What Would You Say to Your 20-Year-Old Self?

May 8, 2015

I recently read this terrific letter a woman had written at 40 to her 20-year-old self. It was full of insight and awarenesses that most 20-year-olds – well, at least it was true for me – don’t get. While our understanding about who we are is constantly growing and changing, there is a huge growth spurt for most of us in those 20 years.

While I am way past 40 at this point, I am also regularly reminded about how far I have come and I think about what I wish I had known throughout all of my 20’s. I know some people remember their youth as a time of playfulness and ease. Mine wasn’t. Wouldn’t it have been freeing to let go of some of the worry and seriousness I harbored. It’s not that it was terrible, by any means, but I took so much of life so seriously—phew, it makes me tired just to think about all that expended energy.

After reading her letter, I would like to add three things as they pertain to how we as women often perceive our bodies and fashion.

1. Stop Trying To Look Like Everyone Else

I spent the better part of my teens and 20’s trying to look like everyone but myself. I couldn’t figure out who I was and how I wanted to express myself and I thought everyone else either had it all figured out (I doubt they actually did) or they were just more attractive than I was. My friend, Joanne, was blonde and petite. That was the standard I was trying to live up to. I felt ungainly next to her and my hair was unruly compared to hers while she rocked the long straight hair parted in the middle (yes, she ironed it, and it looked so smooth and silky).

In my 20’s I hung out with the folk dancing crowd. I loved contra dancing, but never could master the effortlessly natural look, although I certainly gave it the college try. I couldn’t figure out where I was going wrong.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with exploring new looks and imitating others. You discover what you love by exploring options. But, I wasn’t having any luck and because I always assumed others knew better I didn’t look beyond what the people around me could offer…until I was 30. (You can read more about my story here.)
Over the past nearly 30 years I have learned that being authentic and true to who you are (even when it is different from what your friends are wearing) is the most beautiful expression of style. If only I had accepted that when I was younger!

2. Appreciate Your Body Now

As women, we tend to spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing about our bodies. Not how fabulous they are but more about how they don’t measure up. Raise your hand if you have ever felt frustrated by weight gain, hips or thighs that are bigger than the photo-shopped models in magazines, or shoulders, breasts, legs or tummies that aren’t what you perceive as ideal. I have ever only met one person who has said to me that she is completely happy with her body (she does not have or want to have a model’s figure) and has never worried about it. What a gift!

Why are we so hell bent on achieving perfection? It is over-rated, unattainable and boring. Not to mention that it is someone else’s idea of perfect. We waste a lot of time and energy wishing things were different and while some things can be changed (like weight), sometimes they can’t (like bone structure) and either way too much energy is expended on wishing things were different when they are not.

Look back at yourself 20 or 30 years ago when you were obsessing about a body part. Do you now roll your eyes and think, “Get a grip! What wrinkles/tummy/hips…!” The same is true today. You can look great no matter what is going on with your body. Hiding it under tons of fabric or lots of black won’t make you shine. It will just keep you stuck and 30 years from now you’ll wonder why you didn’t dance and celebrate your body the way it deserved to be celebrated!

3. Take Good Care Of Yourself—It Pays Off Later!

When I was a teenager I had horrible skin. Grade two acne, in fact. It was the bane of my existence and I have the pictures to prove it. I tried everything from toothpaste on my breakouts to going to a dermatologist who cauterized my breakouts with a red hot poker—not fun!

It was then that I decided I would learn everything there was to learn about skincare and that if I could just get the acne to go away I would take good care of my skin forever.

It was also the 1970’s and everyone was obsessed with getting a tan (especially given that there was no sunscreen until the mid-70’s). When I was a child, my mom used to cut the toes off of socks and put them on my sister’s and my arms so we wouldn’t burn and blister. Classmates in high school used to sit outside with reflectors and baby oil to get that ‘healthy’ glow. My version of that glow was bright red and painful not a warm, glowing tan. I can remember mornings after spending the day on the beach with friends when I would wake up to eyes swollen shut from an extreme sunburn. All in the hopes of ridding myself of my brilliantly pale skin.

I am telling you all this because it is one area of my life where I made a good decision when I was young and the payoff has been great. I vowed that since I couldn’t tan I would protect my skin and take good care of it so I would have beautiful skin when I was 50. I am now nearly 60 (shocking!!) and I feel like my skin still looks good. I have regrets in other areas and wish I had known then what I know now. What I do truly understand now is that building strong habits early has great payoff later.

What advice would you give to your younger self? Would you encourage her to eat better? Sleep more? Stop settling for a dead end job she doesn’t love? Workout regularly? Stress less (I wish that was one I had learned 30 years ago!)?

The Next 20 Years…

Don’t stop now! Why not learn from this. Imagine now that you are 80.

What would you want to tell your 50 or 60-year old self so you can live those words of wisdom now! Make a list, share it in the comments section of my blog or in the facebook group for women over 40. This is an area in which we could all use support!

P.S. As I started writing this article, I did a quick search and discovered that giving advice to your younger self is a wonderful trend. The #DearMe campaign started by YouTube is encouraging women to upload video letters with advice to their younger selves. There is so much to be learned from doing this.

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