Dear 5-year-old me,
In thirty years you will wonder how you could have done things differently. You are only five now, but you will be plagued with the weight of what he has done to you, how he has made you feel sexy even though you aren’t quite sure what that word means, yet. In ten years you will hate yourself because of what he is doing to you now at night between sheets that have become a coffin.
When you turn seven, there will be a photographer who will pull down your elastic dress to expose your shoulders. You will feel ashamed.
When you are eleven, you will arrive home from school month after month crying because a school bus chorus chants that you are Pinocchio. Those who love you most will believe that junior high will be easier if your nose is smaller. But it never will be small, even after you place your faith in four different surgeons—at 11, at 16, at 24, at 26. Your nose has been created for you, and you have not been created small.
Your breasts, your hips—they will arrive early and men will think you are older. And then when you are older they will see you as young. You will remain twenty-five for twenty-five years and you will see this as a gift.
When you are twenty-two, you will gain forty pounds in two months and it will inexplicably stay for five years until in two months it will go away without effort. And then you will panic about getting it back. You will watch a woman at a restaurant exit a bathroom and know that she just threw up her meal—the eggs and crepes that you watched her savor on the patio while you poked at your veggies and pinched your side to make sure the girth there was slight. You remind yourself that it can be this easy for you, too. You can enjoy your food now, too. You will decide two weeks before you marry the man you’ve waited this long for that this is no longer a good idea. You will stop unless the panic revisits and whiten your teeth for the wedding.
You will have the appearance you work for, the one you believe you need and deserve and want, during your newlywed year, the year you first have sex; you will be twenty-nine.
You will birth two daughters by your thirty-third birthday and they will look like you. You will worry over them; you will wonder if men’s hands will cause them shame, if playground taunts will send them under a scalpel, if their thyroids will also malfunction.
You will confront failure. When you are thirty-four a personal trainer will marvel at your strength, your determination, your perseverance. It’s what everyone admires in you. She will stare at the flesh—it lingers from carrying your daughters—protruding from your belly, bulging from your thighs, hanging from your arms, and wonder why it won’t go away. You will be her favorite client, her most-hard working student. These words will not surprise you. But the number on the scale will. The weight will not descend.
You will glare into a mirror and confront your flared hips, your split abdomen, your full thighs and you will consider giving up.
You will know how to pray by then; you will know the voice of God and you will live a life where miracles make themselves known regularly. When you ask Jesus about yourself, why He has created you this way, He will remind you that your identity is not found in your weight. You will not believe Him at first.
But you will stop counting calories. You will stop forcing the food out before you visit family members who haven’t seen you in months, men you know disapprove of your fat. Men you believe love you for who you are but who have not yet learned to hide their feelings from their eyes. You will have too much perception for your own good; this trait you will love and loathe.
You will watch your daughters grow, and even as they remain reflections of you, you will see their beauty and wonder why you cannot see this in yourself.
You are smart; you’re already in first grade. But your youth makes you bloom a bit later than it will everyone else. This will be so for the next thirty years. One day your mouth will speak about everything you have learned, albeit slowly; your hands will write about what he does to you now in the dark, and you will be bold. There will be people whose ears, hearts, are listening, and you will help them in ways unfathomable.
In thirty years you will lie naked before a man who will see you svelte, who will witness the babies he put in you emerge, and he will watch as you labor to get your old self back. But she will not come. Your old self was much too afraid.
This man will regard you as the most beautiful.
The year you turn thirty-five you will begin to find your worth. Your nose will be the least of your concerns; your sexiness will not be limited to your figure: you are attractive when you are smart, when you are bold, when your honesty is your anthem. You will find your value apart from anything you can be, do, or say.
You will discover that because of this, there are even louder voices of judgment. You will discern that these sounds are best muted.
As you stand bare and alive before your God, your husband, your daughters, yourself—uncovered, unapologetic—they will look at you entirely and see that there are no flaws.
You will thank your Creator for teaching you this at long last. You will look back and tell your five-year-old self not to worry so much: You have done nothing wrong.
Renee Ronika is a wife of a composer, mother of 3 chatterboxes, writer, international educator, speaker, and founder of Prism Women, a non-profit Valley ministry that empowers women in their God-given identities. She writes at ReneeRonika.com. This letter was originally featured on Quiet Anthem, as a contribution to the SheLoves Magazine’s synchroblog, A Love Letter to my Body.