We’re suckers for an emotional open letter here at stylist.co.uk. We smiled at Solange Knowles’ heartwarming message to her teenage self, applauded Caitlin Moran’s call to arms for teenage girls, and sniffled at the note Serena Williams wrote to her mother about parenting and feminism, and .
But of all the sub-genres of open letters, we most love the ones that dish out advice (see: the hard-earned truths Laura Dern recently put down on paper for her teenage daughter). This week, an open letter written by a mother to her young daughter has gone viral – and whatever our age, we could all do with living by her words of wisdom.
“To my daughter,” Toni Hammer wrote on her Instagram page, addressing five-year-old Lily. “Don't apologise when someone else bumps into you.
“Don’t say ‘sorry to be such a pain.’ You’re not a pain. You’re a person with thoughts and feelings who deserves respect.”
“Don’t make up reasons as to why you can’t go out with a guy you don’t wanna go out with. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. A simple ‘no thanks’ should be acceptable.”
“Don’t overthink what you eat in front of people,” Toni continued. “If you’re hungry, eat, and eat what you want. If you want pizza, don’t get a salad just because other people are around. Order the damn pizza.
“Don’t keep your hair long to make someone else happy. Don’t wear a dress if you don’t want to.
“Don’t stay home because you don't have anyone to go out with. Take yourself out. Have experiences by yourself and for yourself.”
“Don’t hold back your tears. Crying means you’re feeling something that needs to get out. It’s not a weakness. It’s being human.
“Don’t smile because someone told you to. Don’t be afraid to laugh at your own jokes.
“Don’t say ‘yes’ to be polite. Say ‘no’ because it’s your life.
“Don’t hide your opinions. Speak up and speak loudly. You should be heard.
“Don’t apologise for being who you are,” Toni concluded. “Be brave and bold and beautiful. Be unapologetically you.”
Watch: 16 women share the best advice their mums ever gave them
Toni spoke to stylist.co.uk about what motivated her to write the letter, explaining that she was bullied as a child and wanted Lily to feel sure of herself as she started primary school.
“She started kindergarten this year which really heightened my anxiety,” Toni said. “We're a few weeks into the school year, she's got friends, things are going great, but part of me still worries about that first time she is made to feel less than for something inconsequential like wearing pants or wanting to cut her hair short.
“So I wanted to put something on paper, something that told her for the first time, and something that reminded all of us women, that we don't have to be or act like someone we're not just to please those around us. And not everyone will like who we are and that's OK.
“It's not our job to please everyone. It's our job to be true to ourselves.”
Toni’s post was shared on the Facebook page Love What Matters, where it racked up almost 20,000 likes. But among the many comments praising her for trying to raise a confident and self-aware daughter, there were many suggesting that her letter was one-sided: that she’d forgotten to tell Lily she should also be “courteous”, “respectful” and “compassionate”.
Others commentators questioned why Toni had only addressed the letter to her daughter, not to both of her children (she also has a young son).
But here’s the thing. It’s highly unlikely that Lily hasn’t also been taught to be “courteous”, “respectful” and “compassionate”, because these traits are generally encouraged in girl children – in a way they are not for boys – from a very young age. Studies have shown that girl children tend to be more socially expressive and responsive than their male peers, and are more likely to behave in ways that are positive, helpful and friendly.
Given that there is no such thing as a ‘male’ or ‘female’ brain, social conditioning is the only explanation for these differences in behaviour and outlook. Girls are taught to be sweet and thoughtful, while boys are taught to be active and brave. Extensive research has also shown that boys and men are generally more confident – both in how they behave and how they express themselves –than girls and women. Women, in contrast, tend to be more apologetic and are interrupted much more often.
Within this cultural context, it makes perfect sense that Toni would choose to specifically encourage her daughter to be independent and unapologetically self-assured. Brb – we’re just off to print out her advice for future reference.
Main image: London Scout / iStock