Once, when I was 19 I turned to my friend and said, “I was so worried last night that I haven’t slept at all.”
We were sat on our filthy rented house sofa. I was wearing a huge baggy jumper, clutching a glass of vodka and blackcurrant squash, I was exhausted. I hadn’t slept. I’d been up worrying about the three things that took up most of my brain space as a teenager: how fat I was, how stupid I was, how uncool I was. It had taken an immense amount of courage to utter those 12 words.
My friend rolled her eyes and let out an exasperated sigh.
“You’re always worried,” she said without even looking at me. She was on her laptop, looking at impossibly cool things on the internet because she was cool.
Then she went back to being her apparently self-assured self whilst I continued to worry, now with the added anxiety that I was annoying. I would worry that I worried too much for the next three years.
I spent most of my teens being a scared little mouse. I was scared about who I was, I was scared about what I might never be. I worried about fitting in and to combat that, I decided to just be like everyone else. I listened to the music they liked, I watched the films they raved about, I wore the clothes the magazines told me to wear and I spouted the same opinions my friends did.
Another worry crept in to my nightly rotation: that I didn’t like this person I had created. I didn’t like these bands, these films, these opinions, these clothes.
Looking back on poor, scared, teen me with the perspective of a decade, I wish I could go back and tell her a few things and save her a few dozen sleepless nights.
Firstly, your body is so much more than something for other people to look at and assess you by. The width of your hips is not a visual representation of the depth of your kindness. The gap between your thighs will not diametrically increase your confidence. You are not just the rolls of flab on your stomach and swell of your buttocks.
The hours and hours you spend now, looking in the mirror, pinching inches of fat until your skin goes red and sore, writing down calories, frantically doing sit-ups in the dark, those hours could be spent doing something worthwhile. In the time you spent agonising over your body you could have written a book, learnt to play the piano, watched Gilmore Girls a third, fourth and fifth time through. All these things are more enriching than measuring your thighs with a tape measure and worrying that the tap water has sugar in it.
Also, this is the thinnest you’re ever going to be, so have sex with the lights on, wear the crop top, take up space – be proud of your body, don’t punish it.
Secondly, you are a person all in your own right. You have your own likes and dislikes and talents and weaknesses. If all your friends are pretending to like the same band, same hairstyle, same thoughts then let them. There is so much value in being different, being the one voice saying something true. There isn’t safety in being the same – it just leads to the panic of being caught out as an impostor and misery over denying your true self.
Even when I did ‘all the right things’ – wore the correct clothes, listened to the right music, went to the right bars – I couldn’t enjoy myself because I had the constant fear of being found out. That any second someone would turn and scream, “she’s not meant to be here! She’s not one of us!”
Finally, just because somebody else says something with certainty doesn’t make it true. I’ll tell you what sort of people speak with authority about matters that do not concern them: MORONS.
People will tell you that you are too worried, that you are too boring, that you should hang out with your boyfriend less, that you should hang out with your friends less, that you should go to festivals (you hate festivals!). You will tie yourself in knots trying to please everybody and you will rarely please yourself. Don’t. As long as your actions aren’t hurting you or anybody else then the correct thing to be doing is WHATEVER THE HELL YOU LIKE.
What I’d really like to say to teenage me is this:
Be brave. There are lots of things to worry about in this world but what people think about you should not be one of them. I’d say, eat the cake and don’t worry about it, wear the weird dress that no one likes but makes you feel like Kate Bush, decline invitations to parties you do not wish to attend, if you want to see your boyfriend then see your boyfriend and if you don’t then don’t. I’d say, listen to the song you like on repeat, go for a long walk on your own, cry if you’re sad and do not feel compelled to wear low-rise jeans just because everybody else is.
This is your life, I would say, it’s yours to make what you want out of it and you won’t do that by letting other people make your decisions for you.