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dear holly: what would you tell your 13-year-old self?

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Can you imagine at 13 years of age having access to a world of stories, secrets and insights that could have offered you an alternative to the mainstream?

If given the opportunity, what would you tell your 13-year-old self?

For me it would be the following:

1. Do not buy those pink pants – they will never be a “thing”
2. Do not dye your hair black – regrowth only worked for Shakira and even that was short-lived
3. 10 Things I Hate About You is NOT real life and Heath Ledger will not serenade you. EVER.

While it may be too late for such crucial advice to help the likes of me, it is certainly not too late for our soon-to-be 13-year-old Holly.

Holly is the inspiration for a new community art project called DearHolly. Created by the Brainwash Project mastermind, Jess Barlow, DearHolly was born from a need to find a birthday gift for a girl she knows.

And what gift do you give to a post-millennial Generation Z-er?

The answer: A website – but not just any website.

DearHolly is a website where people write advice to Holly. The advice is written on the back of a postcard or envelope and sent via post to Barlow, who then uploads the postcard or envelope once a week.

‘I came up with [the idea] overnight,’ says Barlow.

‘I realised that, not only could I give [Holly] an amazing online space where she could access new advice every week until her teenage years are over, but I could provide the same online space for teens everywhere.’

The advice to Holly can be anything, such as standing up for yourself or how to be comfortable in your own skin. It can be advice about gender, sex and if/how/when Holly chooses to have it. Whatever the advice is, it comes from a person or a place that is real, honest and probably more practical than anything Dolly Doctor could ever provide.

As the website states, DearHolly is a place where people can ‘create a living, breathing collection of real, gritty and heartfelt advice that teenage girls the world over can share, gasp at, learn from, and live by. No longer will teenage girls have to rely on the repetitive, commercialised advice found in any given women’s magazine. From the moment DearHolly receives its first postcard, I, you, and the 1000s of other contributors will paint a picture of teenage life to help inspire, support and comfort those currently entering or going through it.’

Through DearHolly, Barlow hopes to provide the tools for Holly to construct her own identity; she wants to build Holly a house of postcards that hopefully won’t get blown down by the big bad wolf that is mainstream media.

‘I really dislike the advice available today in teen magazines; mostly because it’s commercialised and biased by advertising and editorial preferences. Yes, back as a teen I read these magazines, but I had so many problems with them that I was motivated to start the Brainwash Project.’

Barlow started The Brainwash Project in 2012 because she wanted to create a women’s magazine whose content was dictated by its readers. She sought advice, concerns and suggestions that would help her create a magazine that many women’s magazines are not: ‘inclusive, empowering, intellectually stimulating and fresh.’

Like The Brainwash Project, DearHolly is almost a form of deconstructionist art; the succinct nature of the postcard and envelope format eliminates the extraneous noise of mainstream media messaging that dictates the “ideal” and what is accepted as normal in our society. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, mainstream advice is often one-sided and disguised as “empowering” young women.

As Barlow points out, ‘most of the advice [in mainstream media] assumes that all teenagers are heterosexual and very rarely (if at all) touches on the possibility of same-sex attraction. I think that DearHolly definitely changes the concept of empowerment in young people, purely because the advice isn’t coming from a media empire – it comes from everyday people with no agenda other than to help or share a story. The advice comes from a place of real integrity.’

The project is now in its third week, and Barlow hopes that the postcards, Facebook messages and tweets will continue to roll in strong. She is also calling for advice to be sent in for Olly, Holly’s male equivalent, so she can create a website for all of the Ollys about to embark on their “soon-to-be-13” journey.

DearHolly is live, active and designed to be ongoing. ‘Each generation of people experience different societies and morals growing up and I think DearHolly will provide an interesting commentary of life as it happens and changes.’

It manages to comment on the values, directions and ideas of the society in which we live, whilst paving the pathway for change.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing and a gift that costs nothing – or as little as the cost of a postage stamp.

So what’s my advice to you?

Contribute.Pour your heart out to Holly.

And make sure you tell her to invest in a simple pair of bootcut jeans and not the $15 pink studded pair.

2 thoughts on “dear holly: what would you tell your 13-year-old self?

  1. Fantastic article and sounds like a great project. Thanks so much for sharing. I will be sure to check out your site more often from now on.

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