A good question: What advice would you give to your younger self?
One question, four answers
‘Your body matters, is loved by God and is yours’
I can pinpoint the moment when I needed advice from my older self (although I’m not convinced I would have listened!) It was the late 1990s and I was entering independence on the brink of the digital sexual revolution that would make sure I would forever be no more than one glance or swipe away from the pornified feminine ideal that would rule over the culture of my teens and 20s. Young, eager to please and naive, I was well groomed for this brave new world. Like the girls I hung out with, I was crashing through my life, always comparing and finding myself wanting, always going to the loo en masse, always dreaming that something better was just around the corner – especially if it was in the shape of a cute new boy at church.
The one thing I craved was the one thing I couldn’t name – confidence. That feeling of being strong when the culture around you said you were weak and weird. Of being held steady when your world heaved and rolled on a daily basis because someone said your parents were poor or your legs were hairy.
So my advice would be a type of rebellion. I’d write words of defiance and hope over my arms, thighs and stomach, reminding myself that my body matters, is loved by God and belongs to me. …
Rachel Gardner is Director of the charity Youthscape, and President of Girls Brigade England and Wales. Her latest book is The Girl De-Construction Project (Hodder and Stoughton, 2018)
‘Use your brains more than your heart’
I guess I would have to say: ‘Woman, use your brains more than your heart.’ This has been a challenge for most of my life, but if I could access the time machine I would go back to young Anjum and tell her that in her 20s she will struggle with her identity, in her 30s she will struggle with her marriage, and in her 40s she would jump off the wall and take the journey into her faith… a lived faith, full of challenges and obstacles, but she will come out a winner in the end!
I would tell young Anjum that she needs to take the opportunity in her early years to acquaint herself with her faith, not at home, because her home life will be more secular, where Islam comes in bits and bats, such as halal food, honesty, education, good job, marriage, children, all the things that make a good human being. Some pieces of the jigsaw puzzle will be missing until young Anjum takes the steps to acquaint herself with the scriptures. I would advise young Anjum not to be so harsh to herself, to try loving herself and I’d say that through love of self you will learn to love others. …
Anjum Anwar is an education consultant and the former Dialogue Development Officer of Blackburn Cathedral
‘Don’t blame serpents’
Dear small-ish, daft-ish, selfish little Self,
you’ll find more steadiness in good, old God
than you will ever find in someone else.
Please, don’t rely on humans for your joy.
Please don’t blame serpents for the wrongs you do.
And don’t kiss people you will soon betray.
Pretending to be something that you’re not
will mean you’re choosing never to be known
(except by God, who loves you anyway).
Observe what people do, not what they say;
and, with your Bible, watch you do the same.
You have your truth which no one else can take
which no one else need own or recognise …
Lucy Berry is a performance poet and church minister
An increase in wisdom is not necessarily the bedfellow of advancing years. It’s therefore with some trepidation that I take on the task of counselling my younger self, a thrusting (and rather brilliant) soul who might well view his older incarnation with something approaching horror.
But screwing my courage to the sticking place, I’d like to give three pieces of advice to my proto-self as he cycles alone along country lanes, eagerly anticipating his first broken heart:
Take risks. Those people whose often painful misadventures will be catalogued in YouTube compilations with titles such as ‘Ultimate Fails of the Month’ – they’re the winners in life. They’re the ones who go out and attempt something even though failure is a possibility (indeed, in many cases, a racing certainty). There is something noble and life-affirming in what they do. When social media comes along and makes it so much easier for the adult Dixe to observe passively or, worse still, snipe from the sidelines, it would be much better if he were already in the ranks of the risk-takers. I’d particularly encourage the taking of intellectual and emotional chances, though there should also be time for careening down a snowy hill on a toboggan made of scaffolding poles and kelp. The alternative is a life conducted within the limits of our particular epoch, a life spent rather than lived. (This observation will also lend me the opportunity of explaining the social media-driven future of which my younger self – for whom the most revolutionary technological advance of his age is the advent of the portable cassette player – is blissfully ignorant.) …
Dixe Wills is a travel writer whose latest book, Tiny Britain, was published by the AA in May
These are extracts from an article that was published in the July/August 2018 edition of Reform