A Letter to the Little Girl in My Shoes

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For the first twelve years of my life, I was the youngest of nine cousins in an overcrowded family. The nine-year age gap between my second-youngest family member and me immediately classified me as the ‘baby’ in the family. I felt like an alien to the heart-wrenching, miserable universe that the rest of my family lived in, and many times I was lonely in my own childhood bliss. I was left to dream of the ‘adult-world’ with a sense of wonder, mainly because I was too ignorant to understand any of those concepts. In the back of my mind, I had always hoped for a family member that would understand my trivial yet grave childhood struggles to somehow guide me, but my hopes consistently ran dry.  I had always told myself that if any future family member needed even a seed of guidance, I wanted to be there in the blink of an eye.

A tiny glimmer of hope shined through about six years ago, when a wide-eyed newborn girl with no semblance of reality was born. As the title of the youngest in the family had finally been imposed on someone else, I could conceptualize the tiny quirks about her life that paralleled those of mine. I knew that she’d have trouble connecting with anyone in our family, so I wanted to be the person to guide her whilst she navigated the valiant struggles of her life, womanhood, and inner strength. As someone with eighteen years of vivid wisdom, my past experiences have slowly shaped me into becoming the person I am today. This kind of experience can only be taught through time itself, and this is the constant weakness of an innocent child. In her own naive youth, I want to highlight my own experiences as a female, and give her advice on how to navigate life when there isn’t necessarily a road map available.

To the little girl with the world in her grasp,

I’m writing this as somewhat of an apology on behalf of your future-born, untouched struggles. In the naivete of your own childhood, you have a keen ability to throw problems away like expired food. This is partly due to your low-attention span, however, it can drive the average adult down to their knees in a fit of jealousy. I personally see it as the time in your life when happiness blooms into a rose. To start off, I’d like to tell you that womanhood is a full-time job. A constant effort with responsibilities, expectations, and some benefits on the side. This happens much later, but now, you’re understanding your place in the world for what it is. Right now, you’re constantly reprimanded to keep your legs closed even when you have no idea why. Why can the boys in your class sit with their legs open? In a fit of complacency, that’s just the way things are.  

One day, however, you’ll wake up and realize that the world is full of crap. Yes, you’re ordered to sit with your legs closed because of sexism. Men growl at you behind a street corner to exert their own blind dominance.  I can’t predict where you’ll be the day you learn, but I can tell you that your feet will suddenly feel the heavyweight melancholy hanging on your head. A clear sky full of hope will somehow scream in its own bleakness and strangers’ faces will suddenly look uglier. However, you’ll somehow learn how to accept a simple truth in the world- femininity is as ugly as it is beautiful. The love of tackling everyday issues like catcalling and double standards connect women through the very essence of our feminine blood, and therefore create bonds with people you may have never even meet. At some point, you’ll realize that your female friends have gone some of the same things you have, and the connecting strings of each diverse plot line will somehow bond you with one another. And that’s okay. When you’re in doubt or scared, get help from your friends. Make a safe space where you can vent your worries to them. If not, I’m always just a call away.   

Looking at you now, I’ve always admired the confidence you possess at such a young age. From the brink of first grade, you stare at yourself in the mirror with wonder. Stare at your outfit and pose without a doubt in your mind-- however, there will be people who may challenge these beliefs of yours that you’ve kept so secure. From an early age, the minds of children start possessing innate judgement that may have you rethinking your worth in society. Maybe a popular boy in your grade refuses to be around you because he doesn’t think you’re beautiful enough. Perhaps a group of girls reject your advances to be friends because of their silly notion that you’re not worthy of it. In the pitfall of sensitivity you haven’t even fully experienced yet, this may feel like the end of the world. However, an opinion someone has of you is just that-- an opinion. In their twisted mind, they’ve conjured up a snarled belief that doesn’t match up with reality. When you look in a mirror, try not to imagine the opinions of others. Only see yourself for what you really are, because it’s the only sure way to truly bring you joy and inner peace. Once you can stand inside a cyclone of adversity and come out standing on your own two feet, that’s when you can call yourself a woman.

However, sometimes the innate confidence I see you parade in face-painted extravagance can betray you. Maybe you’ll build your self-worth around someone whom you’ve given your heart to in trustful naivete. It may seem like a simple transaction of loving companionship, but proceed with caution. If you’re unsure of your own worth, a second opinion will surely not help you at all. Some people, especially in the early stages of adolescence, have a tendency to gravitate towards people that will elevate their self-worth. Provide an ego boost. Temporarily soften their insecurity. While this may provide a band-aid to your personal issues, it  will feel like a salt wound when this person leaves your life. Again, don’t let the people you fall in love with dictate who you are as a person. Self-love is a tough journey, but it’s the one relationship that will always be with you. So if your future lover doesn’t love something about you, ask yourself if you like it on yourself. Ask yourself why this person may be telling you this, and never change for the people that ask you to do so.

If you ever need anything in your pockets, it’s a full bottle of pepper spray. As you grow up, the people surrounding you may become more ferocious than others. Some may see you as an object, and others may see your body as theirs. If I’m being honest, this is one of the hardest things I had to deal with. When I realized this truth, I was 15 years old. The entire day, I strutted home from school with a dainty smile that resembled nothing but glee. I could smell the thick air of cigarettes brushing against my nose, and I struggled to escape smoothly out of the aroma. However, a man proudly smoking his cigar felt the need to yell how he felt about me right to my face. “Ay, mami. Que belleza”, he said with a devilish smile on his face. I had no choice but to run away, but it’s impossible to completely avoid a societal defect. I can’t make your issues go away, but I can offer a helping hand. Buy some pepper, stick to familiar streets, or even call me if you need help. Learning to stay vigilant and reaching out when you need help are the secret keys to surviving as a woman.

As a female, you’re expected to stay twice as strong in a world that considers you fragile. The mental agony of being harassed, seen as an object, disrespected for being female can definitely take its toll on the average woman. This is completely normal, and has happened many times to me. When I was your age, I used to be jealous of my male cousins that were able to do so much compared to their female counterparts. In most places, boys are simply treated differently from girls. And the reasons as to why this happens will send you down a complete rabbit hole of blame, but the important thing is to stay strong. Understand that there’s more to life than sexism, and focus on the positives that are happening in society. This may not seem like much in a society full of rape culture and a gender pay gap, but you’re strong enough to see the light that is always there for women even in times of uncertainty. If you ever want to respond to the things you’re angry about, start protesting. Speak up about the things that seem unfair to you. Think of small solutions that can make your life better. Put your passionate thoughts and angry emotions to good use in the form of writing, art, or whatever makes you happy. Just remember: never let your enemies take away your soul, because it is the only thing that is rightfully yours to have.

Talk to me if you need anything. I’m only a call away. Stay safe, and I know you’ll do amazing.

Love, Heidi


Author: Heidi Perez