You are going to mess up and you will have some regrets. But be the boss of your own body, and let your freak flag fly.
My little sister and I were born 11 years apart, to the same two parents. Loving, kooky, birth-control-creative parents.
When I was 12, I could be found with a one-year-old on my hip, making dinner for our 6-person family, and changing diapers. I bathed her. I fed her. I got to help care for my personal living baby doll.
We shared a room, so I consoled her when she awoke in the middle of the night crying. As a teenager, sometimes I was the one crying, and I pulled her out of her crib to snuggle with me instead.
People used to say I was my little sister’s built-in-babysitter. I always looked at it the other way around: She was my built-in cheerleader. My entire life, and to this day, I can do no wrong in her eyes. What an incredible gift to grow up with: unabashed, unconditional love in that beautifully innocent kids-say-the-darndest-things kind of way.
When I was 15, I shared my room with my then-4-year-old baby sister. She was a chatty, bubbly little toddler with tight little ringlets framing her face. We would lie awake laughing, singing, and talking until the whole rest of the family reminded us the walls were too thin for our theatrics. Now she’s 15 and not much has changed. She doesn’t share her room with anybody, though, and I can’t help but feel like she’s missing out.
I wish we could lie awake together, dreaming about the future under the same roof now. The 11 years she has ahead of her aren’t easy—I know. Looking back on my pitfalls and missteps, my failures and heartbreaks, I have this advice for my “baby” sister, now a young woman coming of age during a feminist renaissance:
1. Let your freak flag fly.
Difference is what makes you beautiful. Don’t try to fit in. Your blue hair tells me you’ve figured this out already, but remember, the same thing goes for the intangibles of life: your ideas, your decisions, your tastes. Groupthink is such an easy trap to fall into. Find ways to cultivate mindfulness and ask yourself constantly, “Who am I doing this for?”
2. Other women are not competition.
Your generation already does this so much better than mine. I was the tomboy, the one who always wanted to keep up with guys instead of hang with the ladies. That same competition carried over into the flirtation field. When I was cheated on, I felt a burning anger toward the “other woman” and blamed her for my miserable ex-boyfriend.
All of that is wasted energy. There is no limit to how many badass women there can be in this world. When a guy (or girl) is interested in another woman and not you, you’re not interested in him/her, anyway.
3. Be the boss of your body.
You are in charge of your body. From the top of your head to the tip of your toes, that is all yours. Full stop. Sometimes you’re going to want to share it with others—and you might hear messages echoing in your head telling you that somehow you’re being bad. Since the dawn of time, society has made it seem like there are only two kinds of women: virgins and vixens, prudes and perverts, goody-two-shoes and sluts.
Bullshit. All of it. There is nothing wrong with wanting to get it on. Just remember, that no one else is as invested as you are in protecting your body and your health. So take precaution! Guard it—you only get one. And if you ever have questions or worries and don’t want to talk about it with mom and dad, you know I’m here. It will be delightfully awkward, but I promise we’ll laugh.
Remember that all that sexy stuff is only fun if you consent 100%. Never feel pressured into it. If you ever catch yourself saying inside your own head “I am not into this, I am not into this, I am NOT into this,” please find the strength to say it out loud. No one else will speak up for you. It is a million times easier to say nothing—but you need to protect your own body and your own happiness.
4. You are not fat.
Your body will change constantly. Some days you will like it more than others. But for each day it keeps you breathing, thinking, and moving, it is a tiny miracle. Get on board, you only get one. You can literally spend your life fighting it, or loving it.
Other people will make it seem cool to talk negatively about their own bodies. You’ll be getting ready to go out together and someone will say something along the lines of, “My boobs are so small,” and a chorus of other women will be like “OMG, me too!” or “at least your stomach isn’t huge like mine.” Guess what? You’re going to feel a compulsion to chime in similarly. You’ll feel a silent need to connect with and relate to those other girls. You’re going to want to talk smack about your own body to fit in.
Don’t. It’s toxic. Saying those words out loud makes them feel more true. Wipe those thoughts out of your brain because in reality, no one thinks about it as much as you do, anyhow.
5. Spend less time thinking and more time feeling.
You’re so analytical, like me. Sometimes, you’re so up in your head it’s hard to feel what’s going on in your heart, and nearly impossible to trust your gut, but you must. Stop looking for the “right” answers, there aren’t any. You can’t reason your way to making big, juicy life choices.
You’re already better at this than I am. Dad and I realized it when you started weeping at age 3 to that Bjork song about a monster, trapped in the forest, singing “who will love me now?” We thought you were injured because of your little toddler sobs. You were just incredibly moved. Hold onto that ability to tune into your feelings—you’ll need your gut and your heart to make a whole bunch of choices in these next 11 years.
6. Be pissed when you’re pissed.
I spent so much time trying to keep other people happy when I was unhappy. I didn’t want to tell my boyfriend he pissed me off or my best friend that I felt taken for granted. I didn’t want my professor to know I totally disagreed with her assessment on my paper, and I didn’t want my boss to think I was an irrational, angry woman. I wanted to be “nice,” and I wanted people to like me.
Fuck ALL of that. You have every right to be pissed when you’re pissed. And hey, by hiding our anger we’re actually being emotionally dishonest—and the other person we’re dealing with doesn’t even have a fair chance of responding to the situation—because s/he doesn’t know there is a situation.
Never hide your negative emotions because you’re afraid they’ll upset someone else. You don’t need to justify, rationalize, or explain your feelings to anyone. Feel the feelings you’re feeling.
7. Don’t try to fix other people.
You know all too well how I spent years of my life trying to help someone I loved understand how great he was. It’s not your job—and it’s not even possible, most of the time.
Sure, be supportive. Tell them you care, but not without caring for yourself first. If and when those closest to you are clearly in need of professional help, let yourself off the hook for turning their lives around. It’s a full-time job, and you’ve got a life of your own to live, not someone else’s to save.
I mean offline, darling. Otherwise you’d already have this down pat.
You recently returned from a week up at a fancy summer camp in Maine where mom got to bring you along while she served as camp nurse, remember? You said it was glorious. You liked the fact that you really did things with your hands, in nature. No tumblr. No texting. No snapchat.
Don’t get me wrong, I think technology is incredible and I too spend too many hours on r/aww looking at ridiculous animal GIFs. What joy these magic light boxes can bring into our lives!
But remember trees? Remember running around? Remember the sound of your bare feet on hot asphalt? As you grow up, recess becomes less and less encouraged—especially for us girls. Hold onto it like the life-saver it is. Find whatever it is you like to do—for fun—and do it at least once or twice a week.
9. Sometimes, you’re going to mess up.
I hate to admit it, but it’s true. Remember that feeling of getting a D that one time? Life’s full of little failures like that. You will make mistakes. You won’t always be your best self. You will have regrets—they are completely inevitable.
Here are your two choices for dealing with them: you can either (1) gloss over them in denial like they weren’t your fault and come up with all the ways in which you’re actually perfect, or you can (2) acknowledge your imperfection, recognize that your self-worth is not tied to your performance, and understand that you can and will do better next time.
10. Booze. The learning curve.
You have a very unique perspective on alcohol already, don’t you? The baby sister of two crazy teenagers, you witnessed our older brother and I stumble up alcohol’s steep learning curve ourselves over the years. It wasn’t pretty.
But just so you know, you mainly bore witness to the ugly ends of otherwise great nights. A night out with friends and some drinks can feel epic. Alcohol can make you feel invincible, for better or worse. Just know that you’re going to want to test your limits in the safest surroundings possible, with the people you trust more than anything.
And for real: Mom and Dad would never be upset with you if you called them for a safe, sober ride home if you ever need it.
And don’t forget that on the whole, alcohol is a depressant. You won’t feel it until the next day, or maybe it just creeps in over time, but regular boozin’ up is a real downer. It produces a melancholy haze over time that feels hard to shake. Getting drunk isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
11. You’re not here for anyone else’s entertainment.
Remember Vanessa? My perfect-SAT-scoring, genius best friend from college whom I adore? It took us about 25 years on this planet to realize that if someone we’re totally not interested in keeps texting us, we do not have to text back.
It’s just that simple.
Your time, effort, energy—your life—is not a source of free entertainment to others. If you have a friend or someone who’s interested in becoming a friend who you find draining, annoying, or you’re just getting bad vibes in your gut, you are not being a bitch if you decide to not spend time with that person. Be selective. Only let people into your life if they light you up, if they make your world just a little brighter. You deserve awesome people who make your world more awesome.
Remember: you don’t need to rationalize this kind of choice. You don’t need to justify it. You’re not going to be put on trial for deciding NOT to date someone. And if s/he puts you on that trial, well then you damn well better not hang out with that kind of jerk anyway. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Emilie Aries is a digital strategist and organizer who recently launched Bossed Up, a women’s empowerment startup focused on providing hands-on training for women entering the workforce with a holistic approach centered on health, happiness, and assertive communication.