A letter to my teenage self

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Dear Teenage Me,

Two weeks ago was my 20th High School Reunion. I couldn’t go, but thanks to the marvels of the internet (you’ll find out what that is in a few years), I got in touch a number of the girls you know now. Girls I felt rejected by, girls I admired from a distance but was too afraid to befriend, girls I was jealous of. I was stunned that a few of them contacted me with some of their memories of me at that time. How I wish I could whisper back in time and share some of that perspective with you.

Lion in the mirror

As I’ve mulled over what twenty-years-older-me wants to say to twenty-years-younger-you, I don’t want to give away the things you can learn only by experience. This is not a fortune-telling letter. Que Sera Sera. But without giving anything away, I want to say this to precious, anxious, lonely you:

Those kids you are afraid of,  are afraid too.

Those girls whose bodies you envy, are not happy with their bodies either.

Those kids who look so happy while you feel so alone, struggle too.

That group you wish you belonged to is made up of people who aren’t sure where they belong either.

Those girls you think are prettier than, or smarter than, or better liked than you, are not judging you by the same yardstick. Just because you think they’re prettier doesn’t mean they think you’re unattractive. Just because you think they’re smart doesn’t mean they think you’re dumb. In fact, those kids probably see things in you that they wish they had, and they hope you won’t judge them for the deficit.

Those little efforts you are making to make a difference and be a person of character, will be remembered in ways you cannot imagine. Even if you are not “making it big” socially, your small words of kindness are making a big difference to a few. Trust me. Trust me.

You will make friends who see you for who you are and love you for who you are. If you don’t feel that way now, trust me – it’s coming. Keep on being a good friend in the mean time.

Also, don’t be afraid to make mistakes in front of other people. Sometimes the very best friendships come out of the moments when someone realizes you were “just as awkard as they feel”. Showing your vulnerability makes you a safe person for other broken people to trust.

You don’t have to “shine” to belong. You already belong. Just be.

You are loved more than you could possibly imagine.

Your body is made for more than looking at. It is strong and amazing and is yours to LIVE your life in and enjoy.

Your life has a purpose.

Your gifts will make a difference.

That verse you learned from Philippians 1:6 will show itself to be true again and again: “He who has begun a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” God is not finished with you yet. You’re a work in progress and He’s making something beautiful. You belong to Him, and no matter what life throws at you, you can’t go wrong with that.

It’s going to be okay.


Older You.


This is day 22 of 31 Days of Belonging, a writing challenge for the month of October. I chose the topic of “belonging”. For a complete list of posts in this 31 day-madness, please click here.

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7 thoughts on “A letter to my teenage self”

  1. Love the picture of the kitten!! Wish I would have had something like this when I was a teenager. That was a long time ago. I can’t imagine what it’s like now.

  2. Hello, my friend the “snail” (remember that?!), I still have the little booklet that I got people to write in at the end of matric, and that’s how you signed yourself. As you have so aptly captured in this article, I wish I had known then what I know now. And yet, our SCA group had fun, and we loved each other. High school has sweet memories, and you’re part of them.

    1. I did love the SCA group! But I have no memory of the snail (my memory is really spotty on so many things). I’d love to be reminded. Would you tell me the story again, here or on FB?

  3. Hey Bronwyn. Thanks for the honesty you portray about your years at Girls High. I do feel though, that your teenage self was not entirely to blame. On my last day in matric I swore never to set foot in that school ever again. It was not because of the kids that went there or how I felt amongst them, but rather how the school encouraged the lack of individuality and freedom. There were too many of my friends who were not embraced for their unique view on life, encouraged for their difference and nurtured in the skills that they had. There was too much focus on being the best in only certain areas, with all the badges and the highest marks, rather on being you. Focus on irrelevant details that made for undue stress and cramped people’s expression. And I think this pressure placed an inordinate amount of stress on any girls that were not genetically designed to be top scholars, bionic sports woman and social butterflies. Teenage girls have enough angst with all the hormones, pimples, boys etc etc without being repressed in creating their own identity.

    I was not an unhappy girl at school and had some great friends, but I fought the system every way I could in every detail that I could because I believed it was not really supporting ALL the kids that were there and not allowing unique individuals to embrace their uniqueness. ( That’s why I was always so scruffy :-). I fought the fact that we all had to look the same in the uniform and allowed mine to deteriorate to almost nothing by the time I left ) I am now a mother of an extremely creative and unique little being, and it has been my driving force in the selection of her schools and encouragement of her friends that she knows her uniqueness is good and makes her special in so many ways other than academia and sports ( which, ironically she is also good at, but has no real interest in ). It is important to me that she knows she has something amazing to offer anyone who will take the time to get to know her and that if they don’t take the time, it is essentially their loss, not hers.

    It is not about who you will become and how you will change in your later years, but more about who you are in the present and what you can do and build with that.

    I hope that life has treated you well over the last 20 years and that happiness and confidence is resonating at your centre. Toni Benbow-Hebbert ( In case you were wondering )

    1. Hi Toni, great to hear from you! Those high school years were hard to figure out. I think you may have had more of a sense of identity about who you were and the individual you wanted to be than I did. My high school memories were more about feeling pressure from the flanks than from the top. I think that may have had a lot to do with the fact that I was younger than everyone else in the year and had some long-standing issues about feeling I wasn’t going to be accepted by others. When writing this letter, I really was writing it to teenage ME, not necessarily teenager others (although there may be some parallel).
      As a mom of a daughter too now I share your delight and determination to raise our girls well: to be whole, well-loved, confident women who live without fear and love without fail. Sounds like you’re doing a great job on your end 🙂 thanks again for commenting, it made my day to to hear from you.

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