You Are Never Going to Be Good Enough: An Open Letter to Teenage Girls I Have Known

Here is the thing: you are never going to be good enough.

You are never going to be good enough. This is not a cruelty. This is a fact. You are never going to be good enough to make it. You are never going to be good enough to meet standards.

You are never going to be pretty enough. You are never, ever going to look like that girl on the cover of a magazine, or floating through your television screen; your appearance is never going to make you happy the way it makes her happy. Your mascara is never going to be perfect enough. Your eyeliner is never going to be even enough. Your waistline is never going to be small enough. The day when you look in the mirror and say, “This, I like this, this is good,” that day is never going to come. You are not good enough for it. You are never going to be good enough.

You are never going to be nice enough. You are never going to strike that balance between bubbly, amusing conversation and sweet empathy that all the other girls seem to navigate with ease. You are never going to learn the particular trick that will make people treat you with kindness. You are never going to be quiet enough. You are never going to be small enough. You are never going to be able to make yourself small enough– you are never going to be able to make as much room for others as you ought to. You are going to say “sorry” when people bump into you, you are going to say “sorry” when you ask a question in class, you are going to say “sorry” every time someone asks the impossible of you and you cannot achieve it, but you are never going to say “sorry” enough to be able to properly apologize for your presence in the world. And you need to apologize for your presence in the world, because you are not good enough to exist without apology, not yet.

But please understand this: you are never going to be good enough.

You are never going to be clever enough. This one is important. You are never going to be pretty enough, you are never going to be nice enough, you are never going to be sweet enough and funny enough and flirty enough and innocent enough, but you can learn those, you can try to fake those, you can build them into a mask and if you work hard enough and wear it long enough you can forget there was ever anything beneath it.

But a mask of cleverness will not help you, any more than actual cleverness will help you. Because even if you are the cleverest person in the world, even if you are Einstein and Plato and Stephen Hawking rolled into one, you will not be not clever enough. You are not clever enough to be honored. You are not clever enough to be respected. You are not clever enough to be taken seriously.

This is not your fault.

This is not a cruelty, this is a fact: you are never going to be good enough.

You are not going to be good enough for your parents, who love you. You are not going to be good enough for your peers, who do not. You are not going to be good enough for the boys who will move through your life in high school and college, no matter how sweetly you smile, no matter how evenly you apply your eyeliner, no matter how brilliant you are, no matter how brave. You can be absolutely everything that has been asked of you. You can be more, and you are still not going to be good enough.

You are never going to be good enough for any of them.

Good enough to talk to, maybe; good enough to fuck, sometimes. Good enough to love, if you’re lucky– and you will be lucky if you are loved, there is no denying that. But perhaps lucky is the wrong word– because it’s not luck, not if you work for it, not if you spend half your life shaving off your rough edges and stretching yourself long and thin to show off the parts of you that others find palatable, not if you spend hours trying to be pretty enough, trying to be nice enough, trying to be good enough.

Perhaps you will be good enough to be loved. And perhaps love will be enough for you.

But you are never going to be good enough to be allowed to take up as much space as you like.

You are never going to be good enough to be allowed to take off the mask.

You are never going to be good enough to be allowed to have the life you like without fearing, somewhere deep down, that one day everyone will discover that you don’t deserve it.

Let me tell you a secret: you will deserve it.

There will always be people whose respect you will crave, and many of these people will never respect you. And it will not be because you don’t deserve respect. It will not be because you weren’t pretty. It will not be because you weren’t nice. It will certainly not be because you weren’t clever.

It will be because you’re never going to be good enough for them.

And you won’t be, you won’t ever be, because no matter how hard you work, no matter how perfect your mask is, you will not get the rewards you want for good behavior. You will not be pretty enough for them. You will not be nice enough for them. You will not be clever enough for them. You are never going to be good enough for them.

This is a game. This has always been a game. You did not sign up to play this game; you learned the rules by trial and error, learned its twists and turns, learned to jump through its hoops. You learned that you were in competition with other girls, for love and appreciation and respect, for the right to be treated decently, for the right to be seen as a full and equal human being. And you learned that winning the game was the most important thing you could possibly do, because it meant happiness, and it meant being loved, and above all things, it meant survival.

Except that you were never going to win.

This was the great and terrible lie: that if you worked hard enough to be pretty and nice and sweet and soft and bright and good and lovely, when you were judged, you would not be found wanting.

This is what I am trying to tell you. This is not a cruelty. This is, perhaps, even a kindness: you are never going to be good enough. The game cannot be won. It was designed not to be won.

And listen to me carefully: you are the only one who can decide when you are no longer willing to play.

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