Written by Stylist Team
On International Day Of The Girl, an annual date to celebrate and advocate for young women and girls around the world, friends and authors Melissa Cummings-Quarry and Natalie A Carter pen love letters to their biggest inspiration: their younger selves.
In this fast-paced world, we’re always looking ahead. What’s my five-year plan? What’s the next step in my career? What am I going to have for dinner? It’s rare that we carve out space to stop and truly reflect on how far we’ve come – but when we do, the results can be revelatory.
This is exactly what Melissa Cummings-Quarry and Natalie A Carter, founders of the much-loved Black Girls’ Book Club, were forced to do when they decided to write the book they wish they’d had as young girls. Growing up, the pair bonded over a shared love of fictional worlds, but it was rare to find a book that truly reflected or represented them.
So, in their early 30s and in the midst of busy lives and successful careers, they decided to pause and look back. What would they have wanted to hear, to know, to see themselves in as young Black girls growing up in the UK? What did they need that they didn’t have? All of their answers to those questions became Grown: The Black Girls’ Guide To Glowing Up, a YA book for anyone who is or has ever been a young woman with a whole load of questions about the future.
They wanted Grown to be a handbook, a companion, a big sister in paper form that lays bare the realities of being a young Black woman in the world today, from puberty and periods to microaggressions and friendship dynamics. With contributions from a whole host of brilliant names, including Mel B, Candice Carty-Williams and Diane Abbott MP, it’s a bible of collective wisdom from one generation to another.
The process was a cathartic one for Melissa and Natalie, one that helped them grow themselves – and now they’ve only got two people left to thank. So, to mark International Day Of The Girl, Stylist asked them to pen candid love letters to their younger selves, an exercise in self-reflection and, above all, self-love. Read, relate, then why not take pen to paper yourself – if only to pause for a moment and recognise how far you’ve come and just how much you’ve grown.
Dear Melissa (age 13),
It’s 2001. There is an e-mail in your inbox from ‘Melissa Cummings-Quarry’. The subject line reads ‘From me to me: We did it Joe!’
I know you spend every lunch break reading the latest copy of CosmoGirl, but you’ll soon realise the magazines you love don’t always have the answers for girls like you, and can impact your self-worth. It doesn’t sound cool right now, but speak to Mum and Dad about it. You don’t always listen to them, but you can trust that they want the best for you. Be open with them. They will give you the space and permission to be yourself.
People are asking about your future goals. You haven’t thought about it yet; you start to feel anxious and begin questioning yourself. Everyone else has it all planned out – college, uni, work, weddings, babies. But you aren’t sure what you want for breakfast, let alone the next 50 years. You simply tell people that your main goal is to ‘live your best life’ –what you mean is that you just want to be happy, content and, most of all, confident in your own skin. Years later you’ll learn that this is called hygge. You’ll realise that rather than being goal-oriented, you have curated a value-focused lifestyle that underpins all your decision-making, leading you to live a rich and fulfilled life.
There will be moments when your friends will remark that you are a ‘diva’ and that you have a ‘resting bitch face’ – you worry that this means you won’t be likeable, and you will struggle to make new friends. But setting boundaries, being intentional and showing discernment will ultimately save you from a lot of bad situations. People may not always like you, but they will respect your transparency and honesty. You’re someone people can trust to do the right thing.
I know sometimes people say you ‘overthink’ things, but you just enjoy being philosophical and asking questions. I know you write things down in your diary that you’re too scared to show anyone. But years later you’ll learn that these are called ‘think pieces’, and soon a platform will be launched that encourages people to ‘tweet’ their thoughts. You make an account and after some time your thoughts are deemed ‘notable’ and ‘credible’. You’ll start to wonder if you could do this sharing thing for real.
This isn’t just a love letter to you, it’s a declaration. You are enough: then, now and always. Be kinder to yourself; love and embrace every version of yourself at each stage of your journey to becoming grown. Honour the young girl you were and thank her for making you the woman you’re still becoming. Remember, you determine your own destiny.
Listen more than you speak, take accountability, be quick to apologise and slow to anger. Get a therapist, don’t withdraw the cash from your ISA, but do buy the Chanel bag. Date more, don’t be afraid to take risks and embrace every inch of you – flaws and all.
Love, Melissa (age 33)
Dear Natalie (age 14),
I know this is such a weird time for you as there’s so much you’re still figuring out. Between the braces, the glasses, the acne and the frizzy hair, it’s hard to really like yourself sometimes – but as always, books give you comfort (and that won’t change).Trust me, your focus and determination will pay off and you will become the solicitor you see yourself being. You’ll also learn to love everything about yourself – even your big mouth! Your words will provide comfort and guidance to so many more women like you in ways you cannot imagine. But it hasn’t been an easy path to tread, and unfortunately, it is going to get a lot harder before it starts making sense.
You will spend a lot of time searching for a place you feel you belong in, but this period isn’t to be resented because it is part of your journey. If you don’t have this feeling, you won’t work to create safe, loving spaces for you and the other Black women around you. Everything you feel now, no matter how uncomfortable or embarrassing, is leading you to a place of confidence in who you are.
You won’t get every opportunity you shoot for but you need to keep shooting – not being picked always ends up working out for the best, even if the disappointment brings you to tears. Don’t be disheartened by the low expectations of others. Trust in your ability – you know who you are. You will let yourself down because you are human, you are still growing and there’s always something new you need to learn. Take joy in admitting what you don’t know.
Love yourself unconditionally. Even when you feel low, be kind and compassionate to yourself at all times. Don’t wait for someone else to see your worth; it’s OK to walk away from situations that make you question your value, and from friendships with people who don’t have your best interests at heart. Don’t worry about who rates you and who doesn’t. Many of the people around you right now won’t be there when you need them, but the right people will show up for you time and time again.
Ask for help, and never be ashamed. It isn’t a weakness to admit you are struggling, even if everyone around you looks like they are doing fine. Trying to do difficult things on your own will make them so much more stressful. Don’t take on too much. You don’t need to overload yourself with things to do and places to be. You can only do so much.
You have so many steps to take, make sure you enjoy each one. And know that every word written in Grown is dedicated to you. It is a letter of love and reassurance for you to read over and over again in moments of doubt. It is always here for you. And every other Black girl who needs it.
Love, Natalie (age 33)
Grown: The Black Girls’ Guide To Glowing Up by Melissa Cummings-Quarry and Natalie A. Carter (£12.99, Bloomsbury) is out now
Images: courtesy of Bloomsbury and Black Girls’ Book Club
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