You are ten years old as I write this letter, meant for you to read as a young woman. This is your map to self. This is your map to safety. At ten, you talk to flowers, pose questions to the moon, go on brave adventures, and make up songs. Your lyrics are often about finding your way. When you are lost, unfold this letter and find yourself. Find me, too, holding your hand and your heart.
When you were born, you were bald and pink and curled up like a smooth-skinned armadillo, yet I thought you were absolutely beautiful. It was as if I could see and touch joy itself when holding you. And yet the fear that something might happen to you quickly filled me in equal measure and I would wake up with short, sharp inhales of fear.
Mostly, I feared that I was not good enough. You may feel that way sometimes, like you are not good enough, or that there is something wrong with you, because you can’t keep up with the world’s expectations. There is nothing wrong with you. There is something wrong with our expectations of women.
Our culture celebrates women for their beauty or their extraordinary achievements. But when we don’t feel beautiful and when we aren’t the top performer, we don’t question our culture’s messages, we question our worth.
I want to set that straight. You were born worthy. It is not something you need to earn or prove. Your value is like my love for you; it is in flash-flood mode all the time, with no banks or limits.
I was raised to believe that I could be anything I wanted to be. But the way I internalized that message was that I must be great. And there were many times that I didn’t feel capable of being great. All I ever saw were the outer, perfect performances of women in my life. I never heard about their inner conflict, so that when I encountered doubt or my own imperfections, I thought that the confusion I experienced was uniquely mine.
I assumed everyone else knew exactly what she was doing.
Ask women for their stories, you will hear the constellations of struggle and courage that make up who we are.
The opposite of joy is not sadness, but perfectionism. When you are straining to do all parts of your life so well to rise above confusion and criticism, that’s what I call perfectionism. The world doesn’t need you to be perfect, it just needs you to contribute to the common good.
I want to rebel against the idea that our bodies are not already perfect, as they are. What if we praised our eyes, lips, fingers and toes, bones, shoulders, and muscles for all of their genius? What if we admired them the way we admire other natural bodies like the sun, moon, and stars?
At ten, you are brave and in love with your body: the strength and speed of your muscles, the joys of your flexibility, the mystery of your private parts. You have your great-grandmother’s angular legs and arms, your grandmother’s nose and wavy hair, my deep-set eyes and fair skin, and your own full lips and mouth.
Growing up, I thought that my body was something to hide and to hate. I wore baggy clothes to hide my shape, and I spat at my reflection in the mirror in disgust.
But your body is your connection to your grandmothers, to me, and to women around the world. It is the home of the umbilical cord and the womb.
When I was a little older than you, I was embarrassed that I didn’t yet have my period. Then, when I finally got it, I was ashamed of my body. When you get your period, celebrate. I’m serious. Your period may be annoying, but it is not shameful. By shedding the lining of your uterus once a month and building a fresh one, your body is teaching you to let go of what does not serve you. Your body is powerful and magnificent.
Becoming a woman is not just about your body changing; it is the process of discovering who you are by listening to your inner voice. Becoming a woman is growing brave enough to express yourself, even when you are afraid.
Sometimes being brave means to be bold, but sometimes it means to be vulnerable. Sometimes brave means to forge ahead, other times it means to be still. Sometimes it means to fight, other times, brave means to let go. What it means to be brave will change as you change.
“Mama, will my voice change when I grow up?” You asked me the other day. I guess you had heard that your brother’s voice will soon crack and deepen.
“No, no. Your voice will always stay the same,” I said dismissively.
But that’s not true. If you think about your voice as the instrument with which you author your life, and not just the physical sounds that come out of your throat, then it will definitely change. It will get lost, and you will find it again. You will lose it when you try to please everyone. To find your voice again, remember what you loved to do when you were nine, or ten years old, before others’ voices mattered more to you than your own.
In case you’ve forgotten, you spent whole afternoons climbing trees, singing songs you created, and inventing elaborate treasure hunts. What if you devoted a day to no one but yourself and nature? And instead of trying to reach a summit, you explored around you, with bravery, curiosity, and imagination? Do what feels good, despite your fear saying, You will disappoint everyone and go broke. Slowly, through a daily practice of being brave, your fear will get bored and shut up, while your unique voice gets louder and clearer.
I can’t help but make a connection between our mutual love of treasure hunts and this crazy experience called life. How can it be that we can love these hunts so much, but be uncomfortable facing big uncertainties in life such as Will I find love? Meaningful work? My passion? A way to save the world? It’s easy to get scared into thinking there isn’t a next clue, or if there is one, I’ll miss it. But I’m here to tell you that there will always be a next clue and you will always find it.
If you live like that, with bravery and trust, then life becomes one big treasure hunt, an adventurous game that is our privilege to play.
I have no solid footing here to tell you that you will never be left alone, or that your worth will always be recognized by others. To the little girl inside me, nothing is more murky than my value. Yet nothing is more clear to me than your value.
When you feel lost, know that I am with you. I am as much a part of you as your fingers, your toes, your beating heart, your wild instincts, your breath. Feel me listening to you, holding you, and giving you a loud, standing ovation.