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Dear Teen Erin

May 8th, 2014     by Erin McPhee     Comments

Illustrations: Erin McPhee

Dear Teen Erin,

I was so daunted by the task of writing to you that I had to call a friend. When I asked them to reflect on where I was in my life ten years ago, they had to pause and think. They said it was an interesting question, because they remember that I changed a great deal over the four years of high school. And they’re right. I remember, in the beginning, being a rebellious, stubborn underachiever with a tendency to challenge authority – and then hitting a turning point somewhere in the middle where I decided I wasn’t happy with who I was or what I was doing. I completely removed myself from any friendships that I felt were toxic, became really focused on my schoolwork, and completely devoted myself to the singular goal of getting into the one college program I was interested in.

I spent a lot of time drawing and preparing my illustration portfolio, and hanging out with the “call a friend” friend. I remember being depressed by the knowledge that some people thought my sudden change meant I thought I was better than the rest of them. I remember the alienation and fallout from that event being painful. But I also remember feeling sure of myself: steady in my resolve, and confident about my choice to focus on my personal and professional development.

I remember so well the cringe-worthy, mixed-up feelings of being a teenager. Like how you could be so confident and outspoken one moment, and the next feel completely alone and terrified that your friends and peers don’t like you. With the latter vulnerable moments in mind, I want to offer you — Teen Erin — some advice:

* You don’t need to be in a relationship to be happy. And being in a relationship will not diminish your anxiety and lack of self-confidence. If left unchecked and allowed to fester, you will carry these feelings into each subsequent relationship with you. You’ll do this in the hope that being in a relationship will magically make these feelings disappear. But it won’t.

You will figure this out on your own, but I wish you’d known sooner. You’re going to experience emotional and verbal abuse before this changes. And for that, I’m sorry. But I want you to know that you deserve to be in a happy and healthy relationship, and you will be. Things are going to get so much better.

* Teen Erin: I know you are debilitated by the concern that other people don’t like you.

But I want you to know that you will gradually care less and less. I want you to know that your value/worth is not assigned to you by the opinions of others (although it can totally feel this way when you’re in high school).

* Your body is not the mortifying landscape you believe it to be. You have acne, hair all over your body, small breasts, and this great little stomach that isn’t as flat as a washboard, and you still look great naked. Don’t worry about it. Seriously.

And lastly, I want to let you know that you’re doing okay. You’ve got this! Take care of yourself, encourage yourself, stay focused, and be forgiving of your missteps.

Love, Erin

Tags: illustration, relationships, self-esteem, teen

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