Advice to My Thirteen-Year-Old Self

ADVICE TO MY THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD SELF is a developing anthology including letters of advice written by fifty powerful women to their thirteen-year-old selves.
Melissa Banigan
Email Verified
Brooklyn, New York
United States
3 Team Members

By Real Women, For Real Girls*...

Advice to My Thirteen-Year-Old Self is a developing anthology of advice letters written by fifty powerful women to their thirteen-year-old selves. Current photos of the contributors will also be featured in the book alongside photos taken from when they were thirteen. 

I started this project for one reason: next year, my twelve-year-old daughter will be turning thirteen. I want my girl, and other young women just like her from around the world, to have access to a book that serves as a contemporary, relevant "guidebook" that doesn't skirt around important issues and themes.

Sadly, there is a vacuum in non-fiction advice books for young women entering adulthood. Girls are smart: they deserve more than books simply glossing over their anatomy and their positions as global citizens. In this anthology, the following topics (and more!) will be covered:

  • HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Disease
  • Caregiving
  • Sexual Identity
  • Body Dysmorphia
  • Domestic Violence
  • The Female Body (including the oft-ignored clitoris)
  • Female Genital Mutilation
  • Depression
  • Suicide
  • Happiness
  • Periods and Hormones
  • Family
  • Cutting and Self-Harm
  • Genocide, War and Recovery
  • Never Losing the "Child Within"
  • Loss of Loved Ones
  • Conservation, the Planet and World Stewardship
  • Following Dreams
  • Never Giving Up
  • Relationships
  • Beauty
  • Ethnorelativism
  • Education

My hope is that Advice to My Thirteen-Year-Old Self will EMPOWER girls worldwide by showing them that they can all become successful, smart, world-changing women, no matter where they live, their economic or social position, or their family or larger communities. 

In addition to the anthology, Advice to My Thirteen-Year-Old Self is also a series of writing and empowerment workshops and classes offered pro bono or sliding scale. These sessions will begin late January 2014 in a few New York City public schools and community programs and will be offered internationally in partnership with foundations that assist women and girls later in 2014. 

For more information about the anthology and workshops, please visit the Advice to My Thirteen-Year-Old Self website

*REAL women and REAL girls are ANY persons who identify as such. 


Why Girls? Aren't Boys Important, Too?

(above, contributor Ponheary Ly at age 17)

Yes, boys are just as important as girls! Sadly, girls across the world, in all economic strata, in all cultures, of all races and religions, face discrimination that boys often don't encounter. To educate a girl makes her less vulnerable to violence, will help her make better financial decisions, enable her to follow her dreams and be less likely to have a child before she is ready or contract a sexually transmitted disease. She will be more likely to break the chains of poverty or, if she's in a position of power, to better empathize with and therefore assist those without power. While the needs of boys and young men are also incredibly important, I feel strongly that social change rests on the shoulders of women. 

Co-founder Greg Mortenson, Co-Founder of the Central Asia Institute, which educates girls in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, said it more eloquently than I'm able: 

“Once you educate the boys, they often leave the villages and search for work in the cities, but the girls stay home, become leaders in the community, and pass their knowledge onto their own children. If you really want to empower societies, reduce poverty, improve basic hygiene and health care, reduce the population explosion, and fight high rates of infant and maternal mortality, the answer is to educate girls.”

Thing is, we need ALL people to support girls. That's why I invite people of ALL genders to contribute to this project. 


About the Editor

(photo by Deborah Donenfeld)

I'm Melissa Banigan, a writer, editor and marketer who collaborates with both corporate and individual clients in the arts, finance and education. In addition, I am a travel blogger and fiction writer who assists emerging authors in finding their "voices." Most importantly, I'm the single mom of a pre-teen daughter. I believe that raising strong, independent, world-changing girls is as simple as finding them powerful women mentors. 


What I Need 

Since September, I've worked tirelessly on the project by putting together a website, forming an online community, and spending close to 200+ hours writing women, reading and editing letters, and doing research. While this amounts to just over 16 hours a week, I'd like to be able to throw myself full-time into finishing the first draft of the anthology so that I can finish in a timely manner. Currently, I'm backlogged not only on edits, but on reading remaining submissions and choosing the last handful of letters. Receiving support from contributors who believe in the project will mean I'll be able to finish the book by the end of April. My ultimate goal is to see the book published by mid-2014. 

$6,790 will provide me with:

  • The means to survive working full-time on this project by providing me with a small hourly compensation for three months of editorial work, research, author 'workshops', motivating pep talks and Skype calls, marketing, website administration, etc. Essentially, a load of work that will amount to the completion of the anthology!
  • Start delivering FREE writing and empowerment workshops and classes to a few New York City schools and community programs.
  • Cost of perks: postage, paper, stickers, goodies, a wonderful event, etc.
  • Approximately $340 in books that will be given out as perks (once published!).
  • Just over $400, which is the amount that will need to be paid directly to Indiegogo soon after I've passed the $6000 mark (this amount, which is 4% of the contributed funds/administrative costs, would be bumped to 9% should I not meet the full goal stated above).

What You Get

While I believe the true reward for contributing to this project lies in the completion of the anthology and the disseminating of stories and advice to girls around the world, I do believe that offering true, meaningful thanks is an important part of any crowd-sourcing project. Please read the wonderful "perks" to the righthand side of this page. 

Note: all perks are "stackable." This means if you contribute $60, you will receive all perks from $1 through $60. If you contribute $100, you will receive all perks from $1 through $100. And on and on…


How Is This Project Different From Anything You've Seen Before?

There are many projects and books that involve individuals giving advice to their teen selves. They are all wonderful. This one is different in that it truly is meant to look through a global lens: letters are diverse, written by women born over the course of the last hundred years from locations as different as the Amazonian rainforest, communities recovering from genocide and some of the world's largest mega-cities. The book doesn't look only to celebrities and persons in privileged positions for advice, but to women from all walks of life. An important message in the book is that ALL STORIES HAVE MEANING. NO STORY IS TOO SMALL. 

Of course, the book is also different in that it is written BY WOMEN TO THEIR YOUNGER SELVES. The letters are honest, sometimes tear-inducing, often hilarious, and are definitely thought-provoking. They also give glimpses into history: living during World War II and surviving terrible regimes such as the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, for example. 


The Impact

Even as I release this indiegogo campaign, I am also hard at work seeking a reputable publisher for Advice to My Thirteen-Year-Old Self. While I feel confident that the project will be represented by a reputable publishing house, whether it is published by traditional or non-traditional methods (publishing house vs. self-publishing), I KNOW that the printed anthology will have a positive impact on the lives of girls.

The contributors to this anthology are doing more than sharing advice: they're sharing their personal life narratives. Storytelling is one of the best ways to educate. Consider these points:

  • For as long as we've had language, people have used stories to pass down beliefs, history and traditions. 
  • Facts are quickly forgotten. Larger narratives, however, and amazing stories, are a way for people to remember important information. 
  • Stories inspire people to tell their own stories… And what's more important than developing the imaginations and dreams of the youth who will be reading this anthology?

Words are powerful. By allowing girls not only the opportunity to learn from a powerful collection of mentors in one book, but by inspiring them to create and then tell the stories of their own lives, this book will - make no mistake - create waves.



Don't take only my word for how great it will be, but the faith contributing writers have in this project. Below are just some of the remarkable women:

  • Nouf Alhimiary - Photographer from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia who participates in the recent feminist conversation in her country
  • Pamela Angwech Executive Director of Gulu Women’s Economic Development and Globalization, an organization launched in Northern Uganda mid-way through the 20-year war between the government and the Lord’s Resistance Army
  • Felicity Aston - British explorer, first and only woman to ski solo across Antarctica
  • Ericka Baylor - Former Miss Black Deaf America, and mentor to the African American deaf community
  • Angela Berners-Wilson - First woman priest to be ordained by the Church of England
  • Powell Berger - Writer, Editor-in-Chief at Travelati, and Program Fellow at the Paris American Academy Creative Writing Program
  • Sister Carol – Grammy-nominated singer, DJ, songwriter, actress, entrepreneur, humanitarian and mother
  • Lek Chailert – Advocate for the rights and welfare of the Asian Elephant, founder of the Save Elephant Foundation, named a 'Woman Hero of Global Conservation' by Hillary Clinton
  • Martina Clark - Sat on the first board of directors of UNAIDS - the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS - and later worked with several UN agencies to promote HIV and sexual health awareness and education 
  • Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill – One of Ireland’s most well-known and revered poets, Nuala writes in the Irish language, and has been translated by luminaries such as Seamus Heaney, Medbh McGuckian and Paul Muldoon
  • Halla "Ms. Moon" Frimannsdottir – Healer and therapist who gives pro bono treatment to children all over the world
  • Rita Golden Gelman - Life 're-inventor', nomad and author of over 70 children's books and a memoir for adults called Tales of a Female Nomad
  • Nikki Hefko - Acclaimed choreographer and dancer who has danced with Les Grands Ballet Canadiens and The Metropolitan Opera
  • Balpreet Kaur - Sikh woman who contributes to the global conversation about interfaith, oneness, the Sikh faith and, most importantly, kindness
  • Ponheary Ly - Survivor of the 'Killing Fields' (Khmer Rouge), and leader for the rights and education of Cambodian children via The Pondeary Ly Foundation
  • Donna Masini - Novelist and poet revered by the likes of Adrienne Rich, Donna is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, New York Foundation for the Arts Grant and a Pushcart Prize, and is a Professor of English at Hunter College where she teaches in the MFA Creative Writing Program
  • Jenn Miller - Founder and writer of the popular education/travel blog, The Edventure Project, which inspires families from all around the world to live their dreams
  • Gail Newton - Director of the Community Health Partnerships at the University of Rochester, New York; she has worked on a number of campaigns that have assisted her community (childhood obesity, healthy eating, etc.)
  • Noura al Noman - Science fiction author from the United Arab Emirates who has created waves for writing young adult novels in both Arabic and English
  • Terri O’Connell – Born with a rare biological disorder called ‘Disorders of Sexual Development’, Terri is a renaissance woman (author, model, anti-bullying advocate and designer) who has won more than 500 auto races in the male-dominated world of auto racing, even competing in NASCAR’s premier series, the Sprint Cup
  • Shelley Seale - Journalist and author who has written for National Geographic, USA Today and CNN, among others. Her mantra is "travel with a purpose"
  • Dese’Rae Stage - Photographer, writer, and suicide awareness advocate who created the Live Through This project, a collection of portraits and stories of suicide attempt survivors, as told by those survivors
  • Carmen Tarleton – After this single mother of two was brutally attacked by her ex-husband, she underwent over 55 surgeries and received one of only two-dozen face transplants that have performed worldwide. Her book, Overcome, has received wide recognition, and she inspires people by speaking about happiness, forgiveness and peace
  • Jennifer Tress - Author, performer, speaker and founder of You’re Not Pretty Enough, a book and movement that discusses what makes a woman “beautiful”
  • Usha Vishwakarma - Founder/leader of the Red Brigade, a group of young girls and women who combat sexual violence in India
  • Dr. Jessie Voigts - Writer/publisher of Wandering Educators, a website that promotes global education, and Founder of the Traveling Youth Blogging Mentorship Program
  • Sophia Wallace - Multimedia artist who created Cliteracy, an art project that educates and increases awareness about the clitoris and broadens the discussion about gender equality.

For photos and full biographies of these women, please visit the Advice to My Thirteen-Year-Old Self website.



What Will Happen Once the Book is Published?

Once the anthology has been published, I'll be posting a second indiegogo campaign that will have at its primary goal the selling of 2,000 books. Essentially, contributors to this second campaign will purchase two books: one for themselves; one to be donated to organizations that can help disseminate them to girls around the world. In addition, I'll be visiting schools, speaking with groups around NYC, and connecting with organizations interested in purchasing books to donate to young women. The book will serve as a first step towards educating young women, opening dialogue and connecting young women around the world. At this point (which I'm calling "Stage 2"), I'll put a lot of my efforts towards growing both online and local communities. I'll be working with actors and authors to give readings of the letters and will put all of my energy into helping Advice to My Thirteen-Year-Old Self become an empowerment movement.


The Risks

While there are always risks to contributing to a project, I give you this solid promise: this anthology WILL be published. Whether published by a traditional publishing house or self-published, the book WILL be shared with girls around the world. And whether or not I receive the full amount of what I'm asking, I WILL complete the anthology. 

The only risk I imagine is that my goal of publishing the book by mid-2014 might be pushed a little later in the year if:

  • A traditional publishing house provides a date that differs from mine. 
  • I receive only part of the $6790 goal.

My goal of publishing by mid-2014 is incredibly ambitious. This is to keep me on the fast track to finishing the anthology in a timely manner that will respect the hard work of contributors. That said, if the deadline of publishing is pushed further into the year, I will keep you posted, and will be utterly transparent about any changed timeline of the project.

To reiterate: the book WILL be published. Perks WILL be delivered. Your contributions WILL be appreciated.


Other Ways You Can Help

Some people just can’t contribute money- believe me, I get this! While no monetary contribution is too small, you can also assist by: 

  • Getting the word out to make some noise about this campaign.
  • Using the Indiegogo share tools to share with your Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets.
  • Joining the anthology's Facebook page.
  • Sending good vibes. 

Most importantly, talk about this project with the young women in your lives! Their involvement is KEY! 

Thank you, truly.

Love and Light,


Find This Campaign On
raised by 70 people in 2 months
101% funded
0 time left
$6,790 USD goal
Flexible Funding This campaign has ended and will receive all funds raised.
Campaign Closed
This campaign ended on February 8, 2014
Select a Perk
  • $1USD
    Make your heart sing

    Times are tough. Perhaps a contribution of cash is hard. Truly, it's the thought that counts. A dollar will let it be known that you think this matters AND will help me feel motivated to continue!

    1 claimed
  • $5USD
    Make your ears ring

    Everyone needs good vibes. Know that expression: "When your ears ring, someone is thinking about you?" Well, it's your lucky day. Five bucks will have me thinking such big, robust, thankful thoughts about you, your ears will help ring in the New Year.

    3 claimed
  • $15USD
    Thank you postcard

    Perhaps you'd like thanks that is a little more tangible? $15 will get you a postcard send to you in the mail to express my heartfelt thanks.

    3 claimed
  • $25USD
    Stickers and thank you letter

    Who doesn't like stickers? Get a few in the mail that say "I'm a WOW." Wondering what a WOW is? It's a 'Wall of Woman," which means a woman who pretty much has superhero abilities. Stickers will be accompanied by a HUGE letter of thanks, and who knows what else I'll throw into the envelope… You can be sure it'll be good. (+all previous perks)

    14 claimed
  • $45USD
    Private access to 5 letters

    Want to read some of the letters before they're published? This is your chance! Receive a password that will grant you special (and private!) access to five letters that will be in the book. Think of it as VIP access that's actually good for the soul. (+all previous perks)

    2 out of 15 claimed
  • $100USD
    Night on the town

    In addition to the perks above, $100 gets you a night of music and readings for two in Brooklyn (travel and accommodation expenses not included). Can't make it to NY for such an event? Feel free to donate your invitation to a friend or write me to see what else we can come up with!

    2 out of 10 claimed
  • $150USD
    Night on town+book

    OK, get ready to feel good… Live music and a reading for two, words and goodies in the mail, AND a signed copy of the Advice To My Thirteen-Year-Old Self book?! Awesome. (+all previous perks)

    0 out of 10 claimed
  • $250USD
    Name in print!

    Receive all previous perks AND your name will be added to the "thank you" page of the print anthology!

    1 out of 5 claimed
  • $500USD
    Monthly gifts...

    OK… Imagine… Monthly letters and gifts come for you in the mail until the book has been published. All previous perks are provided, plus special monthly luxuries that I'll be inspired to send your way to express my eternal thanks. (+all previous perks)

    0 out of 4 claimed

    Your story in print

    Want to see YOUR letter added to the anthology? Or want to immortalize your mother, sister, wife, co-worker, therapist or lover? Here's your chance. I'll work with any woman over the age of 18 to help craft/edit her story. Write me for details. It'll be amazing. Of course, all previous perks are also included.

    2 out of 2 claimed
  • $12,000USD
    Writing/empowerment workshops

    Following the model for 'Advice' workshops that will be offered starting January 2014 in NYC schools, I'll lead a weekend (or mid-week) two-day retreat for up to twenty participants in YOUR U.S.A. community AND will lead a sister series of workshops with an international organization in Cambodia or Peru. Of course, all previous perks are yours! This is really your chance to make a difference.

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