Zuzu Tang

Zuzu Tang
      Dear 12-year-old Miriam,  You are approaching the gates to adolescence. Your greatest desires are to always feel comfortable being your true self, and to feel liked. You’ve begrudgingly determined that you’re asking too much, but one day you will be proven wrong.   You better buckle up, because the next few years are going to be an emotional rollercoaster. You will feel trapped on this ride, surrounded by people but alone in your seat. Facing the back of the seat in front of you, you don’t think that anyone could possibly understand what you’re going through.   You are just beginning to feel angry inside. You are feeling ugly for the first time. You see your friends starting to kiss boys and date, and you feel worthless for not doing the same.   You’re going to try to grow up far too fast. You’re going to feel terrified, and wish the ride would just crash.   As much as you want to be fully authentic, you cower in fear of judgment and rejection. You lament that you’ll never be a “normal teenage girl”; that you’ll never be loved. You feel pain. You yearn to feel wanted.   You have all of these grand, impressive ideas, but you dismiss them as unrealistic. You doubt yourself. You fear the future. You don’t think that you belong.   Sometimes you’ll feel yourself sinking into a black hole. Other times, your whimsical, silly, sheep-loving self will sing loud, hug your family tight, and feel yourself walking on air.   You bemoan that life is only going to get harder, and, in some ways, you’re right. However, that’s no reason to quit – life is a beautiful mess. If I could, I would wrap my arms around you, and tell you that it’s all going to be ok.   I would tell you that no one has the right to put their hands on your body without your explicit permission. Do not ever shame yourself for making a decision about your own body, and do not blame yourself if other people harm you.   I would tell you to forgive yourself for sometimes giving into peer pressure, and for making mistakes – it’s part of growing up. I would tell you that it’s ok to ask for help.   I would tell you that, over the next few years, it will often feel like life is spinning out of your control. You are going to lose sight of yourself – and miss her. Just when you think you’ve recovered her, you’re going to go off to college and get a little bit lost again. Then, you’ll read “Reviving Ophelia” by Mary Pipher and uncover a pattern of turbulent adolescence experienced by young women – you are not alone.   I would tell you that you will seek counseling from the Women’s Center, and learn to actively discern who does and does not deserve a front row seat to your life – and rework accordingly. In a world where women are second-class citizens, you’ll learn that loving yourself is an essential act of resistance.   I would tell you to stop pretending that you don’t care to avoid getting hurt. Walls may shut out pain, but they also keep out joy. At 20 years old, you will sob watching a Disney movie whose characters are an 11-year-old girl’s emotions – you are still learning to appreciate that happiness can’t exist without sadness.     I would tell you that it is normal, and not disgusting, for you to explore your sexuality. Only, however, when it is in pursuit of your own desires – do not base your self-worth on your desirability, and do not idolize someone for showing you basic kindness. You are always deserving of respect, caring, love, and pleasure.    I know that you’re struggling to fit in and find your place in this wacky world, as you ineluctably morph into a hormone-raging, changing, bundle of self-consciousness and insecurities. You’re not crazy. You will learn coping mechanisms. You’re not messed up. We all have our challenges. You’re just a preteen.    One day, your self-esteem will finally parallel your outward confidence. You will find happiness within yourself, although a great support system doesn’t hurt. You will love life, from the beautiful to the tough. You will be empowered by feminism, rejecting slut shaming and gender norms and roles.   You’ve been conditioned to believe that you exist only for the use and pleasure of others, but that’s not true. You have the right to take up space in the world, to be heard, and to express a full range of emotions.   Our culture tries to devalue women and their projected qualities. In the face of double standards and impossible expectations, you will vigorously assert autonomy over your being and your body, and you will stop apologizing when you’ve done nothing wrong.   Everything feels hard right now, but you’re going to make it. Adolescence is stormy, but it’s going to end, and the sun will come out again. You will emerge strong, with a creative and independent spirit.  I know that you won’t instantly internalize and heed my advice, but that’s ok – if I had never been enveloped in darkness, the stars wouldn’t shine so bright.    I love you.   21-year-old Miriam      Art by Natalia Mesa

Dear 12-year-old Miriam,

You are approaching the gates to adolescence. Your greatest desires are to always feel comfortable being your true self, and to feel liked. You’ve begrudgingly determined that you’re asking too much, but one day you will be proven wrong.

You better buckle up, because the next few years are going to be an emotional rollercoaster. You will feel trapped on this ride, surrounded by people but alone in your seat. Facing the back of the seat in front of you, you don’t think that anyone could possibly understand what you’re going through.

You are just beginning to feel angry inside. You are feeling ugly for the first time. You see your friends starting to kiss boys and date, and you feel worthless for not doing the same.

You’re going to try to grow up far too fast. You’re going to feel terrified, and wish the ride would just crash.

As much as you want to be fully authentic, you cower in fear of judgment and rejection. You lament that you’ll never be a “normal teenage girl”; that you’ll never be loved. You feel pain. You yearn to feel wanted.

You have all of these grand, impressive ideas, but you dismiss them as unrealistic. You doubt yourself. You fear the future. You don’t think that you belong.

Sometimes you’ll feel yourself sinking into a black hole. Other times, your whimsical, silly, sheep-loving self will sing loud, hug your family tight, and feel yourself walking on air.

You bemoan that life is only going to get harder, and, in some ways, you’re right. However, that’s no reason to quit – life is a beautiful mess. If I could, I would wrap my arms around you, and tell you that it’s all going to be ok. 

I would tell you that no one has the right to put their hands on your body without your explicit permission. Do not ever shame yourself for making a decision about your own body, and do not blame yourself if other people harm you.

I would tell you to forgive yourself for sometimes giving into peer pressure, and for making mistakes – it’s part of growing up. I would tell you that it’s ok to ask for help.

I would tell you that, over the next few years, it will often feel like life is spinning out of your control. You are going to lose sight of yourself – and miss her. Just when you think you’ve recovered her, you’re going to go off to college and get a little bit lost again. Then, you’ll read “Reviving Ophelia” by Mary Pipher and uncover a pattern of turbulent adolescence experienced by young women – you are not alone.

I would tell you that you will seek counseling from the Women’s Center, and learn to actively discern who does and does not deserve a front row seat to your life – and rework accordingly. In a world where women are second-class citizens, you’ll learn that loving yourself is an essential act of resistance. 

I would tell you to stop pretending that you don’t care to avoid getting hurt. Walls may shut out pain, but they also keep out joy. At 20 years old, you will sob watching a Disney movie whose characters are an 11-year-old girl’s emotions – you are still learning to appreciate that happiness can’t exist without sadness.   

I would tell you that it is normal, and not disgusting, for you to explore your sexuality. Only, however, when it is in pursuit of your own desires – do not base your self-worth on your desirability, and do not idolize someone for showing you basic kindness. You are always deserving of respect, caring, love, and pleasure.  

I know that you’re struggling to fit in and find your place in this wacky world, as you ineluctably morph into a hormone-raging, changing, bundle of self-consciousness and insecurities. You’re not crazy. You will learn coping mechanisms. You’re not messed up. We all have our challenges. You’re just a preteen.  

One day, your self-esteem will finally parallel your outward confidence. You will find happiness within yourself, although a great support system doesn’t hurt. You will love life, from the beautiful to the tough. You will be empowered by feminism, rejecting slut shaming and gender norms and roles.

You’ve been conditioned to believe that you exist only for the use and pleasure of others, but that’s not true. You have the right to take up space in the world, to be heard, and to express a full range of emotions.

Our culture tries to devalue women and their projected qualities. In the face of double standards and impossible expectations, you will vigorously assert autonomy over your being and your body, and you will stop apologizing when you’ve done nothing wrong.

Everything feels hard right now, but you’re going to make it. Adolescence is stormy, but it’s going to end, and the sun will come out again. You will emerge strong, with a creative and independent spirit.

I know that you won’t instantly internalize and heed my advice, but that’s ok – if I had never been enveloped in darkness, the stars wouldn’t shine so bright.

I love you.

21-year-old Miriam

Art by Natalia Mesa