Eleven. The age of transition. The pinnacle of insecurity. The antithesis of elegance. An age I surely do not miss.
Often, through my nonprofit and advocacy work, I find myself speaking to and mentoring young women and girls at middle schools and high schools, predominantly on body image and self-acceptance. Recently, I spoke to a group of fifth graders, one of whom raised her hand to ask, soft-spoken and hidden behind glasses and a mop of long hair, what I wish I had known at her age.
Goodness gracious, I said, as visions of 11-year-old Christina, clad in Limited Too and full on braces, flashed across my eyes. One of my favorite sayings is, "A seed must crack and break to grow," defines my life well, and my eleventh year was full of cracking. But eventually comes the growth. And as I have grown, I have learned the following lessons:
1. Don't be so damn hard on yourself. Self-criticism has always been my Achille's Heel. But as I have grown older, I have come to learn that 99 percent of the things I fear about myself, or about the future, are not real, and do not happen. Just do the very best you can, and be gentle with yourself.
2. The opinions of others' do not define you, good or bad. We are not our grades, our looks, or how quickly we can run the mile in gym class. We are what we are, and what we say we are. We are self-defined. Opinion can be incredibly arbitrary, but there is great power in knowing oneself. Find your core self, and stick to it.
3. Nobody is exactly as they seem. In this digital age, we all have the ability to curate a persona via our social media platforms that embodies everything that is going right with our lives. I cannot imagine growing up with access to social media not realizing that behind every selfie are 96 other, nearly identical photos that were carefully edited before choosing "the one." No matter how pristine one's life may appear, everyone struggles with something. Everyone trips at some point, but that's how we learn.
4. High school hotties often peak at age 18. Late bloomer? Me too. Don't fret. The nerds and the band geeks and the rare birds somehow end up most successful, and the rest, well....Just wait until your next high school reunion.
5. Perfection is uninspiring. What is inspiring is acceptance, and how we deal with our perceived imperfections. Chin up, shoulders back. I have watched too many people waste an entire lifetime trying to fix what isn't broken; a vicious cycle that only leads to misery and pain.
6. Be yourself. Written on my mirror are the words, "You are you for a reason." I am a firm believer in the idea that every freckle, every curve, every scar, every quirk is there for a purpose. Trying to fit a certain mold - literally or figuratively - only elicits pain and further dissatisfaction, but through living harmoniously with our idiosyncrasies we bring nuances of color and meaning into the world.
7. Kindness is beauty. Let's be real, kindness in middle school comes around about as often as a Pokemon Charizard card. As I have gotten older, I have come to value kindness, even in the smallest gestures, about all else. People do notice, people do appreciate it, and the irony is that it will also make you feel better about yourself. Giving of your own heart is a two-way gift. Kindness can make you an exquisitely beautiful person, no matter what you look like to the eye.
8. It gets better. Somehow, year after year, life continues to get better and better. That is not to say everything is always hunky dory (Spoiler alert: It's not). With age comes experience, and the wisdom that our struggles have the capacity to yield character and endurance to transform us into the best version of ourselves -- a self that may even be grateful for a less-than-graceful youth.