Finding Your Betty: A Letter to Preteen Girls

My dear girl,

I was just like you once, not so long ago: not yet a woman, but no longer a child. You are figuring out who you are and what you stand for.  You are finding your place not only in the world, but in your family and at school. It seems like sometimes you are standing on shaky ground.

Am I cool enough? I’m not a loser, am I?

Am I funny or just awkward?

Am I pretty? Could I ever be popular?

By all accounts, I should have had a tough time in middle school. I was chubby, had clunky braces, big glasses, bangs that went on forever and my hand-me-down clothes were nothing like what the “cool kids” were wearing. I even had a sweatshirt with a fabric painted teddy bear on it that I made myself. Cool, huh?

So there I was – nerdy, terrible at music and sports, and a big time “goody two-shoes” in the classroom. I should have been an easy target.

But you know what? I didn’t have a tough time in middle school. I had a lot of fun. I really think it all came down to one thing.

I found my Betty.

Find Your Betty: A Letter to Preteen Girls

I grew up spending a week or two each summer on my grandparents’ farm. My grandma wasn’t like most grandmas. She was feisty, sassy, and always busy. One middle school summer, we went to a farm nearby to help her friend Betty butcher chickens. (Yes, they really do run around with their heads cut off. Yes, it’s gross, but also funny when a headless chicken chases your cousin.)

My grandma was never the grandma that took it upon herself to bestow life lessons on her grandchildren. Shopping for “just because” toys, craft kits, junk food, and the sugary cereal my mom would never buy were all more her style. That being said, I always remembered what she said about Betty on that chicken butchering day:

“You don’t need any other friends when you’ve got a friend like Betty.”

I knew exactly what she was talking about, because I had a friend like Betty.

We only wanted what was best for one another. Without comparing or competition, we were free to be ourselves, awkwardness and all. When I had surgery on my knee in 6th grade and crutched it all over our school, my tiny-framed friend carried two backpacks and got two lunch trays. When she accidentally threw her retainer in the garbage, but didn’t remember until recess, I went back inside with her and helped her convince the lunch attendant to let us go through all the giant, disgusting garbage bags left from lunch until we found it.

We had other friends, for sure. But, your Betty is the one who helps you through the hard times. She’s the one who you know will always listen, the one who likes you just the way you are. 

There is one catch, though. You can’t find your Betty until you become a Betty yourself.

You have to like people, just the way they are. You have to see past the brands on their clothes and the act they put on to hide their insecurities. You need see past the perfect Instagram photos they post to hide their vulnerability. You know what? Those other girls often feel like they are on shaky ground, too. They wonder if they are cool enough, smart enough, or pretty enough. Some are just better at acting like they have it figured out than others.  

Through face-to-face interactions, you make others feel important, accepted, and loved. You can be the one person she feels comfortable being herself with.

As you grow, you will hear lies about yourself. You are not enough of this or too much of that. The lies will come, but remember this: No one – NO ONE – can make you believe those lies. That’s on you.

Tuck these truths deep inside and carry them always:

You are strong.

You are capable.

You are kind.

You are deserving of love and respect.

She’s out there, you know. Your friend who will like you just the way you are. You’ll find her. Let strength and dignity be your clothing and laugh without fear of tomorrow. Cast your nets of kindness and acceptance, my dear girl.

Your Betty is waiting.

“My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. Continue to allow humor to lighten the burden of your tender heart.”

-Maya Angelou

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