Natasha Devon's tips for her teenage self
Writer and mental health campaigner Natasha Devon shares five tips she would give her teenage self to look after her mental health and wellbeing.
It’s common to hear people say they don’t have any regrets because every failure, every mistake, every lapse of judgment taught them something. I can see the logic in this. It’s important to fail sometimes in order to learn and create, and every relationship or friendship that ends teaches you a little more about what behaviours you will and won’t tolerate from the people around you.
Yet I still definitely regret stuff. I regret not joining my university’s newspaper or radio station because I was too busy flirting with rugby players. I regret not putting more effort into learning to play the piano when I had the time. And when my first girlfriend asked me to spend a summer touring the US with her, I regret letting my nerves get the better of me and thinking of a hundred stupid excuses not to.
Most of all, though, I regret the amount of time and energy I’ve wasted hating my body. I know it’s a cliché to say you look back on photographs of your younger self and realise every ‘flaw’ you agonised over was in fact invisible to the human eye, but it’s reached that status through being extremely true.
With that in mind, I’ve come up with some tips I wish I could have given my teenage self.
1) Make peace with your natural hair texture
I went to school in the era where everyone, regardless of their natural hair type, wore theirs long, straight and centre-parted. This meant torturing my curls flat, before applying bucket-loads of ‘serum’ in a futile attempt to combat the inevitable resulting ‘frizz’ – all to ultimately end up with a hairstyle that didn’t suit me.
Listen: Your hair’s gonna be how it’s gonna be. Get to know it and play to its strengths.
2) Exercise, but do it for its own reward
When I was young I used to think exercise was a thing you’d only do if you wanted to change your body shape or size. I wasn’t naturally sporty, so only exercised as a form of self-punishment, in a bid to drop pounds. Now, I understand exercise is what connects you to your body. It allows you to ‘tune into’ it
Try to find at least two forms of exercise you enjoy (dancing around your bedroom to Cardi B in your pants totally counts) and do a little every day if you can. It’ll lift your mood, give you more energy and help you appreciate your body for what it can *do*, rather than how it looks.
3) Comparison is the thief of joy
One of the commonest myths about the body confidence movement is that people who support it insist on everyone being 100% natural, shunning the beauty and fashion industry to instead wear a sack and flip flops made of bamboo forever. This simply isn’t true. However, if we choose to experiment with how we look, ideally it should be because we want to – not because we feel we have to.
If you’re doing something because everyone else does, in a bid to ‘fit in’, the chances are you’re going to spend your days miserably comparing yourself to all the people you think have done it better than you. Instead, find ‘your’ thing. Be unique and, if it feels right, outrageous. Don’t be scared of looking stupid. As I learned during my brief time working in the fashion industry, you can get away with literally anything as long as you look like you’re doing it on purpose.
4) Eat breakfast
During my recovery from an eating disorder and anxiety I had to keep a diary of basic, every day things like how much sleep I was getting, how much time I spent on my phone and what I ate. While much of it was too variable to produce concrete results, the one thing I could rely on with absolute certainty was if I ate breakfast I’d have a better day. I find that breakfast gets everything in my body up and running and stops me mindlessly binge-eating later in the day.
5) Embrace diversity
There are more than 100 unique factors which help determine a human’s shape and size, including genetic, medical, psychological and environmental. You could take two people and make them eat an identical diet and do exactly the same amount of physical activity and they’d still look totally different from one another: That’s the secret no one tells you.
Health is a lifestyle, not a look. Treat your body as well as you can (while allowing yourself treats and to rest, which are part of the wider picture of health) and accept that you probably won’t ever look like an Instagram influencer – and that’s OK.
Follow people on social media* who look different from you. Ensure your online world includes a broad range of bodies of different shapes, sizes and skin colours. Try to surround yourself with as much diversity as possible, so your brain gets the message that there is more than one way to be human and attractive.
* Social media wasn’t around when I was a teenager and in some ways I wish it was. It certainly allows you access to many more people than you’d ordinarily encounter in the 3D world.
Author: Natasha Devon
Natasha Devon is a writer and mental health campaigner. Her most recent book, Yes You Can, is about coping with exam stress.
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