Twelve is going to be a big year for you. It’s nice to meet you, by the way. I think you’d recognise me. That wouldn’t sound silly if you’d seen me a couple of years ago, because I don’t think you’d have recognised me then, honestly. I’m Katya, I’m 23. I’m currently sitting in the middle of an empty room in an empty apartment, drinking cava. I keep trying to lean against the radiator but it’s too hot. I am very tired because this is the end of a very long two months. I am single, though not quite alone – you’re single too (but not for much longer! Ditch the eyeliner, even if you tight line – which you definitely cannot do yet and are still pretty piss poor at – it’s gonna make your eyes look smaller than they are, and you don’t want that because they are lovely), and you’re definitely not alone. Bonnie and Christina are still two of my best friends. They’re going to stick by you through everything. Christina will remind you of this, she is a rock. Bonnie will cry in your kitchen when you tell her things you never shared in school. They love you so much, and without judgment.
There are so many things I want to tell you not to do, so many people I want you to stay away from. Things not to say, even to wear. Twelve is the peak. The next decade is hell. This decade is hell because of what twelve was. A year later you’re going to use this a lot: “when people say these bad things about you, and you’ve never heard or been told any different, you believe them”. You’re going to repeat that to friends, to counsellors, to your mother. When the school counsellor interprets your self harm as a way to hurt your mum, “in a way she’s saying, ‘look mum, look what you made me do’, isn’t that right?”, and you are shocked because you would never do that to your mother, you have to say something! That’s going to haunt your mother a long fucking time and you sat there and looked at your hands. You’ll cut a boy’s name into the back of your hand and lie and say it says ‘love’, because even you know what a dumbass thing that was to do. You think they’re tiny, but the scars will stay. You think it’s okay to start small, but at 19 you’ll be worthy of stitches.
Letters like this are meant to be encouraging: don’t believe what they said, you were and are beautiful! You weren’t fat, not for a second – four sports teams, captain of the swim team. Next year you’ll get a doctors letter to excuse you from PE because your heart is acting up, the same teacher who wrote “needs to improve fitness”, resulting in your mother’s 2.0 venture to push her daughter further, will ask if you’re okay and if you need to talk. The hilarity is I can’t think of anything else to say except “but you weren’t fat!” Because that’s all you think this is; that it’s only about weight. And I can see why and understand, more than anyone else ever could, why you would think that. But I am angry with you. I am angry with you because 27 was my goal year. My favourite number and therefore the number where it would begin. I would get married at 27, I would have my first child at 28. Second at 30 or 31. Maybe a third, or fourth. In your last year of school your periods are going to stop. Ironically a year and a half later you’re going to lose a baby. Stop making plans. A decade later you’re going to think about those plans and how they won’t happen as you step in roads, and look at train tracks.
I am sad for you, Twelve. So overwhelmingly desperate to be liked, to be cool – and then, therefore, as if by logical extension, to be thin. You were so unapologetically yourself through primary school. I think that’s why you’d recognise me now – I think I’m back there. I’d run around a playground right now, my umbrella as Legolas’s bow after watching Two Tower’s for the first time in cinema. I’d do that now and not be embarassed, not want to curl into a ball. Nerd will become cool after you swap schools again, and your friends will boast on your behalf of your dad’s Star Wars collection. Still not genuine but you’ll get there. You tried so hard and it made you such an easy target. Every party you go to your mother will shout, she will compare you to a prostitute. She is trying as hard as you are, and she too doesn’t know what she’s doing. You’ll forgive her and you’ll be almost friends one day. In 11 years time you’re going to call from her train, surrounded by people, and say “I fucked up, I slept with someone else, what do I do?” And she’s going to tell you exactly what to do and you’re going to do it. You can’t imagine that now, any of it. You’ll spend time sneaking out, drinking. You go from brightest to maybe average. Your friends parents know you are throwing up but your mother seems pleased by how much you enjoy the gym now.
The first time you are drunk, properly drunk, and your mother picks you up and you’re in your denim mini skirt and borrowed v-necked shirt, leaning against a lamppost, she will call you a streetwalker. You’ll get into bed and she’ll slam into the room and, Homer-and-Bart style, she will throttle you. You can’t tell her what happened to you because you don’t know the word for it, because they don’t teach consent in sex education, instead they Google image STDs and project them on the board. It was assault. And then distribution of child pornography. You’ve told two people this in the entire world, though the entire bus saw photographic evidence. You call yourself a feminist now, but you still can’t talk about it. You can’t talk about it, not because of how awful it was (which is was) but because of how embarassed you are. You’re embarassed by how it’s still reflective of who you are now: you asked him to kiss you and he wouldn’t, anything but that, and you told yourself to be grateful, that the two most attractive boys in the year were doing this to you. You’ll feel this time and time again. You will lie on your back and tell yourself to feel grateful, even if there are tears welling in your eyes that you cannot control. Even sitting on the floor in the shower, be it a teenager or an ‘adult’, and feeling uncontrollably, painfully dirty, you will still shut yourself up with “at least someone found you attractive”. Sex, sexual acts, will become a tool for you to reimagine yourself. You will use sex like heroin; a self-esteem hit. Top ups needed more and more often. You are not too young for me to talk to like this. Yes, you’re single now. But you’re about to have very full 36Cs, and when a little pack of boys tells you that he only dated you for yours tits, you’re going to secretly be smug. You allow yourself to be objectified and treat yourself, and will continue to treat yourself, as such. For a long time. Therapists will have a field day, and you will become a queen at analysing yourself: you, separate, and your body. The body; physical representation of you that you can never rid yourself of, no matter how many uphill sprints you do (thank you for that – two surgeries later, after the doctors told you never to run) or how many days you fast or how many cuts you make.
You always felt so resentful when your parents, your father especially, called you naive. Said you were too soft, too forgiving. You idolise the girl who ruins you. Even your friends find this horrifying. You are so glad when she gets her period back, you are pleased when she chooses you to swap eating disordered stories with. You have kept her birthday card she made for you, and it’s still in your shoebox of so-called treasures and love letters and valentines day cards and best friend letters. Three weeks later your boyfriend will cheat on you with her; he will lose his virginity to her not even a week later. A gift you always wanted but could never get him to give. You still keep, and still have kept, that birthday card, with her bubble writing and you can still remember it. A magazine collage with “blonde bombshell” on the front; big, curvy writing on the inside, her i’s dotted with circles. Even in the letter, blood on it though even you knew it was far too small and shallow to be final, you ask her to eat and wish her well. You’re a mental health time bomb, my love. You’ll learn family history and many secrets and put it together.
Don’t make a Piczo site. Hold your friends close and be honest with them; they are not stupid, just scared for you and what you’re about to do. Your parents love you and they are proud of you, they’re just sad that things seem to be going wrong and don’t know how to help – that scares them. You are so much more than your body; you are so much more than sex. You are so much more than the boys you kiss, even if your list is three columns long by graduation. Okay, so you spent primary school winning prizes and then year seven but you’re going to dip – but, you are going to come back, and you’ll kick serious academic ass again. You’ll leave university in 2013 and even though you’ll feel and sometimes still feel like you failed, you begin to believe yourself the more you say “it was the bravest thing I’ve ever done” – because it was, my god was it brave. The second bravest was going back. You’re back in the game, my love. You’re 23, single and lonely, putting on weight and drinking too much, but you’re still doing so much better. I promise, I promise, I promise. Twelve is tough, but you’ve made it to 23, so you can do anything. I can’t tell you not to move to Melbourne, because you are going to anyway. It’s a mistake and you know it. Try to be honest with yourself more. Stop being so afraid of being wrong. Or unwanted, or alone. Don’t be afraid to be hungry, don’t be afraid to be full, don’t be afraid to eat whatever the fuck it is you want. You fight for what you love and what you believe in, and you can be a tour de force. You can finish this degree with a first, maybe even a prize, when they told you your GCSEs would be Ds. Feminism isn’t stupid or unnecessary, it will very literally save your life. It will save your life by making you angry, angry at the world and angry at yourself and angry at those who have done these things to you; and it will make you ask why. You will make you productive, even if it’s all in your head: from “I deserve this” you will ask “but do I?” and that changes everything.
I’m angry with you, but I love you. You have a world ahead of you.