1. One day, there will be a place called the Internet, and there you will be able to find women who look like you, who wear clothes beautifully and who have boyfriends and who are fat. Actually fat. These women will embrace the term “plus-sized” and they will look stunning and you will eventually follow in their footsteps and learn to love your body despite its weight.
2. You will also read about women whose sexualities are not as easily defined as others’, who are flexible and comfortable being flexible about their attractions. You will rally in the corner of celebrating all types of sexual and gender expression, because there will be corners to rally in. There will be others. You will not be alone, eventually.
3. You will begin to understand why you’re a 10-year-old girl whose face flushes red when her father gawks at the young waitress. You will understand why you tell your brothers to stop when you’re on a cruise and they’re rating women on a scale of one to 10. You will learn about feminism in college and it will make sense – why you’re never “chill” or “calm” about the men in your family talking about women like they’re entertainment for them. It will make sense one day.
4. You will understand, one day, why you had to protect your heart from the rest of the world, why you stopped having emotional reactions altogether. You will learn that you are sensitive, empathetic, and compassionate, but too much for the time you’re living in. Protecting your heart was survival, and you will eventually forgive yourself for doing the best you could, for taking care by removing yourself from your feelings just so you could refrain from being swallowed by this harsh world.
5. It was depression. When you wanted to leave high school and enroll in independent study, that was depression talking. When you spent most of your junior year chatting with strangers on AOL, that was depression chatting. When you retreated from your life, that was depression retreating. When you let that awful person who called you her best friend tell you that guys would like you “if you lost weight,” and then you believed her, that was depression believing her. You will know this one day.
6. You will also know that depression lies. So does fear. You have the former and an excess of the latter. You will know this one day.
7. You have a way of attracting compliments and a false sense of bravado that hides a much deeper insecurity. Do not believe the compliments, because you will weave those into your identity and let other people’s opinions of you matter more than your own. Every time you believe someone else’s opinion of you over your own, a part of you chips away. The entire year you are 29 years old, you will spend it reclaiming who the fuck you are, piece by little piece.
8. Eventually, you will need to stop curating yourself for public consumption. You will need to stop people pleasing. You will need to stop trying to appear perfect all the time. You will need to be vulnerable. A breakdown will occur. Rock bottom will happen. You will be an anxious, stressed, sad and angry mess of a person, and you will rise. You will wish you had known better. You will wish someone would’ve told you that nobody gets to tell you who the fuck you are. But you will rise, regardless. You will be a late bloomer.
9. There will be so many people like you once you start sharing who you really are. You will start writing the truth, not some “branded” version of yourself zipped up perfectly for public consumption. No, this will be messy, weird truth, and you will sift through your past to dig up even juicier, messier, weirder truth, and you will keep sharing it. It will free you.
10. Yes, all those things you’re hiding away that you think are shameful and unacceptable will be the things that will free you and connect you with Your People. It will feel like a fucking miracle, and it will be.
11. You will stop taking people’s shit eventually. YES YOU WILL. You will learn that you cannot be happy while also being accommodating to everything anyone ever wants from you ever. You will learn the difference between respect and deference. You will defer to people – especially men – and it will eat you alive, from the inside out. You will lose respect for yourself. Then, you will gain it back.
12. You will learn how to be the perfect woman: accommodating, chill, nice, deferential. Then you will meet an older woman who busts through your life and demands that you stop being these things. You will then disappoint a lot of people and it will feel uncomfortable right before it feels so fucking freeing you can’t believe it took you so long to use the word “no” in a real way.
13. You will have to give yourself permission to be great. You keep wanting someone to come along and give you permission to share all your gifts with the world, don’t you? You think big names, big websites, fancy titles and fancy paychecks actually permit you to be talented and loved, but they don’t. You permit you. You tell yourself what you’re worth. You determine your value. Then, you make demands.
14. You will eventually need to save yourself. All that pain and trauma and pent-up emotional clutter that’s preventing you from loving and vulnerable relationships will need to be cleared. You will do that for yourself, because no one else can save you from your healing. You will try to distract away from yourself. You will drink. You will fuck. You will fuck up your life. You will eat. You will be on the Internet way too much. You will eventually have to face yourself. That’s how it goes, peanut. Eventually, it’s just you deciding whether or not you’re going to keep going.
15. You will learn how many unconscious beliefs you have accumulated simply from being a woman in America. You will believe things about yourself that you never consciously allowed yourself to believe. It will become imperative for you to stay aware and conscious, to not let yourself internalize any other toxic beliefs about what it means to be a woman. You will have to determine that for yourself — because your woman is different from other women, and that’s OK.
16. You will thank your mom, even though she wasn’t as involved in your life as you may have wanted her to be. Your expectations were much too high. She set for you the most incredible example of a woman going about the business of her life while also having a family. She was your first feminist, even though she won’t ever teach you about feminism. She’s more of a feminist than she gives herself credit for, but it’s OK. One day, you will realize that she molded you into who you are much more than you ever realized. It will hit you one day that she’s why you always believed you were just as capable of doing anything you wanted with your life as your brothers were. She’s the person who instilled that in you — not with her words, but with her actions. And you’re observant. You picked up on that.
17. The world and culture you live in will have an enormous negative impact on you. You will not know that you need to shield yourself from it, that you cannot ingest cultural beliefs as your own, that they are poison to your soul. You will not know that your mind can be a weapon wielded against or for you. You will wield it against yourself for a long time, until you decide to do otherwise. That choice will save you.
18. All your big ambitions will be nothing if you are not joyful and happy in the mundanity of life. You will avoid the mundane for so long that you will feel a constant dissatisfaction unless you are doing Big Things and making Big Announcements. Eventually, you will simplify and you will find joy in the little things. It will be a fucking revolution, and it will be the only thing that will give way to those bigger ambitions. You will thrive, but only with tiny, everyday steps, the ones you’ve avoided for most of your life.
19. You will face yourself eventually, and you will learn to like yourself. You will be proud of yourself. You will be a strong woman. You will find acceptance in yourself. It will happen. Keep going, peanut. Don’t give up on yourself.
20. You will not marry Jordan Catalano. But you will marry someone better.