In a recent, super inspiring interview around the release of Vulnicura, Björk spoke frankly about the things she had learnt as a successful woman in a patriarchal world, and in particular her wish to reach out to "young girls" and tell them: "You're not just imagining things. It's tough." With International Women's Day coming up on March 8, it seemed like the perfect time to ask a long list of our other favourite successful women about the things they wish they could tell their teenage selves. With responses ranging from reading recommendations to fashion advice to simple pleas for self-love, here's Donnatella Versace, Ciara, Naomi Wolf, Casey Jane Ellison, Susie Bubble, Charli XCX, Laetitia Sadier, and many more on the things they wish they'd been told a little sooner.
DONATELLA VERSACE, FASHION DESIGNER
“Dare, dare, dare to be yourself.”
COLLIER SCHORR, ARTIST
“Well, in the late 70s in a preppy conservative high school 40 minutes away from NYC, I think I actually did the best I could. Because I knew my life could not start until I moved to NYC. I knew it would be great as soon as I left. And it was. But I was still technically a teenager when I started college, so then my advice would have been just go knock on the door of Interview magazine. That's what people did. But I didn't know. I thought you had to be invited.”
MISH WAY, MUSICIAN
“You are doing it all right. I'm not going to tell you everything ends up even remotely OK or else you might get lazy and then, achieve nothing. What fun would that be? I need you to keep thinking the way you are so everything ends up the same. Oh, a few minor things to help save you unnecessary stress and money: 1) I'm going to save you years of yeast infections and pain because you are basically allergic to most birth control so just go get a copper IUD 2) You're going to end up living with this lady named Lilah at around 18. Make sure she doesn't go off her medication. The heater switch for your bedroom is hidden in the closet in a weird spot. I don't know why, but it is. You are going to need it bad that winter when you get mono 3) Your tits are coming. It's just a slow grow, but when they arrive, they are really fantastic.”
NAOMI WOLF, AUTHOR
“I would want to tell my teenage self if I could speak to her now… to take a deep breath… pay more attention to what is around her…keep a journal…try everything…talk to more people of different ages and experiences and listen to them….don't make assumptions…ask for help….listen to other people's music…don't worry. But then I would tell myself those things now! Generally I try to tell young people – if they ask – to have adventures, experiment, risk and go off the grid and fail and listen to guidance when it seems reasonable, but to trust themselves above all that inner voice.”
“Don't try and be like other people. The only person you are guaranteed to spend the rest of your life with is you.”
LAETITIA SADIER, MUSICIAN
“I remember being really at a loss when I became a teenager. That’s when I started to realise that it was a patriarchal world, that it was all revolving around men and their phalluses. And somehow, I felt destitute. I felt like I was nothing. It was a very cruel time. Worst of all, I didn’t have any tools to combat this. I didn’t have feminism. I had a lot of anxiety around this.
There was a book I remember reading that was called Women Running With The Wolves. I haven’t looked at this book in years, but I remember it was very instrumental in building my sense of myself as a woman, and as a very sacred being that has an incredible amount of power; that I did not amount to nothing, like society was reflecting back at me. That was really helpful in terms of accepting myself as a woman, which I had big problems with, accepting my femininity.
Then, it was a question of meeting with other girls or women who had already empowered themselves. They gave me a sense that I was something, I had power. That made things more breathable. That helped, opening myself up to other women. Because I found that I’d come across a lot of women who hated other women, and that’s really bad when you come across this. Because not only do you feel you’re nothing as a woman, but the only thing that’s reflecting back to you is that meanness and cruelty, a kind of revenge. It helped meeting kind women who loved women and seeing female solidarity. You know, we are a force, a great force to be celebrated.”
SUSIE LAU, BLOGGER
"Get over yourself and just get on with it.”
CASEY JANE ELLISON, COMEDIAN
“Time travel is crazy, but if I could go back and give teenage Casey advice, I don't think I'd try to tell her what to do because she hated that. It'd be awkward at first, but then I'd just ask her what's up and the conversation would just flow naturally because we have a lot in common and we're good talkers AND good listeners, and we'd think each other are cool. How long of a visit would we get? It would be really hard to say goodbye.”
COURTNEY BARNETT, MUSICIAN
“Lighten up, Barners.”
PETRA COLLINS, PHOTOGRAPHER
“Not care about what you look like. Stop hating yourself because you've only got you until you die. Every thing about you is special and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. I spent way too much time hating my body, not going outside/doing things because I thought I was fat or ugly etc and it just wasted time.”
LITTLE BOOTS, MUSICIAN
“Never allow yourself to get bored. Self-doubt is your biggest enemy. Listen to and trust yourself, don’t try to please everyone. Take 85% of opportunities that come your way. Surround yourself with good people. Keep reading books. Listen to your mum. Being nice and being strong are not mutually exclusive. Pay attention to everything, however small. Stop rushing and learn to be patient once in a while. Never stop making things or you will go mad. Finally, seriously rethink those platform shoes with the liquid and fake goldfish in the heels, they are never having a comeback, not even ironically.”
MARY ANNE HOBBS, DJ
“No matter how crazy the world seems, just trust your instincts and be true to them, they’ll never betray you.”
SARAH NICOLE PRICKETT, EDITOR OF ADULT MAGAZINE
“1. When you feel tempted to seek advice, as you are now, go for it. But also, write down questions for your future self. Someday you'll want to know what you wanted to know; someday you could use the reminder.
2. If you want a new name, you should have it. Choose it after high school and before you move out of your hometown, because later, when you get into college and/or jobs, changing your name will be harder (unless you're into the Mrs. Carter thing, but even then).
3. Moisturise daily, even if you're prone to breaking out. Cerave and Cetaphil are the best of the drugstore brands.
4. Just say no to the birth control pill. Sure, everyone else is doing it, and yes, it feels good for some, and of course, even if it doesn't feel good, the appeal of being a fembot is real. When I started the pill my "curves" exploded and my periods came on time; I also developed a pattern of crushing headaches and never orgasmed and slowly stopped writing for a while. The emotional, physical and mental side effects of the pill are so easily confused with the natural fluctuations of youth that they're often not recognised as side effects, and by the time the effects feel permanent, you've forgotten what you used to be like.
5. I don't mean that evolving artificially is sinful or harmful or whatever – and I do dig cyborgian femmeness, not to mention all kinds of drugs. Just, I worry that the changes wrought by hormonal, oral contraceptives a) do not come as advertised, and b) are tricky to recognise when they occur in the chaos of age-coming. There may be a perfect pill for you, but taking the first thing you're prescribed, often by a lazy/busy doctor, is not the good kind of risk—especially when you're trying so many other new things. Read Beatriz Preciado's “Testo Junkie” for more on hormones (and gender), research the side effects in medical journals (skip the deservedly ill-reviewed polemic Sweetening The Pill, though), and talk to your mom/teachers/cool older babes in your life, in addition to seeing, if possible, at least one good woman doctor.
6. Don't do homework for cute boys or popular rich kids. You are growing into a world in which the stories about what men do to women's bodies are consistently, scarily news, and yet, if you replace “women's bodies” with “women's minds” and “female sexual agency” with “female intellectual territory,” suddenly the news goes all quiet. Taking advantage of the minds of less powerful people is a terrible, terrible thing. Taking advantage or for granted a kind of feminine intellectual labour and ability is, in my experience, standard practice, and is, to my mind, the worst form of campus-bred assault. Not to get too fatally serious. There are many worlds! Build your own! But also: protect ya neck.
7. Remember that, no matter how much harder you sometimes think life is for you than it is for cute boys, popular rich kids, under-achieving geniuses, head ballerinas, blondes, nerds, identical twins, whoever, and no matter how true that may be, you are also someone with the power to hurt someone else. Use it only in the most extreme cases. Okay?”
COOLY G, MUSICIAN
“I would have told her, 'do not hang around with that fake manager he's just using you and you do not need to be around this person. He's trying to mess up your life.' Or: 'don't start smoking, it's very unhealthy girl.' Or: 'keep doing what you do, you are one of a kind, your talent is amazing. Don't let no one stress you, just keep away from negative people.' Or: 'tell your parents what's happened they can help, you don't need to go through this on your own – they love you, you plonker.'
I was quite a focused teenager myself and I knew I wanted to do music, so I spent all my teenage years doing it and isolated myself. I didn't have many friends after a while, and it worked out pretty well to be honest, but some things that came in the way caused a lot of stress, which could have been avoided. But I got through it – I'm a soldier init. I just remember being in the studio everyday, and maybe I hung out with some wrong crowds, but in the end it didn't really affect anything as I moved on to do my thing. And here I am.”
“Don't doubt your ambitions just because society doesn't expect things from you because of your gender – this is society's sickness to fix, and you will eventually find people out there who will relate, support and understand you so hang in there.”
CHARLI XCX, MUSICIAN
“Trust your instincts, treat people how you would like to be treated and never worry about what people think of you.”
“I would tell myself; Patience is your best friend and don’t over think things too much. The most important thing in life is to not miss having fun. I would probably also add…. ‘and stay away from dating those rappers!’ (laughs)”
MEREDITH GRAVES, MUSICIAN
“'Don’t hurt yourself'. I would definitely, definitely tell my 16-year-old self – I mean, my 16-year-old self wouldn’t listen, that’s for damn sure – but what I want to say to 16-year-old Meredith is, don’t do things that hurt. I made a lot of choices when I was a teenager that I knew were the wrong ones at the time; I did things because I thought they would make other people like me. Or because I thought they would somehow further my life or better my life in some way. I just went along with it, because I didn’t want to speak up, or because I was afraid. It’s okay to not do things. It’s okay to wait. I would tell myself to take a deep breath and really really hold on, and not let other people inform my desires. I would try to convince myself to listen a little better to the voice in my head when the voice in my head is screaming bloody murder saying 'what’s happening to you is wrong.' And I would hold on. I would tell her, fucking grab on to her own butt and hold tight, because it gets weirder. By 22, 16 looked like a vacation. But at 27, the world belongs to me.”
EVIE WYLD, AUTHOR
“Make the most of your young persons' railcard. And try a bit harder, for Christ's sake.”
K MICHELLE, MUSICIAN
“Take it slow, you’re not in a rush for anything. Pick your battles. Stay tough; you’ve got to stay tough and stay focused. They’re gonna say you’re emotional, they’re gonna call you crazy. You can’t let it get to you. You have to know, 'this is what I’m doing. This is what I want.' Because they’re always going to try and make it like – you know, you’re a problem, as a woman in the business. You just have to stay focused, you know? There’s really no formula for it, there’s nothing you can do but remain headstrong, remain positive and remain secure in the decisions that you make.
They definitely tried to silence me. They tried to silence me by calling me crazy, they tried to silence me by saying I deserved (abuse), they tried to silence me by saying I was a liar, they’ve done everything to try to act like (abuse) doesn’t happen in our community and in our industry. And I’m not going to be quiet about it. You can’t wait on it to get better, because it’s not. You can’t try to make excuses for people and their behaviour.”
ANGEL HAZE, MUSICIAN
“(I would tell the teenage me) not to worry, not to spend so much time hating themselves ...not to run , to say what they felt . I don't know, I would tell a younger me that everything was gonna be alright and no one could change that but them, and I would encourage them more than I would try and destroy them.”
ZOE PILGER, WRITER
“The advice that I would give to my teenage self is the same advice that I give to myself now: trust your instincts.”