This is a letter to my daughters, and anyone else who needs to hear it. Because, really, girls, we’re all someone’s daughter, aren’t we? It’s not really for my son, though I hope he reads it and understands that there is a message in here for him, too.
What I want to say this morning, in between the rush of getting out the door for school, prying apart the lines of anxiety that wrap around your little souls as you hope that you’re ready for another day of putting on the bravest face for the world, is that you’re okay. You’re enough. You’re exactly as you need to be, as the universe meant for you to be. Stop rushing, stop worrying, just for a minute, and take it in. In that tiny stillness inside your soul, you are just how you are supposed to be.
The world can be a scary, confusing place. It’s constantly feeding us ideas and images, telling us that we need to be prettier, skinnier, curvier, smarter, friendlier, happier, more likable, more willing to cooperate. We’re put upon pedestals and burned at the stake, held to standards we don’t even understand and can’t possibly meet without giving up a little of ourselves.
(I know that sons are put in a similar, but differently difficult space — I want to speak about this but not here, not now — now is the time and place for daughters, who need to be reminded so much more often than sons of who they are because we teach them to forget who they are from a very young age.)
When you were little, really little, and you did the things that made you happy, the world should have just let you be. Mixing up mud pies and catching crickets is fine, the world says, until it’s not. Until it becomes something girls just don’t do. Being wild, running barefoot and shirtless in the forest of your backyard, in the stillness of the trees (who seem to understand you better than people anyway) turns into something little girls ‘just shouldn’t do’.
We’re told to sit still, don’t be too bold, don’t be too ugly, don’t be too sexy, don’t be too shy, don’t be too much of anything, really. But what we’re not often told is that we can and should be all of those things — if we want to. Being a girl can be beautiful dresses and baggy jeans, it can be lipstick kisses and bare skin. And it can sometimes be being born as one thing, but feeling deep inside that you were meant to be something different.
Please understand, that it’s not your body that defines you. It’s not your gender, it’s not your monetary worth, it’s not how many friends you have or how popular you are. It’s how you treat others, how you choose to act in this world.
Daughters, I want you to know that feminism is a wonderful thing, but never forget that humanism is even more important. Men and women, girls and boys, all genders, all sexualities, all races — all people — deserve the same basic rights. You may not understand some people, and that’s okay. But never let your lack of understanding turn to hate.
And have faith. Humans need something to believe in, even if it’s just other humans. Faith can get you through the darkest places and keep you hanging in there when life gets too real. But don’t fall into the trap of believing that religion is the same as faith. Your personal god may not be the same as those around you, and that is FINE.
Let others believe what they need to — as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, it’s their right, just like it’s yours. In fact, I hope you learn about people who believe differently from you, learn from them. I hope you ask them questions, find out why they believe what they do. There’s something to be learned and appreciated in every person’s belief system, so expose yourself to as many as you can. It will help you understand the humans around you, and that will help you navigate your own life.
We’re lucky in one way. We’re expected to be nurturers as we grow, and for the most part, we’re really good at it. Well, except for nurturing ourselves. Don’t always put yourself last on that list of people who need you. Take care of your body, your soul, your heart, because you are the only person you will ever feel fully, completely connected to, and even then, it may take you a lifetime to feel that way. Be kind to yourself as often as you can. Become your own true love. Then, when you find a person worthy of your affections, you can truly give them the love they deserve, no more and no less.
Find something you believe in and stand up for it, but be willing to change your mind. Inflexibility breaks even the strongest of things, so be willing to change your mind or your behaviors, if necessary. Just be careful not to be too flexible — don’t just go along with others for the sake of fitting in. And if this sounds like one of those ‘impossible’ parameters the world expects from you, just know that it isn’t, but it may take you a while to find out just how to do this without losing yourself. (It’s taken me nearly four decades to learn how to do some of these things, and I’m still learning. Never stop learning, never stop striving to be better.)
Never forget that there is so much beauty in the world. It may not be displayed in the ways that most people expect, but hidden beauty is sweeter when we have to look for it. Try not to let the ugly stuff get you down. I know there’s a lot of it, but every coin has two sides, and if you can just flip that sucker over, there’s bound to be something amazing on the other side.