This letter is published as part of a Girls Out Loud campaign to raise awareness of the need to empower and inspire the nation’s teenage girls.
Girls Out Loud is a social enterprise on a mission to provide young women with professional, female role models from their local area who can help them navigate the tricky teenage years.
This year, the organisation is hosting its first ever Shining Stars Ball to raise money for its vital work. To find out more about Girls Out Loud, please visit girlsoutloud.org.uk.
Emma Nolan has worked at the BBC since graduating from Nottingham University, working her way up to the position of assistant editor at BBC Breakfast. She has always had a passion for developing people’s strengths and has helped to shape the BBC’s training for new journalists, as well as being a mentor to numerous people and working on improving the diversity of entrants to the organisation’s training courses. She also works for the BBC’s in-house learning academy, specialising in leadership and development.
Hey you, yes you over there with the 90s perm worrying about your chunky thighs…
Stop. Stop it right now, you are gorgeous, you have no idea how gorgeous you are. When you are in your thirties you’ll be so much more confident in your body and your skin even though they’ll be much less lovely. You’ll wish you could tell your younger self how gorgeous she is inside and out. How happiness and true beauty are 99% mental and only 1% physical. Enjoy good food, but eat the things you need stay healthy too.
When you’re older, you’ll regret the hours wasted reading about different diets and the latest eating fads, you’ll come full circle to realise that fresh air, a sensible balance, exercise you actually like, a little of what you fancy and a positive outlook are the keys to a healthy, happy life. Just think what else you could be doing with all those hours spent obsessing over diets – you could laugh with friends, change the world, or just read a really good book.
Don’t stop playing games, never stop playing games. When you’re about 16, you’ll stop playing games and go to the gym instead because it seems the cool thing to do, or the thing that will finally sort out those thighs or whatevs…. You will not enjoy it.
It will come to feel like a chore and so you’ll stop. In your forties, after three kids, with a huge jelly belly, you’ll rediscover netball, badminton, swimming and be amazed at how much fun they are, at how they don’t feel like hard work but proper fun, how you never check your watch or make excuses not to go, what a laugh you have. You’ll think about all those years of endorphins and exercise you missed out on and wish you’d known better….
Sometimes you’ll feel sad, sometimes you’ll feel hopeless. This is normal. Everyone else feels it too even if it doesn’t seem like it. No-one is ever happy all the time. How would we even know what happiness feels like if we didn’t know misery? Talk to friends, talk to family, think your own thoughts, go for a walk, a run, eat a cake, focus on all the good stuff in your life, how lucky you are and know that the sad times won’t last. Those friends, by the way, you probably haven’t even met them yet.
Your best friend now probably won’t be your best friend when you’re 30. You’ll keep making friends throughout your life as you change and grow and have new experiences. Some of those friends will stay forever, some will drift away, but that unexpected thrill of really connecting with someone new never gets old.
Knowing what you want is OK. Not knowing what you want is OK. Changing your mind is OK. Despite what celebs and reality TV shows might tell us, hardly anyone has a perfectly-formed ‘dream’ of what they want in life. Not having a clue about what you want to do next is perfectly normal. Be open to people, to the world, new experiences, try things out, you’ll find fulfilment in all sorts of unexpected places. Go with your gut, don’t be afraid to change course or stop if something feels wrong – but stick with things and be resilient when the going gets tough if it’s for a goal worth pursuing.
You’ll know the difference, deep down, if you really listen to your little inner-voice. Don’t worry what other people think. They’re not thinking about you anywhere near as much as you think they are. But do take advice from people you trust, admire, respect or who know what they’re talking about – even if you don’t much like them!
If there’s one thing I regret more than anything else, it’s all the time I wasted regretting things. We all make mistakes, we all do things we wish (with the glorious benefit of hindsight) that we hadn’t done, but it really is true that no experience is wasted. We can learn from everything. Regret is a waste of life and life is really fab (even when it isn’t) so tell regret to ‘do one.’
Lots of love and encouragement.
Your 42-year-old self x