Dear 17-year-old Amy,
How ya doin' babe? Still stressing over what college to go to and whether that boy will ever stop being an idiot and just call you his girlfriend already? Don't worry, you make the right choice. Also, he won't, but that's ok because he sucks anyway. (You know this, yet you're still pining for him. This becomes a theme in your life that we need to address.)
Now, I am not that much older than you and am by no means an expert, but there are some things I've learned over the years that I wish I had figured out earlier. The complete list is much longer, but this what you need to focus on:
Just because you've lost your virginity, does not mean that you do not have a good reason to say no to sex. You can say no whenever you want. The next time you're making out with a cute guy and there's something in your head saying, “this is fun, but I don't really want to have sex,” DON'T! Just because you like him, or you think he's cute, or you can't think of a really good reason not to have sex beyond that you simply don't want to, doesn't mean you should just do it. Trust me, you’ll only be missing out on bad sex. Don't be afraid to say no without a reason that you think he will deem 'good enough'. Fuck that, it's your body, your mind, and your life. If he doesn't get that, then he is not worthy. Do not let anyone pressure you into having sex, period.
You are more than your appearance. You are smart, kind, capable, and have more to contribute to the world than being aesthetically pleasing to men. However, this does not mean that you shouldn't take pride in the way you look. It's ok to feel beautiful, to try to be beautiful, as long as it is on your own terms. Believe it or not, there will be times in your future when you decide not to shave your legs or wear make up for months at a time. Plenty of guys you know will talk shit. Not only will you not care about what they think, but you will take some serious pleasure in letting them know this. These types of men have very fragile egos. Maybe it's unkind, but it is a little satisfying to give back a bit of what they dish out. The men who are worth your time will thinking you are beautiful with AND without makeup, straightened hair or a revealing top.
Stick up for yourself and for other women. By sticking up for other women, you are in fact sticking up for yourself. Do not let people sexualize you when you do not want to be sexualized. Do not close your ears to disrespectful words about other women. Do not put up with toxic masculinity because you want to be ‘one of the guys’. Do not be afraid to be loud or difficult. You may be worried that voicing your disdain for this gross,commonly accepted behavior will lead to being mocked or ostracized; but the men who react in that way are those aforementioned fragile egos that you don't have time for anyway. The “good” men will learn how microaggressions can degrade women. They will listen to you, make the effort to change and then encourage others to do the same.
Love yourself as much as you love the people around you. That anger you feel when a guy is a dick to your friend? Feel that for yourself too, and react the way you tell your friends to react. It is not self-centered or egotistical to have self respect and to enforce those standards of respect on the people you interact with. You cannot be strong for other people if you are not yourself strong, and you cannot help others if you are not whole. Be an example for the girls and women that look up to you, the way that so many women you look up to have inspired you.
Think about where the feminist movement is headed and what your role is. First of all, we need to change the images and messages that burrow into our brains, often without us even realizing. Get more women into positions of power. We also need to create supportive spaces for women of every shape, color, and creed. But we also need to look into ourselves for strength and support. Stop seeking validation and approval from people and platforms whose opinions really don't matter, and start seeking it from the only person whose opinion does matter: you.
There are a lot more lessons that I would love to share with you if I had time to write a novel. Such a book would definitely include something about dancing when you want to, even if you are the only one on the dance floor. Also, probably one or two notes in there about the pros and cons of tequila. But you'll learn those lessons on your own, in good time.
Keep on keepin' on my love,