I’m writing you this letter because I know how insecure you are, and to let you know that things will sort themselves out just fine. Not in a regular way, but in your own kind of way, and that’s part of what makes your journey awesome.
Who am I? Good question, yet funny answer: I’m your ten years older version. And I will drop here some spoilers about what this timeframe will mean for you.
You will discover what makes you happy
Yes, you will be happy. And, of course, there will be some things that will bring you happiness. You will find them early and respect them. You will build little routines around them that will work as small but effective pills for the dark times that will come.
You will like yourself more
Of course, there will still be days when you’ll feel like you’re a total failure, but, as a difference from today, you’ll be able to see your good parts as well. You will like yourself more than you do now, and, obviously, less than you will like yourself when you’ll be 35. You will also stop belittling your accomplishments and will understand that a bad day is not a bad life. And, unbelievable, you will actually get to like yourself. Sounds pretty much like a fictional character, eh? Just give yourself some time, and watch.
You will talk about the things you try to hide now
For now, you try your best to seem as normal as a teenage girl could. But in less than ten years from now on, not only that you will talk about your disease with people without feeling ashamed. You will even write about it, and you’ll see people coming to you and sharing stories of their children having the same diagnosis as you do. And this will empower you, as well as your community.
You will still have friends from your childhood by your side
And they won’t be the ones you’d think. But they will be there for you when you’ll have good news, bad news, and whenever you’ll need to be slapped with that hard to swallow truth pill. They are not that many as you’d hope, but they will be there, and that’s what makes them living wonders.
You’ll make peace with your body
And this will be a game-changer. You’ll get thinner, you’ll learn about what kind of aesthetic you match best with, and will allow yourself to finally be happy in your own body, not in a future, perfect version of it. You will learn to stop postponing goodness for later, and that will help you a lot. Even so, you still won’t be able to see yourself as a beautiful woman, but you will only get to care less about this aspect.
You’re gonna do things your way
Maybe things won’t make that much sense seen from the exterior, but you will remain faithful to your values and your determination of walking on that one path, instead of the easier ones, will often seem like stubbornness at first. But it will also be the one thing that will bring you other people’s respect- the fact that you will never quit on something just because it’s hard.
You will keep your priorities aligned
This means you will put on hold anything that won’t give you the chance to grow, learn, or be yourself. You will keep learning on various domains, will keep writing, and will become a volunteer.
Volunteering will help you learn about how to be useful to others while not emptying your own cup of well-being. You will learn that you can give to others and receive at the same time, and the moments you’ve made those children smile will remain some of your most precious memories.
But this also means that you will cut people out of your life just because they don’t allow you to grow your way. And you won’t be sorry for doing so.
You will become your own kind of woman
It’s not very clear how will that woman be, for now, but I only can tell you that you’d love her if you’d met her. She’s funny, passionate, smart, relaxed, and smart. But I can tell you that she won’t be the kind of woman your family hopes you’ll become. She won’t care this much about how other people see her. She will have learned, by now, to put herself first. Do you know those lists with personality traits from the drawer? She checks them all and adds some more bullet points.
You will learn to say no
And you’re gonna love it! You will reach that point where you will learn that saying no is not an insult, but a proof of self-respect, and you will act like it. You will start to say no to whatever you feel like it doesn’t suit yourself: people, opportunities, everything that feels off.
You might not always know what you want, but you will always have a clear sight of what you don’t want, and that will do just fine in the long run.
You’ll bring magic up to your life
Not only that you will learn how to work with magic, but you will also learn to trust your inner voice, not other’s opinions about how you should be doing this or that. And every time you will listen to that inner voice, you’ll win. But it will be some hard to learn part of the journey, even for you. You will, as time goes by, discover that you are stronger than you’ve thought you could possibly be. And the thing that you can find happiness in the smallest things is one of the traits that root that power of yours.
These are only a small, small part of what your journey will be like. A teaser, if you want to. Because, by the way, you will be a pro at teasing people, too. Even if now it does not really sound like you, it will. Just be patient.
I think this will be any teenage girl that will trust her personal journey more than other people’s opinions about how her life should be, but today is not only about them, it’s especially about you. Because one of the most important lessons that you’ll be learning during this decade is the fact that a woman will only succeed if she will help other women, too. You will be empowered and inspired in your journey by wonderful, astonishing women, and you will find the power to give the same gift back to the young girls.
Because, if it’s anything that you are certain of, by now, is the fact that it needs a whole community to raise a woman who is unapologetically herself, capable to share and put boundaries as well. But, in the end, it is always worth it.
If it were to name a thing that makes life bitter, it was our ordinary perfectionism. Today is no wonder if you’re telling someone that you’re a perfectionist. The shock will be if you’re not. We’re taught from early in our lives to strive for perfection. To try to make things as good as we can, both in our personal and professional lives. To give our best day after day, so that, one day, everything will be perfect.
A perfectionist’s “career” begins early, in the family. From what I’ve noticed, the whole ride starts in school, with comparing grades. This is the most frequent way that kids learn they need to be as close to perfection as possible, to be loved. That’s how the self-doubt shows up, as a subtle inner voice asking the same question over and over again: Is my best good enough?
And with that simple question, everything takes form. You begin to question your self-worth, your experience, your littlest decisions. But, above all, you begin to question your body, as your first attempts of building a social image appear.
I can’t even say that this is an exclusively feminine issue anymore if I have a second thought about all the men judged by their looks every day. We are, as nasty as it could sound, being judged by the way we look, dress and…pose. And this is more than visible on Social Media.
This is why we develop, from an earlier and earlier age, a sense of self-consciousness that is simply overwhelming. We are deeply aware of every little change that occurs in our bodies- a pimple, an extra pound, everything gets to be noticed and criticized by our childhood inner voice. And that voice is merciless.
But this is not the big deal. The big deal is the fact that we are getting into a vicious circle where nothing that we do or are is ever good enough for ourselves, in the first place, yet expect other people to show up and prove that we’re good enough for them. How messed up is this kind of reasoning?
It is, somehow, a mental health epidemics, where we are, all of us, trying to look as close as the mass media-served beauty ideals as possible. And this has a few bad, really bad side effects for our psychological well-being.
First of all, we tend to compare ourselves. Compare, compare, analyze, and then compare a bit more. And we’re never comparing ourselves to our equals. We compare with the augmented versions of the popular kids in our teenage years- the Social Media influencers, the celebrities, and generally the people who seem to have the perfect lives. Oh, our so beloved perfection, how damaging it is!
The aftermath of the comparisons is low, low, low self-esteem. Because let’s be honest about it, you will never win a mental battle between your current self, as imperfect as it is, and the thoughtfully crafted, long studied social images of these people. We compare ourselves with other people’s jobs, as they have some awesome teams behind those photos and stories that we’re comparing our bodies with, and they live by the money they make promoting different stuff and looking in a certain way. And this affects us in ways that we’re not even aware of.
After losing the game, we change the way we talk with ourselves and our self-perception. We become the toxic people we warn our friends about, but only when it comes to ourselves. We enhance the negative self-talk, we label ourselves as dumb, meh, not good enough, and the list could go on and on forever. We’re so accustomed to the negative labels, that we don’t even blink when we hear them from somebody else. What surprises us is the kind, flattering, polite type of discourse.
It is a common narrative, as one has to be, to be seen as successful, stressed, depressed, but well dressed. It doesn’t matter that much if you’re stressed and depressed if you don’t look like someone stressed and depressed. You have, and this is a silent prerogative, to look like your ideal version, not like your real one.
The fact that this kind of attitude has an impact on how humans perceive each other is no news. By now, it is well-known already that we judge the others in the very same ways that we’re judging ourselves. And that means forgetting the simple truth that there’s no such thing as two people with the same background.
It happened to me as well. Being a plus-size girl since literally forever made me understand better how self-talk and peer labeling interact. I’ve been called big, fat, obese, nasty, made compliments like It’s a shame of that beautiful face and I am proud of you for losing weight, as nobody thought you would. But, above all, I’ve never seen myself as a beautiful girl. Of course, there were things I liked about myself, like the lips, but the ones I was disliking outnumbered them effortlessly. Maybe that’s part of the reasons why now when someone tells me I look beautiful, or that I’m a good-looking woman, I tend to answer that Audrey Hepburn was a beautiful woman, and I, in my best days, am decent. But this came after a long time of hating my body and comparing myself with other women, that I’ve known for real or not.
Actually, this came when I got tired. Because there comes a point in one’s life when you get tired of labeling yourself as good enough or not good enough, as proud or disappointed of who you are, depending on how close or how far you are from that ideal image. At first, you try to change it, you are revolted, and would do anything to fit in. You start to look more carefully in the wardrobe, see what good outfits you can mix. You become interested in makeup, and try to be more…like a girl, even if you feel uncomfortable at first. You’ll even try to diet, at a certain point.
And you will reach a point where your energy will be desperately needed elsewhere. Maybe it is the career, maybe it is emotional healing, it can be whatever. But, sooner or later, you’ll reach the point where the image displayed socially is no longer a priority.
From that point, things become easier not because you’ve become wiser, as it is not always the case, but because you became relaxed, and that’s a game-changer. When you relax and stop comparing and labeling everything around you, with the task journal in hand, eventually, ready to check some bullets, life becomes easier.
Maybe it has never actually been that complicated as the continuous race for the perfect social image made it appear. Maybe life was always an easy thing to understand, but we’ve made it become something complicated by adding useless ideas and questions to it.
I don’t know. I don’t have an answer to this. But the thing I know for sure is that you see life with brighter eyes when you’re aware of yourself for good. When you know and respect your limits, when you know and put in the spotlight your strong points.
Because, at the end of the day, it is all about the individual. Mental health is an individual set of actions, with a collective impact. There is no such thing as a healthy society formed by unhealthy individual and there’s no mentally healthy individual that keeps comparing itself with the other people day after day.
And, no, the perfect look is nothing achievable in nature, without interventions, so stop chasing illusions and enjoy your bodies, because that’s a bigger deal than living your life surrounded by an army which has as its only purpose to make you look good, regardless of what that good looks like that season. You’re more than just that, way more.
WARNING: This article might be triggering if you are in recovery or suffering from an Eating Disorder. To be read with caution and a grain of salt.
Ana is a simple homegirl. She’s got good grades, she’s friendly and she loves fashion. Everybody loves her, loves the way she gets involved in humanitarian causes. Her smile and her jokes. But they don’t know that they’re in love with a lie. Because Ana is sick. You can say that it’s an invisible illness because you can’t see a thing, excepting the fact that she’s getting thinner and thinner with every single day. She is losing weight, and sometimes this could even be a good thing, but, you see, good things become bad too.
She’s a very good actress. You can’t tell a thing about her complicated relationship with her body and food, it’s hidden too well behind her smile. And even if you’d expect her life to be pink, it’s rather a deep, very deep shade of grey. As deep as her emotions. Ana is suffering from anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder. This could be translated in very low self-esteem, hating her body, being deeply ashamed with the way she looks and starving. Lots of starving. And let me not forget about her desperate search for love. For a mother to love, validate and cherish her. Because her own mother doesn’t know how to be there for her daughter. It’s a very big lie, her apparent balance. A lie hiding depression, anxiety, the fear of not being good enough for the cherished ones, and, above all, the fear of being fat. For Ana, every pound lost it’s a step taken on the path to happiness, every pound gained, a step taken on the path to death. There’s no in-between. You’ll tell me that I’m lying, that Ana is eating. And she does. But she’s also puking after. Drinking plenty of water and doing hard workouts. She’s punishing herself for daring to eat. Ana cares about two major things- getting thin and her grades. School is important to her, she wants to be the best. She wants to impress, to be the best in her future career. But she also wants to be as thin as humanly possible, no matter the costs. She forgot how genuine joy feels like, and her life became exclusively about calories. Nothing else matters for Ana.
I told you that she hates her body and having to eat, but there’s more than just that. For her, food is something with whom she’s deeply bonded. Food brings her peace, joy, guilt and shame, punishment at the gym and puking at home. Because every single Ana knows that you don’t miss that particular food, but the taste of it. Because every single Ana girl knows that every pound she’s losing is not one step closer to happiness and fulfillment, but another cry for help. For love and attention. She’s sick, but there are days when she’d do anything to fall in love with life again. To stop counting calories, pounds, diets which didn’t work out for her, or how close she is from her almost-deadly-thin weight goal. Because she has to be goals- body goals, lifestyle goals, family goals. And she’s nothing but damaged, and she knows it better than any of us does or ever will… But she’s trying. She’s trying so hard to live up to her high, self-imposed standards.
There are days when she makes it- she’s respecting the diet, the workout schedule, she gets high grades and manages to somehow trick everyone around her to think that she’s fine, everything while she drops pound by pound, getting thinner and thinner. And there are the days. The days when she’s binge-eating, gaining weight, skipping a workout, losing focus and getting bad grades. The days that remind her that, no matter what she’s doing, she just won’t be enough. Not tall enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough, not sexy enough, not thin enough…not good enough. Because, at the end of the day, this is all about- about being good enough. At what costs? Irrelevant, they’re not important, since no one knows about them. As long as it looks natural, it doesn’t matter how horrible it feels, how strange, how bizarre. Ana is needy. She needs every single bit of love and attention that she could receive, but you shouldn’t expect anything in return, and not because she’s selfish, but she can’t. Her emotions are compulsive, superficial, she’s not able to authentically love someone. And you can’t blame her for not having anyone around able to teach her how to share the love and good vibes with the others. Her life is movie script-worthy, but the beginning of the whole story was an enormous cliché- everything started with Ana being bullied.
Yes, I know, it seems so little. But it really isn’t. Everything started at school, with a colleague screaming Hey, fattie, come here, my friend wants to meet you!. They’ve laughed, but she left, and a question stayed with her: Am I really fat?. She gets home, goes to the mirror and she starts analyzing herself. She’s noticing that she really has some extra-pounds, but she won’t say that’s because of puberty, no, it’s all her fault. She’s eating way too much and way too unhealthy, and that has to change. Now. And it does.
Everything starts with her first date with a diet forum, where she’s gonna meet her Ana best friend which will give her valuable tips and tricks about how to lose weight fast while pretending you’re alright and fooling everybody around you. Losing weight feels so. fuckin’. good. She gets more confidence in herself, becomes more popular, can wear everything she wants to wear.
But nothing’s ever built to last. The lost pounds are coming back. She’s having her first major depressive episode. She’s not getting it- what happened, what was she doing wrong? So she’s starting to binge-eat. To have reported cheat-days, weeks, months. Her body looks worse than before, she’s fatter, no one likes her, she can’t be as trendy as her classmates anymore. She’s a fat, ugly, unpopular girl. Being smart it’s not helpful, but at least thanks to God that she’s not stupid as well. This is how she starts to look for Pro-Ana websites, blogs, Tumblr accounts…whatever works, at this point. She’s meeting new Ana girls, with more experience than she and she start learning. In the beginning, about the aliments- how many calories has each one of them, which are allowed and which are totally banned, which should be her daily calorie consumption in order to get thinner again. In the meantime, as she starts binge-eating again, being weak in front of her cravings again, she starts looking for more advanced things. How to artificially produce her vomit, how to make it look like you have just finished eating, but not eat anything at all. How to eat three cupcakes now and then starve for two days, just because she was craving them. How being fat feels like, because fatness isn’t only a fact, a trait that you have or have not. It’s a feeling. It’s feeling like you’ll never be like them, that girl squad that’s so thin, beautiful and trendy while it’s eating KFC on a daily basis, how she will never have as many people dying to be her best friends, that many beautiful, last-Instagram-trend clothes, that many apparently perfect boys wanting them. It’s about becoming a social no-no. About feeling ugly, feeling unuseful, feeling rejected. Reportedly rejected. So you get sick of it and try to change it, and you make it, but…
This is how things work. Especially when you’re a teenager trying to find herself in a visual society. This is how things work when you’re a young girl losing a big amount of weight, as well. There are a lot of psychological traps that no one tells you about. No one will tell you that you lose weight faster than you get used to the changes. Or that you try to look at least close to the girls on social media which have an army behind those flawless looks. And some good photo editors, too.
This is a common story. It is a part of my own story, but also of my close friends. It affects young men and women from all over the world. And it has so many forms of manifestation that you can’t even put a finger on it on its early stages.
When you lose weight, when you lose big amounts of weight, things get to happen that no one teaches you about. You don’t get told, for example, the fact that you will, at a certain point, feel like your body makes space for a new, stranger one, hidden inside of it. Somehow, it is a psychological metaphor of blooming, to explain it somehow.
No one will tell you that you will have mixed feelings about your body, either. That you will love feeling your bones when you dress up, or that you’ll feel insecure about being looked at on the street. You won’t be told about the joy felt when you’ll randomly notice in the mirror, one morning, that your collarbone is visible. The collarbone is the consolation prize of any Ana girl because it is the first bone to show up. No one will tell you that, one day, the feeling of your bones under your fingertips will be the synonym for accomplishment. Or that your close ones telling you that they’re proud of you for losing weight will put pressure on you to get rid of the rest of the weight quicker. Because being admired for the way you look is a newly encountered, addictive feeling.
And they won’t talk to you about these things not because they don’t want to, but because they don’t know how to. Some don’t even know that this is an actual need to be met in the weight-loss process. The only people that made me aware of all these things were my Ana friends. They warned me that I am becoming one of them and that I could be the perfect Ana. Actually, I could’ve turned into an Ana girl and no one would’ve suspected a thing, because, as they’ve told me if you become anorexic when you’re already thin, you’re sick, but if you become anorexic when you’re overweight, then you’re a success story. This is crossing my mind even today, whenever I think about my weight-loss journey. Because it is a long, possibly dangerous journey, even lethal for some. But it’s also rewarding.
I’ve managed to save my friends by loving them and always being there for them. By teaching them that their best will always be enough. That if somebody is conditioning them by telling them that they will be loved only as long as they do this or that, they don’t need that person’s love. No matter how much they care for that person or want it in their lives. I’ve also encouraged them to seek help, to go in therapy. I’ve learned a lot by working with them and helping them become the wonderful young girls they currently are. I’ve documented on the eating disorders spectrum, learned how to help them and how to help myself.
But if I was to name what I know about this now, I’d say that Ana is not a disease of a body, but a universe trapped inside of a human body. An imbalance misleading the vulnerable ones towards a fake perfection.
And if I want you to know something, on the Eating Disorders Awareness Week, it’s just that you have to pay attention to what happens around you. Seriously, that’s all that it takes. Pay attention to the girl that lost a big amount of weight all of a sudden. To the girl that has always just finished eating when it’s invited to take the dinner or lunch in town.
Take her for a walk, encourage her to talk. Or him, for that matter of fact, as I’ve seen plenty of boys developing eating disorders as well. Talk, let them know that you’re there, ready to listen without judgment. Read about it, learn to recognize the signs, and be always ready to show them their best sides, as they often forget about them in their quest for perfection.
Because this is how Ana works her deadly magic: firstly, it makes you feel unworthy of appreciation and love, and then, it isolates you from all the loved ones. It is not just about the person battling the disorder, is also about everyone else who loves her and cares for her. Ana hurts and drags down everyone around the victim.
And for you, for all the people that managed to seek help and are now in recovery, you have all my love, admiration and support. You’re some different kind of rockstars, so make your voices heard and tell your stories exactly as they were. No matter if you’re a teen, an adult or even close to the old ages, your story will help. Your story will heal. Will let the young ones, the confused ones, the ones that have lost faith know that there’s nothing lost forever.
Because it might be true that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, but it is also true that happines is so, so much more than a number on a scale. And if you want to discover it, giving up on caring about that number is the best start you could possibly have. Your beauty is not a number, and your intelligence is not your grade.
It is, somehow, only one number that really counts: the number of people that you’ve made to smile, the number of people that you brought joy to, even for five minutes. And that is not depending on how much you weigh, not even a bit, not at all. So get yourself together, and put the guilt, the shame and the good enough stuff in a box. Tomorrow is a brand new day, the sun will shine, and you will try again, totally aware of the fact that small steps are still steps taken forward.