The following feminist and mental health-driven letters to younger family members were written by Girl Tribe editors, Reese Wolfe and Julia French, to emphasize the idea that no woman is without a tribe. We see you, we hear you, and the anxieties that are forced upon you because you were born a woman are real. You are not alone.
To my younger sister,
I walked by your room and peered through the sliver of light between your doorframe. The image of you huddled over your phone with tears welling in your eyes burned into my brain. I imagine that moment was the closest I’ll ever come to time travel.
Catapulted into a world of blue light, a world that no one warned you about, a world that Mom and Dad can’t understand. As you scroll through this world, you are pummeled by a feeling of instability and second-guessing. It’s like you are about to fall backward off of your ice skates: overtaken by worst-case scenarios as all your insecurities flash through your mind. Without knowing that you are wise beyond social media’s pull, a wind of LEDs will slowly chill you, and you won’t realize the strength of the gusts until you’re stuck in its tornado and falling backward through ice and time.
To be completely transparent, I still haven’t fought my way out of the whiplash of this icy, LED wind. I stare at my past Instagram posts until all I can see are glaring imperfections begging to be criticized. I can picture my peers mocking my appearance, and so I delete every picture of myself one by one. While the comment section fills with inspiring words like “PRETTY”, “Gorgeous”, and “love this,” I detect the bullshit behind these claims in a heartbeat. These words feel meaningless because I see and comment the same five phrases under every post. This feeling of distrust between myself and compliments leaks into everyday life. Assurance from others is impossible to accept, yet it’s the thing I crave and worry about in its absence. People say that hiding behind a screen is easy, but it’s not easy when that screen exposes your deepest insecurities.
While Mom and Dad might tell you to just delete social media, it’s not that simple. Delete Tik Tok and the quotes everyone sings in the hallways become unfamiliar. Delete Snapchat and miss plans because you didn’t see that group chat. Delete Instagram and risk missing seemingly vital information regarding current events, relationship statuses, and college commitments.
The world of social media is a second language for our parents. So what can we do to communicate our pain? Mom tells us that to be unique is to be beautiful. She says that beauty comes from within and that all body types and features should be celebrated. But we were blessed with math genes and analytical minds. What do we think when pictures of skinny girls in bathing suits get 500 likes while those portraying other body types go unnoticed? Remember that those red hearts can never measure the value of a real heart.
I considered Instagram a numbers game and at 15 I deemed myself the loser. I now understand, however, that almost every teenage girl relegates themselves to this position. As I write this letter, Instagram is under legal fire for inducing mental health issues in teenage girls. A statistic released by the Washington Post revealed that 1 in 3 teenage girls feels that Instagram triggers body image issues. So no matter how alone you feel as you navigate the seemingly unwinnable yet addicting game of social media, know that there are millions of girls just like you fighting the same battle.
There will always be someone else with more followers and more likes. In a way that’s life. Every person is different and possesses a unique set of skills. Confidence takes a hit when you compare yourself to someone else who is completely different. The issue is that social media makes comparison effortless. Social media also makes life look effortless. But one edited picture posted every three months does not represent the reality of anyone’s life. Each post is merely one out of 2,073,600 pixels on the computer screen of reality.
I’m not sure that there is any real solution to the problem. The only thing that I can think to do is rewind the clock in our bedrooms and go back to 2002 when the only functions that phones had were texting and calling. But red hearts are everywhere and these red hearts are bleeding. And as I walked past your room today, I could see your heart was pouring out blood.
No amount of red heart buttons and “YAS GIRL” comments can patch the wound to your heart. And setting the exposure to 1.0, the saturation to 2.8, the contrast to 1.0, and blurring your imperfections only builds a rusted iron armor that irritates your wounds. The highly edited and filtered posts on Instagram create an illusion of natural perfection. But if Instagram is a magician, then you must fight your way to the side of the stage to expose the reality behind each trick. I am here to grab your hand and drag you to where you can see that the rabbit was in the magician’s hat all along.
Instagram will never stop trying to slice through your heart with its chilling blue light lasers. But the knowledge that these lasers are projected by posed perfection and innuendo machines can protect you from each blow one by one. The battle of social media is never-ending, but with each deflection of Instagram’s LED pull, your heart will grow stronger. Your heart will be exponentially larger than those meaningless red buttons on your feed. With time and perspective, those heart buttons that tower over you now will become tiny specs as you take off on the helicopter of life.
We can’t reset our clocks to 2002 despite our strongest desires, but we can reset our mindsets to nurture progress. Hearts like ours are growing and strong women are fighting with pepper spray and keys in hand. Role models like Ashley Graham and Lizzo are shattering the plastic display box that men have forced women to pose in for centuries. The fall of Victoria Secret’s reign and the rise of Aerie, standing for inclusivity and body positivity, marks hope. Notice the barriers that people are currently breaking and analyze the barriers that must be broken. Be the one to break those barriers in your community.
I’ve accompanied friends to the bathroom too many times to comfort them as they throw up the singular piece of toast that they ate for lunch. I’ve spent too many parties in the bathroom holding back the hair of my friends as they throw up the three spoonfuls of rice that they were forced to eat for dinner. I’ve also been that friend too many times, staring at the pasta on my plate and convincing myself that I’ll be worthless if I indulge. Know that you are never worthless. Food is fuel; don’t let social media set that fuel aflame.
So one step at a time, you and I will walk through the tornado of social media together.
You are a woman, not an object. You are your heart, not their hearts.
With love always,
I know you are over-the-moon excited to be turning thirteen, but as a teenage girl in this world, there are things I wish I knew when I was thirteen that I want you to know now before it is too late.
Like me, you love the “girly” things in life. Your room is pink, you paint your friends’ nails at sleepovers, and you dress up your dog Cooper in tiaras and tutus. Aunt Megan and Uncle Mark (your mom and dad) have always let you express yourself however you desire, they have always wanted you to achieve your dreams. You are the big sister in your family; you protect Brayden from all the burdens you have faced in your short twelve years on this planet. You have grown up in a Christian household and have always attended parochial school; you have worn your white collar shirt and your navy blue pleated skirt with a hot pink scrunchie in your hair ever since I can remember. That is something I admire about you: your personality, no matter what environment you have been placed in, has always shone through. I know at times you struggle to “fit in” for being “too loud” or “doing too much” but please, do not let these comments dull your sparkle.
You are truly a French girl in the flesh. Since you could form sentences, you have been debating and tend to be the loudest in the room. You already are involved in the feminist movement and have called out your male peers for sexist statements. You know right from wrong and what in our society has to change in order to achieve equity. Our Nonna has always taught us the importance of being independent and standing up for other girls. As we all know from the endless stories she has told us growing up and continues to tell us, she had to work for everything she has gotten in her life, especially as a female immigrant. We are given opportunities she never had back home or even in America. But as we both know, Nonna is a woman who has always stood up for herself and for women who have suffered pains similar to hers or worse.
Though I know you are conscious of the inequalities women face in our nation, I do want you to be ultra-aware of the unfortunate realities of what it means to be a teenage girl in this world. When I was in eighth grade, close to the same age you are now, I was shaken to the reality of what it means to be a woman in our society. I was thirteen. The unfortunate reality of this world lies in statistics: one in six women in the United States will experience rape and close to ninety-eight percent of women experience some form of sexual assault in their lifetime. This is why I write to you. We live in a cruel world which will tell you that you are being “overdramatic” or being a “liar” if you ever speak your truth or the pain you have endured. You know the importance of using your voice to aid the people you care about but to also amplify your own when no one else will. The next four years of your life will be a test of your beliefs and what you will do with them to protect yourself and your friends.
I have too many friends–even in our privileged bubble where the majority of the harsh realities of the “outside world” have a hard time finding their way to reach us–who have stories of rape, stories of being catcalled by grown men, and stories of having loved ones not believe their stories or blaming situations on the clothing they were wearing. I know you are too young to have already had this conversation, but too many of your female family members have stories of their own, including your big cousin who you look up to. I do not want you to have a story like mine, like your mother’s, like your Nonna’s, like your aunts’, like your cousin’s. Ever.
I do not write this letter to scare you for your future but to instead pull back the curtains which foreshadow a reality too many women experience which I pray you will never experience. Happy (almost) birthday, Cami.
I love you,