If you stumbled upon a time machine tomorrow, you'd probably do something totally righteous with it — like avert a war or rewrite history to release Pretty in Pink with the original ending. Me? I'd make a stop in my childhood bedroom and offer Teenage Me some words of advice that, had I known them back then, would've saved me years of angst.
Growing up as a girl is a wild ride, full of amazing surprises, crushing heartbreaks, and regrettable lower-back tattoos, but as this video from Herbal Essences reminds us, there's no one way to do womanhood. While the mistakes everyone makes along the way are just as important as the triumphs, a few key nuggets of wisdom would have given me more time to enjoy the exciting, fun parts of growing up and less time crying on public transit. So here goes.
In the 20 years since I mixed up my first bottle of hair dye as a preteen, I've had every coif possible, from an adorable French New Wave bob to a head of ill-considered dreadlocks that eventually devolved into a single, evil flap of matted tresses. I've also had every kind of person weigh in on those hairdos, including parents, boyfriends, teachers and some guy who worked at a gelato stand. (He liked it better longer.) Every little criticism hit me right where it hurt.
Here's a secret: you have no control over what anyone else thinks. None. You can only please yourself, and you're the only one who has to wake up every morning to a head of neon blue dreadlocks that have somehow attained cybernetic consciousness.
This doesn't just apply to your hair. It's your body, your schoolwork, and your heart fluttering at the sight of the crush everyone else thinks is gross. When you stop going around in circles trying to please other people, you'll find it's easier to make the choices that push you closer to your goals and dreams. The gelato guy will get over it.
For much of my youth, I viewed the relative success or failure of my love life as a referendum on my entire existence. When my long-term high school boyfriend dumped me to start dating a random girl he met at the all-night doughnut shop (he did the deed over the phone while I was away visiting my nana in Florida, of course), I worried my only choice was withdraw from society and retreat to an isolated mountainside shack to spend the rest of my days dishing out fortifying gruel to weary hikers.
I guess that would have been one way of getting over it, but it was years before I realized that you bounce back faster when you've got some other stuff on your plate. Yes, a little romance is fun, but it's those less loin-tingly pursuits — like making friends, learning about the world, and following your own interests — that will help you grow into the complicated, funny, and confident person you're supposed to be. Bonus: being able to stand on your own two feet actually makes it easier to have a decent romantic relationship. Isn't it ironic?
When I was 13, my middle school class seemed to spontaneously sort itself into random-yet-ironclad castes straight out of a Young Adult dystopia. I was sorted into the Nerd Order, where I would spend the next year doing things like participating in historical butter churns for extra credit. Meanwhile, my best friend Jennifer [Note: Not her real name] was somehow designated a Skater Girl, destined to live out the rest of her study halls behind the smoking shed learning to French kiss guys named Chad.
This new, unexpected pecking order took its toll on our relationship. Jennifer and I tried to keep the friend-flame burning for a while, but as I got more involved in my butter churns, she kept moseying further and further out past the smoking shed, and our friendship began to fade away. I've regretted it ever since I was old enough to realize what had happened.
It sucks that this cycle continues long past childhood. As girls grow into women, the Sorting Hat of life does its best to push us apart. Don't let shallow, pointless social divisions force you to miss out on the relationships that will sustain you. Do you really want to let a lifelong friendship go because she's wearing jeans with 36-inch leg circumference and you're wearing a historically accurate prairie bonnet?
I've wasted a lot of time and energy on many things in my life: guys who weren't interested, weird juice cleanse diets, serial TV dramas with extremely unsatisfying conclusions. (They were dead the whole time?!) More than anything, I've wasted time trying to be perfect.
The pursuit of perfection isn't just a diversion from what really matters — it's also the enemy of experimentation. And taking risks and having adventures are some of the best ways to discover that womanhood is an amazing, fun gift that shouldn't be reduced to a series of chores like maintaining a flawless manicure while creating social media-ready seasonal craft projects.
Throw perfection out the window, and take some time to see where your sense of adventure takes you instead: get on the road, let the wind whip through your hair, and when things look rocky, trust yourself. (Related: make sure to actually learn to drive instead of just doodling in your notebook during driver's ed.)
The great adventure of womanhood is one that never really stops — and you won't be able to fully enjoy unless you have the confidence to define yourself on your own terms. Want to know what it means to be a woman on your own terms? Check out this video from Herbal Essences. Yes, Younger Me, time travelers from the future can watch videos on our phones — if that doesn't blow your mind I don't know what will. As for those of you reading this from 2014: what advice would you give your younger self if you could go back in time? Tell us in the comments.
Gabrielle Moss has written mostly funny stuff (but also some serious stuff) for GQ.com, The Hairpin, Nerve, etc. You can follow her here.