A Letter to My 17-Year Old Self
My current project is organizing the seemingly insurmountable box of old photographs that were recently imported from my mother’s basement. They are a disorganized bunch spanning decades, from those that were taken in grammar school on my Kodak Disc to the sloppy bar shots from my early 20s.
I was trying to put this mess into chronological order recently when I came across a picture of me and my twin sister Erin, posed in front of our parents’ house on the day of a cousin’s wedding. I instantly knew by our chosen fashions that we were about 17 at the time, decked out in dresses that were far too short for a family affair and makeup defined by pale skin and burgundy lips. Since our fashion muse at the time was Brenda Walsh of Beverly Hills 90210 this was not at all unusual.
Looking at that picture I also remembered how much my 17-year old self hated her body, disgusted by imperfections I would trade my Spanx for today. Admittedly I was thick in the middle, my legs were the color of bleached milk and I hadn’t mastered the art of bra-fit yet but I wasn’t a total disaster. I stared at my younger image and tried to imagine what she thought was so reprehensible about her appearance?
Would she feel differently if she knew what that body would be capable of? Would she respect it more if she could forsee the strength and endurance it would muster up as the mother of a colicky infant? What if I were able to tell her all the wonderful things that her body would do for her in her role as a mother?
In a futile exercise to indulge this fantasy, I wrote the following letter to that girl. Take a look.
It’s me, you! From the future!!
Yes I know it’s confusing but instead of getting into the whole space-time continuum discussion I’ll just ask you to trust me on this one and listen carefully to what I’m about to tell you.
Be kind yourself. You are not the Quasimodo you imagine yourself to be. In fact, I think you’re pretty cute!
And don’t be so hard on your body. It is the only one you’ll ever have.
Please respect it. Believe it or not, someday it will perform miracles.
In about a decade it will cradle your future son, nurture him and push him out into this crazy, wonderful world with bloody, ugly Grace. It will nourish him with milk his first year of life and protect him with an instinctive fierceness you can’t possibly imagine right now.
It will also amaze you with its resilience. It will support you while you pace your living room floor for hours on end, holding 22 pounds of feverish flesh and singing ‘You are My Sunshine’ on endless loop despite only 2 hours of sleep.
It will run its first race at 36 years old, move with a confidence you never could have thought possibly at 17 and place you ahead of more than half the seasoned runners beside you.
Sadly it will also be tired, unused to the physicality of motherhood, the constant motion, the lifting, the loading, the piggyback rides and various situations that call you to the floor, whether in the role of horsey or the vehicle by which your son can ‘fly’.
And it will look different too. The elasticity in your skin won’t be as buoyant and a carefully selected blush will replace the natural flush in your cheeks. Gray will begin to creep into your auburn hair and you will be forced to let L’Oreal try to give you synthetically what God gave you naturally.
But despite all these changes to your body, you will be grateful. Grateful that your hands are strong enough to pull sleighs mend wounds and uncork wine. Grateful that your legs are up to an impromptu dance party in your kitchen and strong enough to put a foot down when necessary. And above all, grateful that you are no longer 17.
Ellen Bailey is a freelance writer, mother of a 4-year old boy and a contributor to mamasagainstdrama.com. She lives outside of New York City.