To Lucy and Phoebe
I get it. I know that, to you, I am just “Lady Who Can’t Work the TiVo.” Or “Woman Who Needs Emojis Explained to Her.” I know how annoyed you get when I chase you around with the hairbrush/ toothbrush/sunscreen/good shoes, and insist that you make your bed, clear your dishes and wear underpants when leaving the house. I see how you cringe when I car-dance every time “Baby Got Back” comes on the radio, especially when the people on the street watch me lip-synch. To you, I am pretty much a large lump of ignorance who exists only to make you eat your vegetables, finish your homework, and write your thank-you notes.
But I do know a few things. Having passed through the vale of tears that is adolescence, I can peek around the corner, into your future, and tell you what’s coming next.
Within the next few years, some people—not all, but some—will stop seeing you as you, and start seeing just your surface: your face, your hair, your body. These people won’t care that you’re both stars at math, or that you both love to swim. They won’t want to hear about the time that you, Phoebe, got lost in the supermarket when you were three, and how your marched yourself up to the service desk with perfect aplomb and told them that your mom’s name was Jennifer Pearl because your name is Phoebe Pearl, so why wouldn’t it be? … and how, when I found you, you were sitting on the counter, chatting with the manager, with a balloon in one hand, a giant cookie in the other, and a stuffed bunny in your lap. They won’t care that you, Lucy, built a spaceship out of a bunch of cardboard boxes, with a ball chute on the outside and holders for an iPad and some lip balm in the shadowy interior, and that you love show tunes and sailing and MythBusters and can sing all the words to “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.”
These people will care mostly—sometimes only—about how you look. They’ll reduce you to a body, instead of seeing you as a person. This will persist for the next forty or fifty years or so, at which point you will become, essentially, invisible, and they will stop seeing you at all.
They’ll think that your body is public property. They’ll think they can catcall you on the street or grope you on the subway or tell you you’d be prettier if you smiled. If you insist on expressing your opinions—and I hope you will—they’ll hide behind their screens and call you ugly, or a slut, or a fat, ugly slut, which always confused me. How can you be fat and ugly and sell sex for a living? How is that a workable business model? If you succeed, they will whisper, or write, that you must have slept with someone important to have gotten whatever you got. If you speak up, they will try to shame you into silence, because—and it breaks my heart to write these words—that’s the way a some people still think women ought to be.
My prayer is that you’ll never lose sight of yourselves—all of yourselves. You are so much more than just your looks. Your bodies are perfect, perfectly made and perfectly sized. You don’t have to waste years of your life fighting against them, or trying to fit someone else’s idea of beautiful (especially if that person is taking your money and whispering snake-oil promises about how if you only stick to this diet/cleanse/fitness plan, if you only get this injection/operation/painful piece of shapewear, you’ll look the way you should).
Love your bodies for what they can do. Remember that you’ve climbed mountains, swum across ponds, collected bucketsful of clams, balanced on bicycles and paddleboards and danced around in your bedrooms with complete abandon. Remember how great it feels to solve a tough math problem, or cook something delicious, or fall into a really great book, and how none of that has anything to do with your appearance.
Keep swimming. Keep talking. If something’s wrong, speak up. I will always love you, and I will always see you, all of you, inside and out. And every single part of you is perfect.
Weiner is the New York Times bestselling author of 12 books, including Good in Bed, In Her Shoes, and the forthcoming Who Do You Love