The usual genre of this list is “Advice I’d like to give my teen self” or “15 things I wish I knew when I was younger.” But we’re changing the assumption that our teen selves weren’t already strong and cool. In fact, we think they maybe even knew more about some things than we do now. Here is our three part series, Letters to my Teen Self, imagining a back and forth exchange between our past and present selves.
Dear High School Rebecca,
1. You are a complicated person. Just because you’ve been pegged as the “happy girl” doesn’t mean you are always obligated to feel and act that way all of the time. Your other emotions are valid and don’t make you anything but human.
2. You have an innate ability to connect with the people around you. Use that to meet people who are different from you: different types of Jews, folks from different religions, backgrounds, races, and ethnicities. You have so much to learn from others, and interconnectedness and understanding will lead to a more whole and just world.
3. In your future, you will be connected to many people who will love you unconditionally for exactly who you are and be attracted not only to your physical appearance but for your brain and personality. Don’t waste your time with anyone who will treat you like you are just a body. Or people who ask to keep your relationship a secret. They do not deserve your attention.
4.The same goes for sex – you will meet people in your future who will respect you enough to wait for your consent, and not coerce you into anything you’re unsure about. They will expect nothing less than enthusiastic participation on your part, and reciprocate with precious attention to your needs and desires. Be with more people like that – even if it means letting go of people who you considered “friends.”
5. It’s okay if the only future you are thinking about is what you are going to have for lunch.
6. Just because you are a girl doesn’t mean you are automatically bad at math and science. Don’t fall prey to antiquated stereotypes. If your teachers aren’t guiding you in the best way, find help elsewhere. Your mental capacity for understanding challenging concepts is limitless. You can handle it.
7. Your friends and family have special powers, and they will continue to hold you up and make you the strongest you that you can be. Don’t forget even during your hardest times that you can find solace with them over and over again.
You know that voice in your head that tells you there is something wrong that the women’s siddurs you found in a classroom have a prayer for finding a husband, that sitting behind a too tall mechitza makes you feel unincluded, and that it’s not fair that the boys don’t ever have to practice step aerobics in gym class but can instead play basketball? These are your introductions to feminism! Listen to that voice as early and as often as possible – it’s the key to your greatest passion.
8. Keep doing art and writing even if it’s not for the purpose of it appearing in a book or a museum. It is yours; a mantifestation of your insides onto a canvas, or a page – and that holds immense power.
9. You’ve got great style, and you look awesome in what you wear. It doesn’t matter that you don’t own the most expensive trend of the season.
10. Spend more time wandering the streets of New York City, but also get out of the city sometimes! You don’t even know yet how much you love hiking and nature. Being in the real outdoors, beyond Central Park, will make you feel free and help you discover new, wonderful things about yourself, like how many miles you can actually walk before you get tired, and that you are stronger than you once thought.
11. Keep being weird, girl.
With love and admiration for your teen strength,
“Grown Up” Rebecca
Rebecca Krevat is the Community Engagement and Communications Associate at the National Council of Jewish Women.