Over the years I’ve written some very personal messages about my family. It is no secret that I love my family and that they are at the forefront of all my thoughts and actions. From The Dad’s Creed and An Open Letter to My Daughters, the things that are most important to me, came pouring out.
The harsh reality is that no matter how strong your bond is with your children and how much you try to instill confidence in them, the world is always ready to knock them down. As parents, we are always trying to keep their free spirit and innocence as long as we can. But sometimes, it seems like a losing battle.
Let me tell you why I’m writing this post today.
The evolution of this two-part article began when my youngest daughter crushed me after school one day.
Going through her book bag to check on her homework, I found a folded up piece of paper at the bottom, under some books. This simple picture, that she probably never thought twice about and was never going to show me, was discarded and almost lost.
On it, she had drawn a beautiful field with a bright sun, and the words,
across the page.
I’m not going to lie, that simple phrase, along with imagining her perfect smile and bright eyes drawing it out, immediately moved me to tears. As I write the introduction to this article, I am once again getting emotional.
In the hopes of some Mothers and Fathers finding this small article, I wanted to give them strength and power to keep instilling in their children; self-confidence, inner strength, a love of self, kindness toward others, and the sense that every little girl is beautiful, despite what their peers might say in school.
I asked some very bright, strong and successful women to help me with this project by writing a letter to their younger self. The letters offer hope that everything that seems so important at the moment, isn’t what it seems. Letters that everything will be ok, if you can just be yourself, just a little bit longer.
In Part 1, we hear from Molly Galbraith, Jen Sinkler, and Kellie Davis.
At 13 years old, you’ve already been through some pretty tough things. Your parents divorced at age 4, and when you were 7, your Mom went back to law school as a single mother of 3 girls. Your parents loved you fiercely, and they did the best they knew how, but you were forced to grow up quickly.
You switched elementary schools after 1st grade and had to make all new friends. And then you moved straight from 2nd to 3rd grade within a few weeks, and were forced to try to make new friends all over again as the “weird, smart kid.” Later on in elementary school, as fashion became more important, you tried desperately to plan your outfits for the week so that no one would notice that you only owned one pair of jeans.
You tried out for cheerleading 3 times in middle school and never made it, and you were consistently made fun of and called “weird” when you were simply desperate to fit in. These are hard and painful things to go through for a kid.
And I hate to say it, but the next decade won’t be much easier. The summer before high school starts you will hit your (ahem!) growth spurt. You will get boobs, finally make the cheerleading squad, and start highlighting your hair. All of a sudden you won’t be “weird,” but instead you will be “quirky and funny.” As you become more attractive, your popularity will grow and you will suddenly be accepted into the “in-crowd” by many of the same people who rejected you previously, despite being the exact same person on the inside.
This somewhat-low-self-esteem, coupled with your need for acceptance, and the realization that you get positive attention for your appearance, will prove to be a lethal combination for you.
You will have a wonderful boyfriend in high school, and 2 more wonderful boyfriends near the end of college and after, but in between those times, while you are struggling to figure out who you are, and struggling to find your self-worth, you will let people treat you very poorly. You will seek attention and acceptance from men for all the wrong reasons. This will lead to a vicious cycle of self-hatred and shame, and your self-esteem will continue to take a beating, as you try harder and harder to find someone who will love you for the right reasons.
But you’ll eventually find that person. And that person will be YOU.
Throughout this difficult journey, you will be turning to food for comfort. Food can’t reject you, it cannot make fun of you, and it cannot treat you poorly. At some point near the end of your college career, you will decide that enough is enough and that you want to take control of your life. You will begin exercising and making better nutrition choices.
Serendipitously, that casual “exercise” that you are doing will soon become a passionate devotion to heavy iron. You will begin to find comfort and solace in hard and heavy workouts and a nutritious diet. You will realize that YOU have all the power in the world to change yourself from the inside out. You will begin to feel good about yourself and realize that you have so much to offer the world. You will begin to realize that you are powerful beyond measure, and that you are doing yourself and others a disservice by not shining as brightly as you can. You will continue to grow and develop into a woman that you can be proud to see in the mirror every single day. And if I must leave you with the hard-earned lessons that will help you grow into this woman, they are as follows:
1. Don’t listen to critics (yourself included). This is one lesson that you will probably work on for the rest of your life. You’re a people pleaser who wants to be liked. But remember this: if you are doing anything at all worthwhile, if you are making any kind of a difference in people’s lives, you will have critics. The more good you do in the world, the more people you reach, the more critics you will have. Don’t waste any time and energy on them, except to thank them for being your motivation to continue on the path that you’re on.
2. Be yourself. The people who matter won’t mind, and the people who mind won’t matter. OK, so you probably first heard a variation of this from the great Dr. Seuss. But it’s so true. Trying to be someone else is exhausting, and so obvious to those around you. You should know this already, because you’ve tried it a million times. You are uniquely and wonderfully made. Don’t deprive the rest of the world of getting to know the real you.
3. People will treat you how you let them treat you. Command respect, and it will follow. This will be a hard one for you because you have to first believe that you deserve to be respected. The wonderful thing about this is that you can start commanding respect at any point in any relationship, and those that give it to you, are usually worth keeping around, and those that don’t, aren’t. The unworthy will weed themselves out.
4. Take care of your body, mind, and soul. After all, you only get one. For years you will abuse your body with junk food, late nights, and inactivity. Then you will abuse it with too little food, over-exercise, and too much stress. You will abuse your mind with negative thoughts, and your soul with self-hatred and self-loathing. Eventually you will realize that inputs = outputs, and you will start nourishing yourself with good food, intelligent exercise, enough rest (OK so that one will always be a struggle), positive thoughts, and plenty of soul-repairing therapy sessions.
5. The majority of hurt and pain between human beings comes from unmet expectations. This fact will take quite a while to recognize and accept, but it will save you a lot of pain and heartache down the road, and it will allow you to communicate more effectively with loved ones. It will prevent misunderstandings and hurt feelings, and it will be a great lesson to take into any relationship you may have, personal or professional.
6. You have the power to create your own reality. Choose every single day who and what you want to be. This is a powerful, powerful lesson. Once you begin accepting responsibility for your situation, and once you begin realizing that your current situation (good or bad) is a direct reflection of the choices you make every day, you will have the tools necessary to create your best reality. Creating your best reality will take a lot of hard work and sacrifice, but it will all be worth it in the end.
7. Be kind and be grateful because truly…nothing else matters. This will be said by the minister at your Father’s memorial service (the part about kindness, that is. You will realize the grateful part on your own later). Carry this with you always, and live by it every moment of every day. It will keep you on the right path, guaranteed.
Well sweet Molly-Moo, as your Mother, Father, and Grandmother fondly call you, as you can see, you will go through many ups and downs throughout your lifetime. Just know that you will never be given anything you cannot handle, and that every trial and tribulation you experience has an equal or greater opportunity for positive growth and change. You are an amazing young woman, and once you start to truly believe that, you will have the opportunity to change the world.
Molly Galbraith is a trainer, gym owner, and lifestyle and nutrition coach from Lexington, Ky. She and her business partner Jim Laird own J&M Strength and Conditioning (www.j-mstrength.com). A rapidly-expanding 7,500 square foot gym in Lexington, Ky where they work with over 160 clients doing private, semi-private, and group personal training. She also runs an exclusive online nutrition coaching program (email GalbraithOnlineCoaching@gmail.com for info), and keeps busy writing for sites like EliteFTS.com, MountainDogDiet.com, and acting as an expert contributor to magazines like Experience Life and Oxygen. She is also a co-founder of Girls Gone Strong, THE authority on women’s fitness.
No stranger to the gym herself, Molly has competed in both Figure and Raw Powerlifting. Her best lifts include a 275-lb squat, a 165-lb bench, and a 341-lb deadlift.
Keep up with Molly through the web:
Hello, young Jen Si. (nicknamed thusly because there were FIVE Jen’s in your class of 52 students),
I would rather not be writing to you. Not about your body, anyway — I should probably be writing to you asking that you please-please-please get rid of that perm before your senior year of high school. Your hair was enormous. But, there are a few lessons I’d like you to hold onto a little more tightly along the way.
All things considered, when it came to body image, you got off easier than most of your peers. Consider yourself lucky that your mother never badmouthed her body — or anyone else’s — in front of you, and that your grandmother presented on the topic of women’s rights all over the world. You will love to draw and read, and through books, you will join worlds beyond this one. You will spend your time catching butterflies and you will be fast enough to beat all the boys at recess. You will play four sports throughout junior high and high school, and an appreciation for what your body is capable of will be woven into the tapestry of your life.
You will later be lucky enough to fall into another sport — rugby — in which there is a position for every body type imaginable, and beyond that, even praises the big girl. This sort of path is rare, and you should maintain compassion for those who don’t have the same opportunity to take it. Give compliments. Be positive. Support how you can.
None of this is to say that you wouldn’t choose to change a thing about your body, or that you don’t have your insecurities. Your track coach will tell you that because of your frame, you will never be able to wear more than 125 pounds successfully, and this will remain in the back of your mind, but he will be wrong. And, face it: You’re built like a ruler, so will never have a teeny-tiny ladywaist. This means it will become the one thing you think you really want, but recognize earlier on that you’ve got other redeeming features, and work those instead.
Here are some of the things you did well, and a few you didn’t, but all of these will help along the way. Whether you are being your own internal bully or someone else is coming at you with some nonsense about you not looking how they think you should look, these tips apply.
1. Diversify your activities. If you play sports, play a lot of different ones, because different positions in different sports reward different body types. Explore your talents in areas outside of physical prowess: Are you good at Drawing? Writing? Singing? It’s easier to recognize how much body bullies don’t matter when you develop yourself as a complete person.
2. Focus on doing, not looking. Pick role models based on what they do, or who they are — not what they look like. You can only ever look like you, so release the idea that you could have someone else’s abs or butt.
3. Excise certain friends. Do you have something to talk about besides your insecurities? Do you share hobbies? Are you nice to each other? If the answers are “no,” consider expanding your friend circle to those who bring more value to your life.
4. Recognize that what you see is not truly what is. Those models in magazines? They are often not the firm, slender, radiantly happy beings they appear to be. I can tell you this with 100 percent certainty, because I worked in magazine publishing for a decade. I did my best to hire strong, healthy models for all of our fitness shoots, but every now and then someone would show up having treated her body terribly to get to the point that she felt like she could be photographed. And you know what? Those people were miserable.
5. Learn to cook early. Being adept in the kitchen means you have a say in the quality of food you fuel your body with. If you’d have gotten on board with this earlier, you could have skipped that whole Taco John’s phase in college.
6. Say only nice things to yourself. You will later come to know a woman who says “I love you” to herself every time she looks in the mirror. Sounds a little caah-rezzy, I know, but you can’t help but internalize the things you say to yourself. In other words, say bad things, think bad things. So, start by giving yourself one compliment every time you assess yourself.
7. Find your “different factor.” Every body is beautiful in a different way. What are your favorite features? Dress to accentuate them.
Lastly, every time your high school friend Jessica slumps forward and pinches with disgust the small fold of skin that results, once again explain to her that she would not even be able to stand up straight without it. Then act it out — that always drives the point home.
Jen Sinkler has spent the past decade at Experience Life magazine assigning, writing and editing stories about the best training methodologies the fitness industry has to offer.
She was recently listed as one of Shape magazine’s “Top 30 Motivators of 2013” and she was was listed as one of Huffington Post’s “20 of the Best Fitness Experts Worth Following on Twitter.”
Intent on shifting the way people (especially women!) view strength and fitness, Jen works with clients to expand their capabilities at Movement Minneapolis, a facility that uses biofeedback-based training techniques. Jen is a certified kettlebell instructor through the RKC and KBA, and an Olympic lifting coach through USA Weightlifting; she also holds coaching certifications through TACFIT, CrossFit and L.I.F.T. (Ultimate Sandbag).
She played rugby for 13 years, many of those on the U.S. national 7s and 15s teams.
Keep up with Jen through the web:
When I was asked to participate in this article, I sat with fingers to the keyboard certain of what to say. The words began to flow, and then over the course of several keystrokes my fingers froze.
As a teacher I spoke with my teen students nearly everyday about these trials in life. How hard situations would arise, and how these trials were only tiny granules in their great big lives. How these issues probably wouldn’t matter next week or even tomorrow.
I’ve helped young female clients get through similar moments of doubt. But upon reflection, I realized had I not been through hardship as a young woman I would not have ended up with such an incredible life.
I don’t regret a single day of my life. I hope that whoever reads this feels the same. All the joy and sorrow, pain, humiliation, triumph, and jubilation lead to where I—and you— stand today.
I went back through this project time and again. Writing to myself, to the young women of the world—finally ending up with likely one of the most intimate pieces I’ve handed over. A letter to my 9-year old daughter.
Perhaps this isn’t the right place for it. But knowing the person requesting this piece has three daughters of his own, I think it might be the most fitting place of all.
You are born with but one skin. Supple, flawless, silk-ribbon smooth. Hued blue like an African violet from the shared oxygen of your mother’s womb; mottles with pinks and reds that flush over your feet and hands as you and the world breathe in unison.
Your skin carries with it the years of your life. It ages with you. It ages you. Tattooed with scars and freckles and ink. It changes with the seasons of your life, holding pigment as the sun grows near, and fading as the sun moves away from the earth.
It tells your story—each moment of beauty and truth and sadness. The world will read your life through the lines and flaws on your face. But your skin does not define you. It serves as a mere carapace to protect the flesh, bone, and tissue that lay beneath.
Your true definition resides beneath your skin. The complex biological processes that grow and repair, assimilate and absorb, breakdown and rebuild, connect and react—they are what you cannot see, but what will carry you the distance.
I was easily not the prettiest child. Looking back, I had a lot of things working against me. I was underweight, had knobby knees. My shyness was debilitating. I wore my brother’s old clothes as my parents spent nearly my entire childhood trying to make a living above poverty level.
I didn’t notice these things about myself until I went to school. That is when my peers told me I was different. I was the girl who wore the hand-me-downs of older girls at my school, and the one who stood at the end of her drive graciously waiting for neighbors to bring by old bikes and toys so that I would have something to play with.
Rather than boldly proving the world wrong—that I wasn’t just a ragdoll pinned and sewn together with leftovers—I spent those years of my life a wallflower.
Until I found sports. On the playing field it didn’t matter where I lived or how I dressed. It mattered that I was fast, skillful, and agile. Those precious few hours a week spent with my team allowed me to forget the rest of the world. I lived for those moments when I laced up my cleats, slipped on my glove, and showed the league what I could do.
I struggled between those two worlds. The one where no one noticed me and the one where all eyes watched to see if I would carry the team to victory. Eventually the divide wore too large a crevice in my life, and I chose to leave sports.
I went from being the victor to having no place in the world. I never realize how heavily I relied on sports to define me until I gave them up. I spent seven years of my life building this persona. I didn’t know how to be anyone else.
I sank inside my skin and wore it as a mask, covering up all the ugliness I felt inside.
I floundered through life, moving in and out of jobs, taking a semester of college here and there, but never really with a sense of purpose.
Until I had you. Penniless, unsure of the future and tending to a mother sick with cancer. I woke everyday looking forward to your flutters and eventually your kicks. As your birthday grew new, my nerve stood on end. You were so easy to care for in the womb.
But soon you would be in my arms. Needing me. Relying on me. It scared me senseless because I had failed so many times in my life.
I could not fail you.
You gave me that purpose I so desperately needed to find. You were it. You changed everything.
If I could gift one thing to you, it would be the greatest sense of self. Self-confidence, self-determination, self-assurance, self-love. I see this in you. All of these things. They shine out of every inch of your body, giving you such a natural glow.
Hold onto this, Gwyneth. Life gets a little messy as you get older. People try to rob you of these attributes, but if you tuck them beneath your skin all the wonderful things that make you whole will be free from harm.
Don’t let the acts and expectations of others define your purpose. You may not know now or even ten years from now what is your purpose on this vast and wonderful planet. Just keep searching and never lose your taste for adventure. Go forward knowing the world has incredible things just beyond the horizon. You cannot see them now, but they await you.
With the deepest devotion,
Kellie Davis is a freelance writer and blogger turned fitness coach living in Northern California. She published short fiction and essays in anthologies and literary magazines before starting a full time career as a health and fitness writer. She currently works as a contributing author to several online fitness publications and corporate blogs, and is the co-author of Strong Curves: A Woman’s Guide to Building a Better Butt and Body. In addition to writing, Davis helps women achieve optimum health as a fitness and nutrition coach.
Keep up with Kellie through the web:
Stay tuned for the 2nd, and final, installment of Letters to All the Beautiful Little Girls.