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Sweet Sixteen

I wrote a letter to my 16 year old self for the amazing feminist collective TYCI that is no more. Neither is their archive so below is my attempt to piece together again the words, the passport photo & the playlist.


Listen to my Sweet Sixteen playlist here. Obviously it was tapes & records at the time

There you are crossing the road so you don't have to say hello to someone that you know/vaguely know/don't know/would love to know. You've penciled your eyebrows brown. You think the natural yellowy orange looks alien and invites thoughts about the colour of your pubic hair. Two years later a woman will come up to you in the student bar and say her boyfriend got off with you with her blessing because they both fantasise about the colour of your pubic hair. She will also be the person who told you that you should shoot candles from your vagina on a daily basis to keep it tight. You will just nod; you’ll wish you’d spoken. You'll leave home at 17 and learn to say friends instead of pals as that seems to be frowned upon at uni, so does saying fillum. Years later you will regret this and believe the saying that losing your accent is a sign of weak character.

When people notice you, and they do - this still surprises you, you expect your shyness to make you invisible - they say you are strong, sometimes scary. The thing that people will say most often to you is “you didn't actually say that did you?". Generally you did. You try not to sleep with the ones who say you are feisty but sometimes break your own rules. Sometimes there are no rules. You stopped the eyebrow pencil when you were 18. You miss the orange. Wish you'd not covered white blue legs with woolly tights in July but instead got them out to blind the tans you coveted. You worried so much about later you often made a mess of then, that wasn't a waste, you just weren’t ready. It will take you another 24 years to believe this.

Your daughter will say you mortify her by chatting to anyone in shops, in the street. She will look in wonder when you tell her you used to cross the road. You will look in awe and wonder at her. You will look on yourself in wonder when you write and perform stand up. You will be especially in awe of this when you go on stage after men who make jokes about hitting and raping women, and when you blow them out of the water laugh wise by talking about shyness and female sexuality. You will still feel you don’t fit in but you will care 90% less about this. You’ll still love music but will no longer feel the need to answer when self- proclaimed male music gurus try to test your knowledge. You’ll reach 45 and still consider the possibility of one day being in a band. You won’t care what people think about this.

You will have lost the annoying trait of answering questions with questions and doing everything possible to be evade being pinned down. This will be in part because you’ve been lucky to have been loved by someone who recognised you before you did. He’ll deny this but it’s true. You will stumble into work that means something to you. Twenty odd years later you will stumble into a new way of living that means something to you. You will never forget that stumbling needs safety nets and how lucky you are to have them. Your circumstances, income and where you live will vary but your core beliefs will stay the same, nutshell manifesto – we should give a shit about people. You will remain a feminist although over the years your understanding of what this means will deepen. As with all your beliefs you will fuck up lots and learn from it in your own meandering way.  

You’ll get drunk one night and seriously contemplate paying ridiculous amounts for a splash of Mystère de Rochas. Even though you’re allergic to perfume now you’ll fancy smelling the you that you were then to see what it triggers. You don’t. You’ll have many nights and days of being drunk, anecdotes and scars left by your liberator and oppressor. It’ll take one story too many when you’re 45 to finally realise one outweighs the other.

You’ll dress pretty much the same but for a bigger body. Some friends will never come to terms with your breasts overspilling in your thirties and staying. You’ll keep the size 8 silver mini, you’re still working out why.

People will still be surprised by you; you’ll still not know what they expected instead. Your humour will still not always translate. You’ll be lucky enough to live through a time in Scottish society where women are coming together and making their voices heard. You will make friends with women you can be yourself with – this is harder to do outside of significant phases of studying/getting wasted/motherhood etc. but when it happens it’s brilliant. You’ll have new and lifelong male pals too.

You’ll think you don’t want kids until you realise you’re not that awful to replicate. You’ll have firsthand experience of different reasons for abortion; you’ll know it’s the choice that matters. Later your worst nightmare will happen and you’ll have to go through labour and naturally deliver your last baby, one that you know will die shortly after birth. Of the many things this will be it will also be liberating. You will have random chats with women known and unknown who will tell you their story, sometimes saying it for the first time ever. You will be in awe of women time and time again. You will speak and write about it but dare anyone to define you by it.

Yes, you will speak and write and keep on trying new things, keep on making an idiot of yourself, keep on believing in people whatever. You will still be wondering about dyeing your hair for the first time but for different reasons. You’ll cross the road to blether to anyone. You will howl with derision at the mere idea of this letter- the older you will get that.


Playlist from 1985

  1. The Velvet Underground – Femme Fatale

  2. Felt – Primitive Painters

  3. The Pogues – Sally MacLennan

  4. The Fall – Cruisers Creek

  5. The Jesus & Mary Chain – You Trip Me Up

  6. Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazelwood – Some Velvet Morning

  7. The Smiths – How Soon Is Now

  8. The Cult – She Sells Sanctuary

  9. Madonna – Into The Groove

  10. Strawberry Switchblade – Since Yesterday

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