It seems like just yesterday that I was a 20-year-old acting student hanging out in Greenwich Village, drinking black coffee, and going to midnight showings of foreign films that I pretended to like and understand because the guy I loved liked them.
Back then, I wouldn’t have dreamt of telling someone I loved, or in fact, even someone I hated, what I really thought about anything.
And I would never, ever, disagree with someone, even if I knew for a fact that they were wrong. What if they didn’t like me?
I have often wondered what that young, extremely insecure girl would think of the outspoken woman I’ve become. What would I tell her?
I decided to have a little fun today and write a letter to my 20-year-old self.
Take off your shoes and sit down. I know your feet must be killing you. But you’re right, your legs do look thinner in three-inch heels.
I would like to tell you that your 51-year-old feet would appreciate it if you could lower the heel a bit, but I know you can’t imagine that far ahead. That’s why I decided to write you this letter.
Do you remember seeing a woman walking on the Upper West Side the other day? She was with her husband and her teenage son.
You admired her black outfit and thought she looked attractive for her age, but made a solemn vow that you would never, ever, let yourself get that fat. You wondered how any woman with even a smidgen of self respect could ever let herself go that far.
Well, I’m glad you’re sitting down because that will be you in 31 years.
I’ll give you a minute to stop crying.
All right. All right. You’re going to have to calm down. I don’t have a lot of time before I have to pick up my 12-year-old for a dentist appointment, and I need you to really listen.
I saw you on the street walking with your friend. You kept checking every window to see if you looked fat. You don’t by the way. You’re just beautiful.
I know weighing 125 pounds isn’t something that feels even remotely OK right now. I know you were afraid that everyone was looking at you and thinking you were hideous. They weren’t and you’re not.
But even if they were judging you, that’s not your problem. You don’t need to fit anyone’s ideal of what a woman should look like.
I know that boy was telling you something else. I know he told you if you cut your hair, lost weight, or wore different clothes, he’d be in love with you.
News flash! He’s gay.
Yes, I know you know that. But trust me, no matter what he tells you, you’re never going to be what he wants. Save yourself some time and a lot of tears. Move on. Today. This minute.
I know you think he’s the only person you’ll ever love. Trust me, he’s not. You have a few more frogs to kiss, but in about five years you are going to meet the love of your life.
I should tell you right now, he’s not the type of guy you think you are going to end up with.
He’s not flashy or showy. He’s just a really, really nice guy.
I know that’s the kiss of death for any man you meet right now. But in a few years you’re going to want to be with someone who’s stable and has a regular job.
This man loves you for you are and thinks you are beautiful no matter what size you are.
He’s not going to swoop down and save you the way Prince Charming does in the fairy tales. You’re going to have to save yourself and create your own life before you’re ready to share that life with another person.
Kathy I know you’re afraid of opening your mouth and letting people know the real you. I know it feels easier to just do what people want you to do. In reality, it only prolongs the pain. Start speaking up. Today. The people who don’t like it aren’t worth your time.
Let me let you in on a secret. There are some people who are just not going to like you. As you get older, you start caring about them less and start concentrating on the people who do.
I want you to know that that you end up getting everything you want. It just turns out that what you think you want today at 20 isn’t what’s going to end up being evenly remotely important to you when you’re 51.
Relax. Enjoy being young. Don’t wish your life away.
And when you’re about to turn 30 and are trying to capture a bit of your “youth,” do yourself a favor and listen to the sales lady at Bloomingdales. Don’t buy the $25 black lipstick. You’re going to have to trust me on this one.
This piece is a re-working of an essay first published on the Dishwasher on October, 20, 2013, under the title, Don’t Buy a Black Lipstick and Other Life Lessons I Wish I Knew When I Was Younger
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