There's a challenge going on in my town to write the things you wish you'd known when you were a teenager on a postcard. The postcards will go on display for young people to read.
But garrulous Aunt Annie couldn't imagine fitting all that sensitive information onto a postcard! So here's my letter-sized 'postcard' to the teenage Annie. It feels like a bit of reparenting, actually; it feels like forgiving myself for what I didn't know back then.
Why not try it yourself? The more we resolve our own issues, the more resourceful and resilient we become for our children. And who knows- when your children hit those teenage years, your letter to yourself might be a great way to bring up some tricky issues.
Note that this is a letter to myself! This isn't the way I'd talk to a teenager who wasn't me- not at all. I can be much more blunt to myself. :)
There are some things I want you to know, because I love you. I'm really sorry I wasn't around when you were growing up. Maybe one day time travel will make that possible, but for now I'll just have to give you this loving advice with the benefit of hindsight.
First of all, it's about this dieting thing. Annie, my dearest, diets don't work; diets make you crazy. Look at you. Every minute of the day, you're either thinking about what you're going to eat next or what you can't have. You need to just stop it, because you're not going to get thinner by starving yourself. It's not sustainable. Food- cooking it, making up recipes, serving it to others as well as enjoying it yourself- is going to become one of your greatest pleasures, when you get over this diet thing and just learn to make what you want and stop eating when you've had enough. But the more you diet, the harder it's going to be to find your natural body signals again.
You take after your Polynesian great-grandmother; you're curvy. You simply are never going to be that size 8 clotheshorse shape- or rather, the only way you'll acquire that shape is when you're unable to eat at all. Your hair will start to fall out. Your arms will look like skeleton arms. Sure, you'll fit into a bikini for once, but bald skeletons don't look good in bikinis. You'll be embarrassed when you see the photos.
And do you know what? Lots of men actually like curvy girls. Girl-shaped girls. You are girl-shaped. You will not cut the poor chaps in half with your hip bones when you make love. This is a good thing. Part of your style will be not looking the same as other people; you'll learn to dress to suit yourself. Start now.
And another thing- do you remember how much time you used to spend outside? Somehow you've got to find your love of the great outdoors again, because all this sitting around moping about your body size is robbing you of your energy and one of your greatest pleasures. Crazy, isn't it? The dieting steals the energy you need to be active, yet what you need to feel happy about your shape is the energy to move around and enjoy what your body can do.
And hey, don't wait till your late twenties to join that tap dancing class. You're going to love it. You're going to be good at it. You don't really hate exercise- you hate being told to exercise, and you hate competitive sport because you don't actually think beating people is fun. But that's okay. Dancing is exercise, and you love dancing.
But enough about your body. Bodies aren't nearly as important as you think they are, though health is. What about your mind and your heart?
I can see now that you've always let your heart rule your head. It would be better if you didn't have to hear that from your solicitor, after someone who said they loved you stole a lot of money from you and aged you five years in six months with mischievous legal action. Don't confuse passion with love. Hormones have a lot to answer for. Trust your instincts, and if your instincts say run for your life, don't worry about how it looks to other people. It's your life. It's not a dress rehearsal. Be brave.
I mean, you're your own worst enemy. I've got to say, Annie, I really love the way you give your loving support to others. You're a really generous person. But honey, there comes a point where you're letting people walk all over you, and then you disappear. It's like you fold yourself up and squeeze into a little box so you won't upset anyone. And then, where did you go? You can't even see yourself any more. A little self-preservation, Annie!
If someone really loves you, they won't ask you to squeeze into a box and disappear. They'll love you for who you are and they'll want you to shine out like the sun, not disappear into their shadow. I promise you you'll find someone who loves you like that, but you'll save yourself a lot of trouble if you can draw some lines in the sand. The sky won't fall if you insist on some room for your own personality and your own needs.
Oh, and one more thing about that- don't think you can change people. You can only change yourself. You always will have choices in your relationships, but those choices never include fixing people or changing people. If you want people to love you as you are, then you need to love them as they are too- and if you can't, make the choice to walk away.
You'll know when it's Mr Right. He'll see who you are and let you go on being who you are. He won't try to compete with you. He'll be too busy being himself and doing his own thing, and you'll love that. You won't recognise how wonderful it is to be with someone who does their own thing till you've spent some time on your own. Don't be scared of being alone. Being alone is wonderful. Being alone will give you some of the best times of your life. You don't have to have a partner hanging off your arm like a handbag to have a full life.
It's the same with your career; you let other people influence you too much. You already know what you love to do. You love music, but you love to write even more. Yet you're going to just drop the writing after school, because someone told you an arts degree wouldn't help you make money. That's a stupid reason to drop something you love so much. Stand up for yourself, Annie! Stop trying to please everyone else but yourself! Open the doors to doing what you love best.
I'm proud of you, Annie. You're not a drinker, you don't do drugs, you don't smoke. You're very strong and responsible. You deal with your problems by talking about them, or by reflecting on them. I want to warn you that some people hide their problems behind substance abuse. I want you to know that if someone says or does something awful to you while they're under the influence of alcohol, that is probably what they really think; that is probably what they're really like. Alcohol is a disinhibitor. Don't just forgive them for those things and make the excuse that they didn't know what they were saying. Take them as warnings, and act on them.
You're a good person, Annie. Take good care of yourself. Make sure you don't have so many people leaning on you that you become crushed yourself. Nurture your relationships with your girlfriends. There will be times when you need their support. Don't think you always have to be the strong one. Don't hesitate to get professional help when you're overwhelmed. It will be the best choice you ever make and it will teach you so much about yourself. Asking for help doesn't mean you're weak; it means you're human.
And the last thing I want to say to you is, don't be scared of aging. Wisdom does actually make up for starting to lose your looks. It's a wonderful feeling to have so much of your sh*t together after all this time on earth.
The frustrating part is not being able to share it with you when you need it.
Your ever loving