There is a lot of well-founded emotion in this Buzzfeed spoken-word video “I Am Not That Girl”. There is honesty, and not a trace of self-pity as the narrator says: “having a lack of male attention in this world is seen as an abnormality, is seen as less than womanly. I am always forced to ask myself, what’s wrong with me?”
She explains that she has never been “that girl”, the one with the shiny hair, the sleek, well put-together outfit, the one with the ability to flirt and the one that always has a guy. This hurts. Her insecurities cause her pain.
But she realizes that maybe she’s not meant to be that girl. Maybe she is destined to be another kind of girl. The girl that just lives her life.
Watching this, and then reading the Youtube comments beneath it, I was struck by the depth of the emotion this video stirred up, and it took me to a place I did not want to go. That place was the acknowledgment of my own painful journey from lost teenage girl to the woman I am today, who, like the narrator, owns her insecurities but is not defined by them. Moreover, the woman I am today is “that girl who loves herself for who she is and doesn’t rely on male attention to make herself feel alright.”
I’m still a work in progress, of course! But on reflecting on where I’d come from, I was inspired to write a letter to my 16-year-old-self, to share some of the advice I’ve learned along the way in the last ten years.
You’re 16 and just about to leave home for the first time. You’re going to cope with it really well, by the way, you’ll thrive and grow and develop. But there will be one thing that will cause you so much pain, and it will be your search for yourself not in God, but in the attention of guys. So here is my best advice for you.
Rejection does not define you. Your choice to take chastity seriously will lead to a lot of rejection from guys, and that will really hurt if you equate their rejection of you with your self-worth. Their rejection of you says very little about you and everything about them. Although it really hurts, they have saved you the trouble by weeding themselves out early on. You are not the problem and you don’t have to feel sorry for them when they tearfully break up with you because you will not have sex with them. You don’t owe them anything! Moreover, discover what rejection really is. Rejection is a fear, a fear that other people’s dismissal of us is the truth that we are not worth it. Facing rejection and battling to the other side of it is liberating. You realize that rejection is just an illusion, like falling from a great height and finding you actually have a parachute with you. Rejection says nothing about who you really are, because the one person who will never reject you, Jesus Christ, is the only one who really matters, and He’s the one who holds your heart.
Learn your worth. You know how a £20 note or a $50 bill never loses its value, no matter how grubby or tattered it gets? That’s a really bad way of explaining how much you are worth. My dear, you have no idea how much you are worth right now- how much you are always worth. Right at the core of who you are, below all the insecurities and mistakes and disappointment, is a soul created by God, for immortality. Cherish this, and don’t be afraid to speak out when people treat you disgustingly. You shouldn’t even have to experience it in the first place, but be brave and don’t be silent about it.
Next, It’s ok not to want to go out and be sociable all the time. Time spent alone is time that really helps you consolidate who you are. If you want to stay in and get an early night, do it and don’t feel guilty! I guarantee that you won’t be the only one- and there are others that will be pretending to have a good time when really they are just as confused, conflicted or plain old sleepy as you are!
Don’t let your loneliness define you. Acknowledge its depth- and, yeah, it sucks- it is no fun sometimes going home and doing the right thing instead of staying out and being wild. But instead, let it propel you towards the greatest Friend you will ever make. Use your gifts, your writing; to find God in prayer, and know that God never lets us down or leaves us without support, even when we cannot see it at the time.
You have so much energy and joy and zeal for life, and it’s going to take you some time to learn how to channel that in a healthy way. Discovering who you are- and equally importantly- what life is– is an adventure. It’s a collaboration between you and God, like a dance, or painting an amazing piece of art. You start with a blank canvas but bit by bit, you make something beautiful and eclectic and unexpected up, in a thousand different colors. Throw your energy into experiencing whatever you can of life. Build a rich but substantial life: try every sport you come across, embrace every healthy hobby, attempt all those things you’ve always wanted to do. You do not have to wait for a guy to come along and give you the confidence to do these things. Neither do you have to do things just to impress others. Do things that you really love, that allow you to share in the creativity of your Creator. Who cares if it’s not what everyone else is doing? Discovering what you really love, what your gifts are, will be a far more rewarding use of your time than worrying about whether you’re “enough” for the latest guy you like.
Know the power and immense attraction of a woman who knows her worth. Only dead fish flow with the stream! Be brave. Have the courage to be a blaze of uniqueness and purpose in a lost world. Your faith and your lifestyle will baffle, confuse and challenge people. Let them be baffled, let them be confused, let them be challenged! It is not your role to water yourself down for them in order to compromise on what you know is right. One day a friend will unexpectedly rattle off a list of adjectives to describe you. They will tell you that you are: “classy, timeless, formidable, beautiful and angelic”. You will smile, but you will know that they are wonderful traits that are the growth of painful places, for they are the flipside of being seen as naive, old-fashioned, frigid, objectified and a religious freak. Keep the people in your life that recognize your worth, and don’t waste your time trying to please those that don’t. Pray to forgive those that hurt you- but don’t run after them hoping that they’ll come back.
Finally, be “as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16). Discern that all that glitters is not gold. And know that the antidote to everything- everything- is to give thanks. Continually be grateful for what you have, and what you don’t have will fade because you will realize it is not the most important thing in the world. Be grateful for every gift that you have in your single life and don’t be chasing after what is not yours yet. Everything comes in its own good time. All you need focus on is the day you have in front of you, and the One who gave you the gift of it, and all will be well.
With love from 26-year-old-me.
PS: Remember that “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures. We are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son”. (Thank you, Pope John Paul II!)