Dear 14-Year-Old Me

This month, we start by looking back to our past selves. We weren't born feminists. But being born in traditional families taught us how to box ourselves in the girl category. Read through J's letter to her 14-year-old self as she shares her teenage struggles.

Dear Fourteen-Year-Old Me, Forgive me if I dismissed you when you thought it was unfair how you were treated at home as opposed to your brothers. Growing up, you were taught there was a box for boys and a box for girls. It was not easy being an only girl with two brothers. They had someone to share that box with; you were on your own. And being on your own allowed you to see more clearly the distinction between your box and that of your brothers. Your box had its own set of rules. Everything you own had to be pink. Every toy you touch had to be a doll or part of a kitchen set or filled with glitters. Every TV show you watched had to be the “cartoons for girls”. Never mind that you wanted other colors. Never mind that you wanted to play with robots and they kept stealing it off your hands and putting a Barbie doll in place. You even tried playing dolls with your brother and got scolded because of it. (Maybe your brothers’ box had their own set of rules too) Every time you crawl out of the box, they keep on shoving you back to let you know your place. In that box. In the kitchen making sandwiches. In the house before nightfall. In decent clothes: skirts and shorts that went way below your knees. But, deep inside, you knew something was wrong with the box. Forgive me if I let you think puppy love could be under the guise of outright bullying. When you were ten years younger and a boy pulled on your pigtails, they told you it’s because he has a crush on you. Five years after that, they said the same thing when another boy peeked under your school uniform. You were so confused. You feel flattered for feeling wanted and yet you were also angry that they had to choose the worst way to let you know you can be wanted. And then you ask yourself: Do they really like me? Then why do I feel icky? Why do I feel violated? Isn’t it inappropriate for them to do that? But then you also feel elated for the attention. They tell you boys will be boys and that you should just feel happy someone likes you, dark skin and all. It’s another case of teenage cognitive dissonance. Because, deep inside, you knew something was wrong with the way they let you know you are liked, if you were liked at all. Forgive me if I made you feel ugly. That you had to make an effort to be prettier than the other girls while making it seem like you’re not even trying. Buried in comparison with all the other beautiful faces, you overlooked your own majesty. You started setting the standard of beauty based on those flashy magazines. You try to make an effort, though: powder, lip balm, new hairstyle. All you got were snickers from your classmates and snide comments from a few relatives about how you’re trying too hard. Sorry if I let them get to you. Sorry if I failed to see the beauty within, the beauty you already possess. For that and maybe a whole lot more, I ask for your forgiveness. Sorry if it took 9 long years to let you know that it’s okay. It is okay to feel awful about the box. It is okay to feel tricked into thinking that love and oppression are pretty much the same thing. It is okay to feel stripped of your own sense of beautiful. We knew something was wrong. And now, I assure you that all of it was real and it will be okay because we will make it okay. To hell with the box. To hell with boys being boys. To hell with people telling us that to be beautiful means only being fair-skinned and hair-free. You are now a teenage girl with a voice, and that voice will be speaking for others who can’t speak for themselves or whose voice was silenced. Your voice is special, and that voice I will always hear from here on out.

- J

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