A letter to my 16-year-old self

Hayley Smith is the director of Boxed Out PR and founder of FlowAid, a campaign to make period products free for homeless women. She also worked with others to get the tampon tax removed and sits on a Government task force to end period poverty.

Hayley at 16

Dear Hayley,

I’m writing this as a 31-year-old you (yeah, we made it this far), and I am currently in London, the place you always wanted to live. Are you surprised? We did it, and we did it because of you.

You aren’t the famous actor you always wanted to be, nor the architect, archaeologist or lawyer that grandad wanted for you (he is still going strong). But you did alright, you were something that you never even considered, not because you weren’t interested, but because at 16, you wouldn’t have even been able to fathom, because it wasn’t in you. I’m an entrepreneur and I run my own, successful business.

At 16, you were quiet, meek, weak and lonely. I’m not saying this to be mean, you know it as well as I do. Assertive, ruthless, personable and driven were words attached to characters in the books that you read and the shows that you loved. But little were you to know that it was these characters (remember Buffy and She-ra) that would shape who you turn out to be, and you become everything that you always admired in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

There is so much going on in your life right now, we are currently in the middle of a pandemic (it’s a long story) and I am thriving. I’m safe, secure…..and loved. Can you believe that these words are coming out of my mouth? Things aren’t easy for you, and they don’t get easier for a long time.


I’m sorry to say that we never see mum again after she left, and our relationship with dad that you yearn for never happens – you’ll be thankful for this later down the road. But this leaves open wounds that are still yet to heal 15 years later. For a long time, you allow these to shape who you think you are (not who you are, and this distinction is very important) and they inform some very bad decisions, especially when it comes to relationships and friendships. But that’s for your 22-year-old self to explain.

I may sound harsh my darling, but my words come from compassion and honesty. No one else will tell or guide you strongly enough to help you figure these things out, I’m just sorry I’m so late.

I promise I have never forgotten you, and I have worked hard to succeed, to ensure that your pain and misguidance would never be in vain. I admit, my growth came too late, which let you down, and it saw some key years slip away. I spent a long time rejecting you when I should have been proud of you, and I hope you forgive me. You rejected me too, down the line. But your survival has birthed a future you wouldn’t have ever imagined existed for us.

Up to now, at 16, you’ve had a life consisting mainly of abandonment, loneliness, neglect and unhappiness, where you found a haven in the safety of creating stories and daydreaming. Neither become good habits, but please, never lose that imagination; you will learn the love of writing and you will be good at it.

Don’t say I love you to the first boy that comes along, you have no idea what love is (but at 25, I promise you, you will find out), and don’t take the job at the Card Factory, just to be objectified and bullied. I promise, you will find something else, and realistically, Primark wasn’t that bad, and unknowingly back then, will inject in the work ethic you need to succeed down the line.  

Don’t settle for anything less than what you deserve – boys, friends, universities, jobs, family. You are only doing yourself an injustice. 

Remember, when teachers used to say ‘you’ll be the boss someday’. This wasn’t just something to say to cheer you up, it was true. You are the boss, and you wouldn’t believe some of the things you have accomplished and the things that I am currently planning – one of them being a wedding, to a man that taught me more about myself than anyone else. And of course, you’re invited.

Now, this is where I really need you to listen. You need to stop playing the victim, and you need to find our strength – I know you have it in you, you’ve shown it to me time and time again and it shines in you like a beacon of hope. Have the courage to tell people what you think, and how you feel, and fight for what you believe in. One day you will feel so strongly about something, you will stand up and talk about it in front of hundreds of people – and they will listen. YOU WILL CHANGE LAWS!

You are a feminist (look it up), you support other women and you stand up for what you believe in. I know that these words are foreign to you, and inconceivable, but I tell you no lies. This is the person that you truly become, so please don’t ever doubt yourself or your worth again.

You don’t know it yet, but you are developing the tools you need to thrive during times of crisis and this will see you well during the next few years. But more importantly, because of who you are, at 16, you are paving the way for who you are at 31. You make mistakes, you will continue to make mistakes, but you learn from them (eventually) and it makes us a better person. You are the most incredible example of growth I have ever seen. And for this, I am proud of us. 




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