For my (almost) thirteen year old niece

Listen, they will try to teach you that your worth is reduced to your body, that your curves hold your beauty. Deep down, you will know this is not true, that the voices telling you not to eat that meal are just hungry. But you will listen and it’s going to be years and years of listening before you can shut them down; so please, before you listen to those voices, listen to me.

When they ask you what you were wearing and how long your skirt was, the answer won’t matter in their eyes, you are already guilty. In their minds, you are a sheep grazing on the wrong hill. You can’t blame the wolf its hunger for fresh meat, after all “wolves will be wolves”.

But listen, you are as innocent as a lily growing in the middle of a storm. Your body is not an open house invitation. Your girlhood is not a sin. You will not be defined by the stretch marks upon your sunshine skin.

Listen, when the boy you like doesn’t like you back and instead runs off with your best friend, your heart will become an empty vessel. You will feel too heavy to walk, too dry to breathe. Instead of destruction, think of restoration. Paint your nails red, get a haircut, scream into a pillow, dance to heavy metal even if you don’t like it. Call me. I will nurture you into life. I will love you until you heal. And remember, the ability to forgive is the best bulletproof vest you will ever find.

Sometimes, you will hate your mom. Sometimes, she won’t let you do the things you want to do and you will lie to her. She will know you are lying. She will know you aren’t sleeping over that friend’s house. But you can still call her when you are in trouble. She will always love you no matter what decisions you make.

Listen, you know those girls who wear tight clothes and wear another face of makeup, and who steal glances as they walk by. They are not the enemy. They are equal to you and feel the same way every night when they are lying in bed alone. They are not declaring war to you. They are just trying to survive in a world consumed with image. They are only doing so to build themselves bigger. But you, you can be anything you want to be. You can be New York City, you can be the Sahara Desert, you can be the old country house in Georgia. You can be more than that. And you have to let those girls be anything they want. You will soon learn to rejoice in the freedom of women. You will learn to love them, fight for them, you will learn they have never been the enemy.

Listen, don’t quit the game because you’re “too tired”, don’t stop wearing bright colors and vivid prints, don’t hide your acne or poorly shaven legs. Don’t hide. Blossom. Blossom into this chaos of a universe thatI’m sorry you have to live in.

Listen, I tried to make it better for you. I tried to make it softer for you to grow without having to scrape your knees. I’m still trying and I will be thankful if you try with me.

Listen, you will be okay. And if you ever feel like the sun won’t rise again, I will burn myself to keep your world ablaze.

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