I’ll be frank with you.
I was the girl your parents warned you to stay away from.
Every tasteless thing you didn’t want your teenager daughter to be…
Allow your imagination to run free here.
I’m not proud of it, but it’s my story.
I wanted to fit in, and I wanted friends who existed outside AOL chat rooms.
Every year I tried to be somebody or something that would be liked.
The girl who wore Abercrombie & Fitch.
The girl who pierced her lip and shopped at Hot Topic.
The girl with the apple bottom jeans and Baby Phat shoes.
None of it worked to increase my rank in the social hierarchy, so I had to do something drastic. My jeans got tighter, and my clothes got sexier. And it worked. Although I got all the attention and made tons of friends, I lost more than I could’ve ever gained. Myself.
I was trying to find the corner in the world that had my name on it. I was searching for that huge sign that said, “YOU BELONG HERE.” But I was worthy all along. When you spend so many years seeking the approval of others, you learn some teachable lessons along the way. If I could go back to that musty cafeteria and mentor 16 year-old me, I’d say something like this:
9 Things I Would Tell My Teen Self If I Could Go Back
1. It’s okay that you don’t know who you want to be.
Go ahead, try on different personalities for size. Want to be nerdy and dive nose deep into Google analytics? Do it. Interested in the inner workings of a digital camera? Go ahead girl. Because you’re under no obligation to be anything or anyone you don’t want to be. Not now. Not ever.
The best part about being a teenager is the freedom to play different sports and get involved in various extracurricular activities. Not knowing who you are right now doesn’t make you a “poser,” it makes you an explorer. So, explore away and embrace your journey of self-discovery.
2. It’s okay to not be like the rest.
Don’t be afraid of being called weird. Take back control of the word and wear the label with pride. The thing is, humans love to label things that they don’t understand so they can make sense of the people or concepts that they’re unfamiliar with. But much to their dismay, you weren’t created for their comfort or understanding.
It’s much easier to say than it is to practice, but remember being different doesn’t mean that something is inherently wrong with you. I get it, you don’t want to be the weird kid. You want to be cool, but maybe…just maybe you’re trying to fit in a space that you’re much too big for.
3. It’s okay not to know what you’re doing or where you’re going.
Having a plan is super. And saying, “I want to be a neurosurgeon,” sounds pretty awesome. But the reality is this: plans change, as they should. So give yourself permission to be flexible. Remember what I said about exploring? Do that with careers and majors too.
Shadow different professionals in their line of work to get a feel for the culture. Is neurosurgery something you could see yourself doing long-term? Or does it make mom happy? There are profitable and rewarding careers that don’t always require a 4-year bachelor’s degree. It’s okay to dedicate a year after high school to discover what it is you truly want to do. Find the things you’re good at, the things that get your heart racing, and learn where those skills can best be utilized.
4. It’s okay to fall in love (and fall out of it).
Being boy crazy is not exclusive to your 20’s. After all, your hormones are just doing what they’ve been biologically designed to do. It’s confusing, and it’s often uncomfortable. Scientists do their best to make sense of these chemicals we secrete that control everything from our body temperature to our physical reaction when we see insanely cute boys.
Being attracted to boys and wanting a boyfriend is noorrrmaallll. Distracting? Absolutely. But normal. Who doesn’t wish to receive sappy notes, cheap flowers, or to hold hands in between classes? It feels good to be loved, even if it’s puppy love.
5. It’s okay to have bad days.
People will minimize problems in your life. They will tell you that your stressors and struggles either aren’t real or that someone else has it worse–like you weren’t already aware. You’ll be told countless times to be thankful that you don’t have real adult problems yet, followed by irrelevant and unsolicited advice. But I’m here to remind you that your issues are real, and they deserve to be validated. Your feelings are real, and they certainly deserve to be acknowledged and felt fully.
A break-up, fighting with your best friend, and getting bullied at school all SUCK! You deserve the freedom to feel and express those emotions until you gain your confidence back. Communicating this to others is challenging, but a simple, “I’m feeling a little down, because _____, can we talk about this when I’m ready?” will carry you a long way. If anything, it can get people off your back, at least temporarily.
6. It’s okay not to be liked.
This might be the hardest piece of advice to live up to, but it’ll serve you well as you get older.
When you finally lose the aspiration to be liked by everyone, you start living in your truth, and there is nothing more satisfying than that. It’s a bold move, especially as a teenager, but it’ll make you fearless, empowered, and brave.
You aren’t going to be liked by everybody for reasons outside of your control and far beyond your understanding. It. Is. Uncomfortable. It doesn’t feel amazing, but you should continue to be yourself anyways.
It’s in our nature to desire connection with others; it’s fundamentally human. I’m not telling you to pretend you don’t care what others think. I’m telling you to focus and invest your time in the people who make you feel safe.
There are people in your life who think you hung the moon–spend more time with them. They love the outlandish dances you come up with to Nicki Minaj songs, and they admire your sheer curiosity for life. They also won’t sleep with your boyfriend, so love them, treasure them, and keep them around.
7. It’s okay to speak up.
Holding your tongue to keep the peace does one thing: it compromises your integrity. How many times have you shrunk yourself out of fear? Fear of being rejected, fear of being too vulnerable, fear of confrontation, or fear of being punished? Stop that. Find your voice and speak your truth girl!
Will you get in trouble at home? Probably. Will people talk about you? Without a doubt. While you’re facing whatever consequence, remember being in trouble is temporary. Scrutiny, while painful, can be overcome. Choose authenticity over everything.
8. It’s okay to be insecure sometimes.
Our culture will try to make you feel crappy about being insecure. They’ll call you weak for it too. Don’t listen to this. Everybody and I mean absolutely everybody is insecure about something. We’re all wounded, and we all want something or someone to save us from our pain. However, there’s strength in recognizing your flaws and learning to dance with them.
Admitting to yourself that, hey, this awful traumatizing thing happened to me, and I’m still learning how to cope with it–is robust. Giving yourself permission to experience all of you, the good and the bad, will strengthen your ability to trust yourself. Please, just try not to wallow in your flaws. Recognize, accept, then reconnect.
9. It’s not okay to disrespect your body.
Lastly, there are going to be times where you hate your body. It’s unfortunate, but companies work strategically to make sure that you do–to convince you to buy whatever they’re selling or promoting for that season. Does, “I want a nose job, mom,” sound familiar?
Your body is freak-ing gorge-ous. Treat her with respect! No more pinching your belly fat with both hands in the mirror, or pushing your boobs up to your chin. Nourish your body. Cellulite n’ stretch marks n’ all. Because honey, let me tell you, you’re going to have two kids one day who will show you what stretch marks are really about. So, be kind to yourself always.
You’re a strong girl, with an altruistic heart.
You didn’t need me to tell you that...
What you needed was permission to be that.
I want you to take these little gems and keep them in your back pocket. Remember them when you feel scared, ashamed or like a total fraud.
Trust yourself, rely on support when you can’t, and leave little trails of your magic wherever you go.
Antoinette Ansah is an X-Ray Technologist and freelance writer. At night she’s taking pictures of people’s internal organs, and during the day, she’s running through the streets of Houston with her kids. When she’s not writing or cleaning up sticky messes, she can be found on her laptop eating gummies and studying anything psychology related.