To my sisters, 12 and 16; the two most amazing girls I’ve ever known.
One, a quirky container filled with strength and assertiveness, the other, a shy and talented soul living in a shell of beauty.
Our brother and I sat together in a small Boston bar over a couple of beers today. We talked about our old cross country team and the downfall of Justin Bieber and we made fun of Mom and Dad’s habits. We laughed a lot and we smiled, but when the conversation turned into one about you two, our faces fell serious.
We live in a time when everything is shared and nothing is private.
We post pictures of the new clothing we buy and the meals we have for lunch. We publish photos of our smiling faces and caption them with inspiring quotes and meaningful lyrics. And once these images are out in the world, we wait. And we wait. And we wait.
Our brother and I recognize your desire for likes and retweets and comments—they provide a certain kind of validation that real life human interaction cannot. There is something about hundreds of double taps on a picture that feels better than a conversation with a friend. There is something about reading a stranger’s comment about how shiny your hair looks that feels better than being face to face with someone you love.
I told our brother that I felt every inch of your yearning for compliments and flattery, for only months ago, when I would starve myself (not only of food, but of pride and respect), the days always ended with an Instagram photo of me in a sports bra. I would sit by my phone, waiting for a ding or a ring or a vibration that told me that someone loved me.
These social outlets allow us to post pictures in which our teeth look the whitest they could ever look. They give us the opportunity to brag about the schools we go to and the jobs we have. To share only our wittiest and funniest and deepest thoughts.
Sisters, I’m with you on this. I’ll claim over and over again that I post simply to update the people in my life, to connect with my friends, to support myself in my effort to become a great yoga instructor. But the truth is, I’ll be ecstatic when cute men like my photos and you can be sure as hell I’ll delete those photos if they don’t.
This desire we have for superficial acceptance is no longer a desire—it’s a need… a natural need in which we count on what people think (whether we know these people or not, whether they live next door or across the world).
It has all become a giant competition without purpose.
But, my beautiful sisters, regardless of whether you have photo documentation, beyond the screens, everything you do has purpose. The way you can pick up an instrument and play with your heart; the shine in your eyes when you taste a delicious smoothie; the songs you choose to play in the car rides to the beach.
Sisters, you’re young.
You’re still searching for who you are and developing who you want to be. No matter how many times I tell you, “You are loved. You are worthy,” you will not feel loved. You will not feel worthy.
The two of you will probably continue to post and seek this validation.
You lust after positive feedback to see where you fit. You’ll wait for the likes and keep track of your number of followers. You’ll be disappointed when a photo of you doesn’t reach a certain level of affirmation.
But I pray that you realize that the emptiness that lies on the other side is just that. These things can’t determine our self-worth, nor should they be able to. Enjoy your life beyond your phones and the tweets and the filters and the links. Sip in every breath of air with the feeling that even without perfectly posed selfies, you are noticed.
Post less. Dream more. Be proud of who you are and what you’re doing without the urge to share for Likes.
As you continue to grow into incredible young women, you’ll face the pressures of what it means to be great and accepted many, many times. You’ll cry and hate and curse and scream. You’ll have your hearts broken. And when all of this happens you’ll look externally for a sign that everything is okay. You’ll want to turn to the boy you love so he can assure you that you’re beautiful. You’ll be tempted to stare at your computer screen, waiting for a stranger on a message board to tell you you’re perfect.
Before you do this, I hope that you’ll have the courage to feel the strength inside of yourself. The beating of your heart underneath your skin and the slow and steady movement of your breath will inspire you to remember that your value can’t be based upon the number of anonymous clicks of approval you get.
Feel from the very core of your own being, my sisters, that you are worthy; you are loved.
Forever and always,
Your big sister.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman