through you like a golden bell with infinite reverberations.
Things will change and also they won’t. You will change and also you won’t. The change will come in the early morning talks with dancers and scientists and people you’d never expect to connect to. It will come at three in the morning when you don’t think you can possible write another word, and yet inspiration hits. It will come, when you still feel the pain of growing, but you push through it and realize you’ve gone a little farther each time. The change will invigorate you, and I implore you to embrace that even when it’s scary.
Be kind to yourself. Be patient with yourself. Be comfortable in your own truth.
You will spend more time with you than anyone else, so start to learn to love you. At 23, you’re making headway here, but it would be nice to have a head start.
Remember that you are enough. I’ll say it again, you are enough. Each day that you live, you will become more of enough as you realize just how enough you’ve always been.
You will be the strongest person you know.
I wish this letter could really reach you, that I could really look out for you like the older sister you never had. There’s no way for me to forecast for you all that growing up will be. But I can let you know that we make it, that we get to take in this big, beautiful world with all its complexities. That we spend each and every day overwhelmed by just how much there is to experience. You’re gonna love it.
I can’t wait to read the letter that 33-year-old me sends to the me I am now.
Originally published at www.sarahhallecorey.com.
Sarah is a writer, filmmaker, and digital content creator who produces work about feminism, feelings, pop culture, and everything in between. You can read more of Sarah’s writing here and here, and subscribe to her bi-weekly newsletter Pop Warrior here.