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“You have more power than you think”: Gemma Cairney’s letter to her 14-year-old self

Dear Me

You don’t have to rush. There is plenty of time to feel all the feelings there are to be felt. You will feel them all and, when you do, they will be huge. Though they will never stop being confusing, there is no light-bulb moment when it’ll all make sense, no age between now and thirty-one where you will understand everything life throws at you. Your feelings will always change, just like your hair will. I know you think about these things every night before you go to sleep, but there is so much time for dancing, sparkly clothes, kissing and electric body tingles, so just wait a bit longer before you actually do them.

Keep letting the ridiculous ideas that flood your brain flow about like a song storm inside you. They are part of who you are and they will never stop. Remember when you were nine and you circled all the publishers in the ‘P’ section of the yellow pages, because you were gonna contact them to publish your book? You will write it one day.

Your boobs will get bigger too. So stop trying to think of ways you can make them bigger; stop researching those lie-herbal pills that promise to ‘naturally enhance your bust’ – it’s a load of shit. A TOTAL load of shit. They will not enhance any bust. You will cringe so hard at the fact that you used to cross the straps of your padded bra at the back, squeezing your AA cups together to create the strangest-looking tiny cleavage. Quit whilst you’re ahead. Oh, and you don’t need to wear foundation, honestly you don’t. Your skin is amazing, even with those spots on your forehead. The limited choice of foundation shades you can get in your town are completely wrong for you and, if I’m honest, make your face look like it’s been smeared in a light dusting of chalk. By the way, the spots will disappear and the scars don’t even stay, so stop hating your face.

The rest of you will get bigger too, but never focus too hard on how much. Your body will change with the times, as will your brain. It will adapt to the world around you, which’ll be a fun one, I promise. Your body will be loved and treated with tender loving care by others, so try to learn to do the same. Exhaust yourself by playing and exploring, you don’t need to think about exercise, just keep thrashing about. Drink loads of water, like at any given opportunity, guzzle, guzzle, gulp, glug it.

Never be ashamed of who you are. Sometimes you are, as they say, ‘a bit much’, ‘too loud’ and ‘quite annoying’, but who gives a f*ck? Especially as the good people in your life will like you that way. You can live your own story and it doesn’t have to be anybody else’s. Listen to your gut, it makes even better decisions than your brain or your heart does sometimes.

You don’t have to be like anyone else: no celebrity, prefect at your school or anyone else you’ve come across or know. Listen to your weirdness – it comes from having a gigantic imagination and boundless hope. It will always help you to appreciate colour, travel, nature and many types of people. There are extraordinary people everywhere on this planet, so even when you think the world is too awful to bear, trust in your love of exploring, talking, dancing and staring at vast open spaces and the twinkling sea – it’ll see you through and keep your perspective fresh. Be proud of your ability to love your friends, but beware of the toxic ones.

Keep loving new opportunities and new ways of experiencing things. You don’t have a ‘bad attitude’, like some of the teachers say you do. Try to learn to channel the energy and the incessant question-asking into learning rather than bedazzling mischief. You will always love to be mischievous, but will learn that the best way is to mix it with good – it’s still well fun, but feels better peppered with a little sophistication and creativity. Being plain bad is boring and guilt-ridden.

Keep reading, keep writing. Keep asking the big, hard questions about things that don’t feel right in life, things that are unjust. But you don’t have to scream them, even if the truth makes you rage and your face hot. You don’t always know what’s right, no one single person does. You have more power than you think. Engage in politics and keep absorbing history with the inquisitive, spongy nature you have. You are far from stupid even though you will always be catastrophic at maths. You will never know what you want to be when you grow up, and will realize that most people don’t.You’re going to be all right. There isn’t as much struggle as you subconsciously prepare for. Ask for help, rather than getting angry. Anger rusts a person’s morals and clouds vision, it doesn’t suit you, so breathe deep – you will learn to be happy and you are not a bad person. Bad is a bad word, so apply to yourself only if you are dancing to a Michael Jackson song or using the term ‘badass’.

You don’t have to give in emotionally to a love that feels out of control. You are strong and you have more control than you think. You have time to run to where it is safer. You can get out of this. If the love feels bad and unhealthy, if it makes you mostly sad, it isn’t a good love. There are others out there, willing to give you a good love, so break up with the boy who is hurting you. Honestly, I know you can’t imagine it, but get out of it now. It’ll be so much better for you in the end if you do.

Keep your mind open. Don’t judge others or abide by the constraints of the imposed class system or stereotyping. Don’t forget, no one is too special or not good enough to communicate with. You will learn something from nearly everyone you meet.

Please stop shaving your bikini line, the shaving-rash marks will remain forever.

Be you and keep your head held high.

Love Gem,

Aged 31

This is an extra from Gemma’s new book, Open: A Toolkit for How Magic and Messed Up Life Can Be – out tomorrow. Order your copy here.


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