One day soon you’ll discover how beautiful you are
A letter: I’m 14 years old. Whenever I see pictures of girls in short dresses and tight tops, all I can think about is how I would never be “pretty enough” to dress like that, how I will never be thin enough. My parents are the ones who discourage me. They tell me how they regret having me, because I’m fat and have made their lives miserable. My mother shows me pictures of actresses and tells me that I should look like them. I don’t know what to do. The only thing I can think about is whether I will ever be accepted as this fat, ugly girl. It’s difficult to cope at school with the negativity around me. I look in the mirror at the acne, blemishes, scars. I often cry in my bedroom for hours. Nothing has helped. Everything just makes it worse.
The answer to the letter: I think everything makes it worse because, at the core of your life, the very people who should be making you feel good about yourself are doing the opposite. It is wrong of your parents to say those things: that is not good parenting, and just because your parents are saying it, doesn’t make it the truth. I’m sorry they are like this, but they must be very unhappy with themselves.
When people (such as your parents) don’t like who they are inside, they find it easier to project how they feel on to others to try to get rid of that feeling, instead of looking at themselves and thinking: “How can I work on myself?”
Adolescence can be hard enough with your parents behaving in this way. But you will not always feel like this, I promise. This is the number one thing I want you to take away from what I’m saying. How you feel will change because, as you get older and leave home, you will choose who to surround yourself with, and they are likely to be people who make you feel good. You will start to see yourself differently and understand that, like all of us, you have bits that are unique to you. And although you might not be “perfect”, in time you will learn to like yourself. I’m not promising you won’t ever meet people who are nasty, but you will get better at coping and understanding that the problem comes from them, not you. Plus, it won’t matter so much, because they won’t be your parents and you won’t be living with them, having your self-esteem constantly eroded. You will have successes that are not about how you look, and you will feel better about yourself.
When you go through the teenage years, you are also at your most self-conscious, so comments like those from your parents are particularly stinging. Sure, some parents aren’t super gushy about their offspring (mine weren’t), but they should not be saying negative things to you.
When I was 14, the inside of my desk at school was plastered with pictures of models with impossibly smooth skin and amazing figures that I had cut out of magazines. I didn’t know about Photoshopping back then and I would torture myself with their perfection. But, eight years later, I was working in the fashion industry, surrounded by models, and I saw close up how they had acne and spots and scars and blemishes. Also, actresses and models have a team of makeup artists, hairdressers, stylists and specialist lighting, and even then the final photographs are manipulated.
Read lots of books, read stories where you can imagine what the characters look like, where it is not decided for you. Look at people you know and admire in real life, and work out what it is about them you like. Do you have someone more supportive you can talk to in your everyday life?
Lastly, remember that you are finding this hard because it is hard. But none of this is your fault. You are at the beginning of your life and everything is ahead of you. Do not let your parents define who you are. Honestly, one day soon, you will go out into the wider world and discover how beautiful you really are. If your parents can’t see that, it is they who are lacking.