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Solange’s Letter to Her Teenage Self is Chicken Soup for All of Our Souls

I’ve already read it 10 times

05.18.17

There are no capital letters in Solange’s Teen Vogue letter to her teenage self, no “Dear Solange.” It reads more like a song or a poem than a letter, starting out with a four-sentence bang (“there will be fear. a lot of it. there will be triumph. a lot of it.”) and moving lyrically from one cluster of thoughts to the next.

She breaks down her various teenage phases, from dance-obsessed to football player’s girlfriend; admits to being bullied and being called names like “crazy” and “ugly;” calls words her first love; recounts stupid, life-threatening hijinks; chastises herself for rolling her eyes at her mother; and acknowledges that she suffered from bouts of self-doubt and isolation: “you shut down. you go into your room, lock the door, put on music, and you do not move for 8 hours straight. it will feel like the heaviest and bleakest darkness you can possibly feel.” All typical teenage stuff — the highest highs and the lowest lows and the heaps of feelings and experiences that only appear commonplace in hindsight, but at the time felt like a reservoir of uncomfortable change and newness that you and you alone were charged with swimming through.

But then she takes the letter deeper, past the surface of quintessential teenagehood, straight to the core of what flipped her still-malleable selfhood on its axis and changed everything. She writes, “seventeen will be the hardest year of your life. it will grow you up almost immediately. you will lose your best friend whom you love so much to gun violence in a single moment, and give birth to a new one within a year.” It’s the kind of heartbreak most full-grown adults couldn’t stomach, washing up against the presence of a brand-new infant.

“you will be terrified, and it’s ok that you don’t know what the future holds,” Solange writes. “some people will count you out because of the decision you’ve made to bring another life into the world so young, but you made the decision out of love and will live with the decision in love.”

Imagine being counted out at 17, only to subsequently become a world-famous singer/songwriter with a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 chart. It takes the idea of a happy ending to a whole new level.

The idea of writing a letter to your teenage self — a past self — is an interesting one, because it’s not like what you say can ever alter what’s already happened. You were what you were then and you are what you are now because of that. If I could go back in time and give my teenage self actionable advice, I would tell her that moisturizing would actually help her oily skin, that a huge bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats cereal won’t numb sadness, that sharing someone else’s secret without permission will feel delicious in the moment but terrible after, that hooking up with someone who doesn’t see her the way she wants to be seen or who makes her feel worse about herself than better is always a bad idea, that she will never regret being nice and that a C+ in chemistry will not destroy her chances of getting into college.

But then again, would I? I’m happy (for now) with where I ended up, so why would I want to go back in time and change the path that I followed?

This question reminds me of something Joan Didion wrote in Slouching Toward Bethlehem, “…I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”

Even though what Solange writes in 2017 can’t change what happened in 2004, the concept of writing a letter to your teenage self, or any past self, is compelling in the context of reacquainting yourself with the people you used to be — staying on “nodding terms” with the various iterations of your identity and letting your past mistakes, triumphs, fears, embarrassments and delights inform the person you are becoming.

So how about you? What would you write to your hormone-addled, acne-speckled, precious, tender teenage self?

Photos by Ryan McGinley via Teen Vogue. 

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  • To my teenage self:
    Stop smoking so much weed. You’re gonna ruin it for yourself later. Wear whatever the fuck you want, regardless of what people think… And for the love of god, stop worrying about your weight!!

  • Inaat

    That there is no shame in asking for help. Eat.

    • Harling Ross

      yes x2

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  • I’d tell myself to appreciate my healthy body and to exercise more. I’d tell her to enjoy education and get the most out of it, easy A’s and B’s are not the end-all-be-all; you get out of education what you put into it. Also, I’d tell my teenage self that a first kiss isn’t the sort of milestone to make or break the rest of your life. Making out with a cute boy is overrated.

    • Harling Ross

      love this

    • And HE was the lucky one.

  • tiabarbara

    I would tell her that being popular is severely overrated and that her jealousy of those girls was misguided. I would tell her that her love and passion for dance should have outweighed the bullies who made her quit. I would tell her to try harder in French class so she didn’t spend her 20’s trying so hard to re-learn the language. I would tell her that there is absolutely nothing wrong with her body, that she will lose weight and she will put it all back on and that when that happens she will realise that she’s never loved herself more.

    • Harling Ross

      this makes me v happy

    • “…she will put it all back on and that when that happens she will realise that she’s never loved herself more.”

      Snaps till the fingertips numb.

  • I would tell you that you were/are kind. And then I would repeat it until you believed me. Please spare yourself the guilt or wasted efforts in otherwise toxic dynamics trying to prove it. When you walk away from those who do not serve your higher consciousness, you are actually walking towards your truth. I would tell you to separate the passionless passivity of being ‘nice’ from the integrity of kindness. The opposite of kindness is cruelty. Yes, you can and will be inconsiderate – when not grounded enough in your innate thoughtfulness. And your thoughtfulness is innate. Therefor you were/are not cruel. You are raw and that is your strength. When the strength of a woman does not come neatly, ‘nicely’ wrapped in an appeasing bow, others may be less likely to recognize you as a precious gift. ‘Nice’ is packaging; kindness is content. The nice folk are not always honest. How can they be when they are so busy obliging? Others may resent you – most of all – for the audacity to be authentic. I would tell you that their resentment is rooted in their own lack of self-possession. When you empathetically display your dignity, it can rock others to their core. A core that they ignore. I would tell you to hug the polka-dot elephant in the middle of the room. It is cruel to keep starving her; you are kind to look her in the eye and share your peanuts. I ask you how that act can make you ‘mean’? That makes you meaningful. I would tell you that society may not get you but getting or being gotten is beneath you. Because you HAVE yourself. And early. Embrace it. Adjust it – only – to deepen your compassion. Make sure that existential exercise does not venture into compromise. You are in the divine company of just what they call you: a witch. Witches were once burned at the stake. I would tell you to know exactly what is at stake now. The same thing. Power. Standing for yourself is the kindest thing you can do – not just for you, but as an opportunity for those with a disease to please to bear witness to other possibilities. And even for those who judge women who manage the inexplicable feat of inoculating themselves? You can be an example. The oddity of life is that what is most real is too often unrecognizable. By making the aches and pains of empowerment visible, you are kind.

    • Harling Ross

      parsing the different between nice/kind is so difficult. this is really beautifully put. thank you!!!!!

      • Thank you & of course, Solange, for such a therapeutic exercise. I do not follow pop culture in a manner that would have put her teen-self letter on my radar. Team MR is to be applauded for creating a space where I’ve observed most rumination on ‘celebrity’ tends to invite some further insight. And most gratefully, with a pictorial of say, a chartreuse, paisley kitten heel.

        I didn’t quite identify with the thread comments. At first. I considered my self esteem relatively healthy. Early. Body issues? Yes. But not about size. Having battled serious autoimmune issues, my struggle – as is that of any with medical challenges – seemed different. This only forced me to dig deeper. I remain stunned as humbled with what surfaced here. I sent it to my sister. She responded: “You are kind.” I was…am…shocked at how much that moves me. Heals, really. How invaluable! Thank you for a piece which has spurred a surprising shift. Empowered appreciation.

    • LaurenEF

      This is exactly what i needed to see today. Thank you!

    • Maddy Paul

      “‘Nice’ is packaging; kindness is content.”
      absolutely love this!

    • Emily Michaelis

      thanks so much for this!

  • “Actually, you ARE going to get married and you will like it.”
    “Yeah, just keep on doing your own thing. It’s not the people, stupid.”
    “Nope. Books will never, ever leave you.”

  • Senka

    No disrespect to Beyonce, but Solange to me was always the more interesting and cooler Knowles sister.

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