May 3, 2024

Dear 18-Year-Old Jen

Lifestyle & Pop Culture

Hello, darling. You are so beloved. 

I am writing to you from the year you will turn 50. I know. Impossible. You will never be an old lady half a century old. It is light years away. Honey, it is basically tomorrow, but I’ll leave your fantasy alone for now. I have bigger things to tell you. 

Let’s start with you. One thing I love is your earnestness. You are sincere, hopeful, and idealistic; as doe-eyed a creature that ever lived. Your world is four inches wide, and you believe in it all breathlessly. You mean it. You believe it. Your perception of the world is generous. Now, this will all be tested and challenged and upended eventually, but for now, you believe in people, in their goodness, in their motives. You’re nice. That means something. You are about to move into young adulthood with your arms wide open, and there are worse ways to start. 

Faith is uncomplicated for you right now. Well, mostly. You are growing tiny, tiny seeds of question marks around the exclusion of women in spiritual leadership, but I’ll get to that. There will come a day when you miss this season; when faith was simple and safe. Answers seemed straightforward. The path seemed clear. The formula sounded trustworthy. You don’t know what you don’t know, and you are doing the very best with what you’ve been given. Don’t waste time regretting these years later. Truly, you are making sense of the world with the tools you have. Later, you might be tempted to look back in scorn at this version of your faith, but don’t do it. Allow hindsight to be kind, not contemptuous.

Know this: when you know better, you will do better. You are capable of growth and evolution and change. Don’t be afraid. 

Let’s talk about your body, your lovely, beautiful, young body, the one you hate. Darling, everyone is lying to you. The beauty industry, the magazines, Hollywood; later the “internet” will pile on, but for now, just be grateful it hasn’t been invented yet to document your nonsense. I know you feel huge, how you stand in front of the full length mirror and scrutinize your thighs, your belly, your arms. This isn’t your fault and it isn’t true. Whole industries profit off you hating yourself. You didn’t originate this self-disgust; you’ve been targeted for it. An insidious diet culture will capitalize on this invented standard, and I can tell you with certainty it will never deliver what it promises. Ever. 

May I share something I only learned recently? Your body is not an unfortunate container carrying around your brain. It is entirely, beautifully, wonderfully you. As you as your personality and thoughts. As you as your dreams and emotions. A mentor named Dr. Hillary McBride taught me to call my body “she” and “her,” because she is you, dear one. She is your best friend, your most loyal partner. Look at all she has done already! She is to be loved and only loved. Learn to reject every voice that tells you she is too big, too tall, too soft, too anything. They are all lying. Practice telling yourself and your friends how lovely you all are. Say the words out loud. Give her water and delicious lotions and oh! Sunscreen! Please! Love her like she deserves to be loved, because your precious body will see you through more than you can even imagine. She is not your enemy; she is your fiercest ally. Trust her. Listen to her. Cherish her. Believe her. Protect her. 

You have a largeness inside you have no idea where to place. It is growing. You feel like you might be powerful, or have powerful ideas, or be a part of powerful work. But where? How? Don’t worry. It will all come. But hear this: don’t spend one millisecond tamping down your strength. Not one. Do not conform to the small spaces you’ve been handed. Yes, you will in fact become a wife and mother as expected, but that is not the totality of your work on this earth. When big ideas rise up seemingly out of nowhere, say yes. Step into them all. You’ll do it not just imperfectly but in some cases disastrously, but never mind that. Say yes. Move toward that North Star that shines so brightly in your imagination. You won’t believe how exciting it all becomes. 

Finally, a word on women. You don’t know this yet, because you think you will be an elementary teacher, but you are going to serve and love women your whole life (more of them than you think, but don’t worry about that for now). They will become your best friends, your allies, your compatriots, your mentors. Frankly, they will astonish you. All that will come, but know this: women are not your competitors. They are your sisters. They are the smartest, best people on earth. Believe it or not, we are still fighting for autonomy as I write this, but legislation is no match for this community of women. Reject voices that pit women against each other or reduce you to adversaries. The patriarchy has a vested interest in keeping you rivals; if you fight one another for the only seat at the table, the men will not have to add more seats. Solidarity. Women will carry you through your life in ways that a thousand husbands could never do. They will be among the greatest loves of your life. Serve them fiercely. Protect the community. Defend them endlessly. Represent them sincerely. 

What a life you have ahead of you. You simply won’t believe it. Oh god, it will be so much more painful than you think, so much more beautiful. You will suffer and you will rise; let it all come. Big yes to life, darling. Yes to adventure. Yes to risks. Yes to failures. Yes to love. Yes to tenderness. Yes to fierceness. Yes to everyone is in. Yes to a bigger table. Yes to a more just world. Yes to joy. 




You are more beloved than you can possibly imagine. Everyone is. There is no us and them, only all of us. Isn’t that wonderful? Build a life on that. In fact, dear one, you will. 

Tenderly, with love and only love, 


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