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A letter to my younger self: ‘Your body is yours and yours alone’

25 Dec 2016

Dear Niellah,

Right now I’m 22 and you’re about 14, maybe 15. I hope you’re doing well and looking after yourself. I thought I’d write to you and lay down some words of wisdom to get you through this weird and wonderful stage of life (although I’m still stumbling through it myself), but either way I think you could do from hearing from me.

The first thing you really ought to know is your hair is beautiful, your skin is beautiful, your name is beautiful, you are beautiful. You won’t believe me, you probably don’t believe anyone, not just because you’re quite stubborn (I don’t think that will change much) but because it’s hard to believe in something you can’t see. White beauty standards have been shoved down your throat without you even knowing it. Sometimes I think you’re too busy being down on yourself that you don’t look around at the people who do see you.

A friendly word of advice, maybe stop straightening your hair religiously, that sizzling sound and the smell of burnt toast isn’t actually a good thing.  And, in the nicest way possible, you look a bit like one of those lego men. Your hair was never meant to be straight and that’s alright.

Your mum’s been trying to show you how beautiful you are since you came into this world. Think about all the toys you had growing up; your old Barbies looked like you. Look at Amazing Grace’s toothy grin in the pages of your childhood books, even your favourite film had Brandy as your Cinderella. Your mum can’t protect you from out there, but in your four walls she’s trying.  

Always remember that there’s no right way to be black, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Read what you want, talk how you want, listen to Bowie religiously and carry on playing the french horn if that’s what you want to do. Black is who you are, not what you do. I know how confused and frustrated you were when that blonde girl told you she was blacker than you, it’s impossible. For the sake of your happiness, distance yourself from people who undermine your blackness.

Read, read and then read some more, never stop reading. I know you take great solace in it. Books help you learn and grow and they always will (if anything I should follow your example and read a bit more myself). Even if your mates aren’t into it, you go to that library at lunch time, there’s nothing wrong with being cool with your librarian.

But, please, please stop reading Twilight, I promise it will turn your brain into mashed potato. Once is forgivable, maybe you were curious, I get it but honestly you are wasting so much valuable time rereading this abomination of a book. I never thought I’d say this, but listen to your mother and put that book down. Twilight is not romantic it’s just a story about a misogynistic and abusive relationship shrouded under the premise of angsty vampires. Plus, vampires burn in sunlight, they don’t glitter. So continue to be a bibliophile and know ridiculous words like “bibliophile”, just try not to live in fantasy – come up for air.

Don’t seek validation from boys, trust me, they will come and go. And you will fall in love one day and I’m sorry it’s not like Twilight but it’s comfortable and beautifully ordinary. To be perfectly honest, I’m yet to meet anyone who found the love of their life at 15, there’s no rush.

Take now for you, don’t worry about what everyone else is up to. I promise your time will come. Seek validation from your friends and family and yourself. Seek validation in your talents and passions and how you treat people. Trust me, there is much more to you and to life than being pretty. It’s not a personality trait.

Your girls are so important! They will be there for you long after any silly boy will. I promise the real close friends you have now are there for life, and I’m sure you’ll pick up some more along the way. Cherish them and appreciate them, look after each other. When you’re down or feeling low, when you have your first heart break, when you feel lost or scared, they’re the ones who will pick you up and put you back on your feet. They see the best in you and you’ll grow and learn together so don’t let anything come between you, especially not a boy.

Your body is yours and yours alone. Don’t let it be dictated or moulded into something you don’t want. Dress it how you want. Although, I must admit the scene kid phase slowly followed by a budget slone phase, Primark fake Uggs included, weren’t your finest looks. Wear what you think feels good and looks good, but trust me some bandwagons aren’t worth jumping on.

Your body’s going to change and then change some more and then when you think it’s finally stopped, it changes again. Keep your body hair, shave your body hair, do what you want it’s up to you, but do it for you. Of course I understand the implications  of getting undressed for P.E in front of a load of teenagers with hair just about everywhere but maybe with time you’ll care less what people think.

I hate to break it to you but you’ll never be a tall thin white girl, so don’t even compare yourself to them, your body is the only body you’re ever going to have so the quicker you learn to accept it and love it the easier your life will be, trust me. Scars, hairs, bruises, dimples the lot. It’s not easy, I know, and I’m still trying to take my own advice on this one. Maybe say something you like about your appearance everyday and over time you will love yourself completely.

On that topic, food is not your enemy, it’s fuel for your body so enjoy it, eat cake and don’t feel guilty about it. Keep cooking. You’re good at it and it makes people happy. Obviously eating healthily is important, but you don’t need to diet or beat yourself up for eating something naughty, it happens. Plus, you’re young and still growing so take advantage of that fast metabolism!

I know I’ve just given you a list of do’s and dont’s, but it’s because I care. All you really need to do is just run through this world making mistakes. Stay curious, be opinionated even if it scares people, laugh as much as you can and cherish your friends, be loud and full of joy. The future is scary but try not to worry too much you’re doing great. Listen to your intuition because you’re usually right, but we still both need to work on the whole “stubborn” thing; you’re not always right. Sometimes you’ll feel scared and lonely but don’t keep it to yourself. Remember you’ve been brought up and surrounded by beautiful strong women. And you’re on the right path to becoming one yourself. Take care.

Love always,