Karen Elson Is Your Friend


I’m 16 years old and I want to start taking a birth control pill. How do I tell my mom I want to do this without freaking her out and/or getting into trouble? —Katherine

Before I get into the issue with your mother: I’m not sure where you live, Katherine, but you may not have to talk to her at all to get birth control. In the U.S., for example, you can visit a doctor or a clinic like Planned Parenthood and get a prescription—but call and ask about their privacy policies first if you want to make sure your parents won’t be informed. The pill is covered by most health insurance policies, but this doesn’t really help you if you’re on your parents’ insurance plan. You can still pay for it yourself—most birth control pills cost between $15 and $50 a month, depending on the type.

Also, since the pill doesn’t protect you from sexually transmitted infections/diseases, I hope you’re also planning on using condoms (which protect you from STDs, STIs, and pregnancy) as well. Anyone can buy condoms at the drugstore. Some clinics and even some schools give them out for free! These aren’t your only choices for birth control, either. Talk to your doctor about your options, and/or do some googling to find out what’s right for you (there’s a good list here).

But maybe you can’t pay for birth control on your own, or maybe you just want to maintain an open and honest relationship with your mom. Either way, I applaud you for being honest and responsible—and those are the two things you should focus on when you talk to her. I suggest you tell her you want to have a private discussion with her, and find a time and a place to talk where you won’t be distracted. Based on your fears of freaking her out and/or “getting into trouble,” I assume that the reason you want to go on birth control is that you’re becoming sexually active, and I know your sex life is a scary topic to bring up with parents, but the more articulate and informed you are, the better the chances are that your mother will listen. Trust me: Most mothers want our daughters to be honest with us, versus keeping secrets about things that can massively impact their lives as well as our own.

Once you’ve stated your case, give your mother a minute to get used to the idea that her daughter is going to be having sex (or maybe you are already). She will probably have questions and concerns—listen to these and answer them honestly, without getting defensive. If she hits the roof, take a deep breath, then explain that you want to be honest with her and responsible about your health, so you need her to calm down and listen. Show your mother you’ve done your research by learning some statistics. For example, the average age at which people in the United States and Europe become sexually active is 17, so it’s not too soon for you to be thinking about this and making decisions about your sexual health. Show her that you’re trying to make wise choices, and that you’re asking for her help and advice because you trust her and know how much she cares about you.

I hope the conversation goes well. Good luck!

My best friend has started dating a guy I hate, and it’s created bad blood between us. I’ve haven’t hidden any of my feelings from her: I think he’s a sexist dick, he’s mean to her, and I just get a bad vibe from him. She’s mad at me about this, which I understand and feel bad about, and now they’re MOVING IN TOGETHER (after going out for two months), and I don’t know what to do. I want to be a supportive friend, which I guess means accepting her relationship with this dude, but I also don’t want to lie to her by hiding my true feelings, BUT I also don’t want to lose this friendship! What should I say to her? —Donaldson, 18, New Jersey

It’s so frustrating to sit on the sidelines and watch someone you love being treated badly. And when that someone is in a committed relationship, you risk alienating her if you keep trying to force her to see what you see. You need a different approach.

You don’t have to be friends with your friend’s boyfriend, but you can make sure she knows that you’re still her friend, and that you’ll be there for her when the penny drops. Because, from everything you’ve said here, this won’t be a relationship for the ages—he’s already showing some controlling and emotionally abusive tendencies, and once the haze of new love and lust starts to fade, the reality of his behavior will likely become apparent to her. I know you wish you could just show her all this now, before she figures it out on her own, but you can’t. (However, if you witness any violence or anything else that makes you concerned for your friend’s safety, reach out to her other friends and her family and come up with a plan to get her out of what could become a cycle of abuse.) What you can do is let her know that it makes you sad to see the way he treats her, but that you understand that it’s her life and her choice, and you just want her to know that if she needs anything, you will always be there for her, in good times and bad. Then let it go—don’t keep telling her over and over how you feel about him. She knows. And as much you want her to be happy, you cannot make her do anything she doesn’t want to do. Even worse, her denial may be so deep that she will resent you for trying to make her confront what’s going on. When she is ready to open the door, welcome her in.


I love opera. I can’t get enough of it! I feel like the world has some beauty left when I hear Pavarotti sing. The problem is that when I tell people about my obsession, they seem to judge me as snobby and prissy, which I am NOT! I’m not about to change for anyone—I like myself like this—but how can I share my passion for opera with others without coming off as pretentious or condescending? —Katariina, 18, Espoo, Finland

Love opera with all your heart. Don’t be ashamed of your passion—embrace it. The internet is filled with people who feel the same way: Find (or start!) a message board or a blog, look into online and IRL groups and social events. I can assure you that people all over the world share your love of opera, and finding some of those people will make all the difference. You will no longer feel alone (because you’re not). And anyone who makes you feel prissy about your passion is intimidated by it. Be proud—you are amazing!

♥ Karen

Karen Elson is a musician, model, and all-around nice person. Got a query for her or any of our other advice columnists? Send it to [email protected]! Please include your FIRST NAME/NICKNAME, AGE, and CITY. Thanks!

Karen Elson Is Your Friend


Karen Elson is a musician, model, mother, and loads of other things that start with M, like Mancunian, muse, magical dreamgirl…and, as she proves in this regular column on Rookie, master of helping all of us deal a bit better with the world.

I have a problem that follows me around, tries to tap into every detail of my life, and tells me that everything about me is wrong. Perhaps you’ve guessed that I’m talking about my mother. (Cue laughter.) (Please don’t laugh.) (Thank you for not laughing.) My mother is a huge problem for me. She does not let me out of her sight when I’m at home, she tries to listen to every conversation I have with my friends, and she berates me for my weight and my acne. I understand that she loves me and that she’s trying to make me the best person I can be, but what is a reasonable amount of intrusion into my life, and how can I tell her I need her to lay off? —Yasmin, 16, Qatar

It is very empathetic and mature of you to apprehend that your mom’s hypervigilance is born of love. She probably thinks she knows what’s best for you, based on her own life experiences, but it’s coming across as controlling. I suggest that you be completely honest with her. Explain calmly that while you understand her concerns, her constant monitoring and criticism are harming rather than helping you. For starters, tell her that her comments about your weight and your skin really hurt your feelings. And that they’re not producing the effects she wants, anyway, so she’s not losing anything by stopping. It might take her a while to break this habit, so practice saying “I’m not talking about this” any time she brings up your looks, then promptly changing the subject to something pleasant/neutral, like, I don’t know, floral arrangements.

Your mother may be worried that if she gives you too much freedom, you’ll make “bad” choices. Let her know that you can be trusted! And provide specific evidence: good grades, doing your chores around the house without complaining, taking care of the family pet, keeping your room clean—any of these kinds of things will help your case. Make the conversation a two-way negotiation: perhaps together you can hammer out some basic rules—e.g., a curfew, having to get your homework done before you can talk on the phone, helping with dinner, etc.—that you promise to abide by; and in return you can ask her to give you some freedom and to watch her words around you.

Mother-daughter relationships are historically challenging, especially when the daughter’s a teenager, on the cusp of adulthood and independence. When I left home at the age of 16 it was very hard for my mother to handle; she was convinced I was up to no good (and honestly sometimes I was!). Thankfully those days are gone, but now that I’m a mother myself, I have more sympathy for the position I put her in. There’s a fine line between guiding your child toward good decisions and trying to control her life; and it’s hard to strike the right balance between protecting your kid and letting her become herself on her own. At the same time, it’s essential that you communicate with your mom about these issues, or you’ll just end up resenting her. If your mother is reasonable, hopefully she’ll understand.

I feel like boys won’t like me because I have crooked teeth. A lot of boys in my grade call me names like “Beaver” because there’s a gap between my two front teeth, or they comment on how crooked the rest of them are. I know that these jerks are just really insecure about themselves, but I keep thinking about finding the “right person” in the future and how I won’t ever find my dream guy because he’ll think I’m ugly! GAH! Help me!! —Crooked Teeth

I’m gonna confess something here. I sucked my thumb till I was 14 years old, and I have a HUGE overbite because of it. In high school I had a gap between my front teeth, which stuck out of my mouth. I was called Goofy Guts, Bucktooth Monkey Bitch (charming), etc., so honey, I hear you! I never got my teeth fixed, and now I’m happy I didn’t. My overbite is part of who I am. My gap eventually closed on its own, which I’m bummed about, because I LOVE gaps in teeth! Some of the world’s most beautiful humans have gappy teeth, and quite frankly they can be very alluring. For example:

Clockwise from top left: Vanessa Paradis, Alek Wek, Lindsey Wixson, Lara Stone.
Clockwise from top left: Vanessa Paradis, Alek Wek, Lindsey Wixson, Lara Stone.

See, crooked teeth are beautiful! But it’s easy for me to say that now that I’m no longer in high school; it’s a lot harder to ignore cruel jibes from your classmates. I know how hurtful it is to hear that kind of thing every day. I wish I had something more helpful to say than “it gets better,” but I don’t. It really does, though. High school is a time when almost everyone around you is insecure and hormonal and confused, and looking for ways to relieve all that anxiety—and so some people will find anything they can bully you about, for that momentary feeling of power. If it’s not your teeth it’s your hair, or your braces, or your accent, or your height, or your name.

But don’t let the bullies win. What they think of your teeth isn’t important. How do you feel about them? Take some time to think about that. If they’re really bothering you long term, make an appointment with an orthodontist to talk about some options. In the meantime, remember that as a teenager, you’re still growing—your face, body, and, yes, teeth will all look different in a few years. It’s an awkward time to go through, I remember well—but the good news is that gapped teeth are AWESOME! (And yes, you will meet someone—lots of someones, actually—who see the beauty in them, and in you. Trust me on this.)

I have identified as a feminist for most of my life, particularly in the past few months, and my feminism is very important to me. A few months ago I began modeling, and as much as I enjoy it, I know that the fashion industry doesn’t always gel with feminism. I feel like a bit of a fraud being both a feminist and a model, but I don’t want to quit either one. How can I still work in the fashion industry whilst maintaining my personal integrity? —P., Sydney

I started modeling when I was 16. In my 20s I started reading a lot about feminism, and that made me uncomfortable with so many aspects of the fashion business, especially the unattainable beauty standards it creates and upholds, and the hypersexualized, totally unrealistic version of women it presents to the world. As a model, wasn’t I contributing to this evil force that was hurting women (including me)? I had a hard time with this question for a long time.

Then I kind of looked around me, toward the examples of models like Kate Moss, Gisele Bundchen, Naomi Campbell, and Milla Jovovich—these women weren’t meek and passive; they were strong, savvy businesswomen who had transcended all the myths about being a model. They were (and are) powerful, and each one probably had (and has) legions of men working for her. They are changing the industry from the inside, which in many ways can be more effective than campaigning for change as an outsider.

Listen, the fashion business is far from perfect—that goes for any industry, of course, but fashion is unusual in that its values leak over into the larger culture, and can make girls and women feel bad about themselves. But it’s a double-edged sword: I’ve met many unconventionally beautiful women who were ridiculed for their looks as teenagers, and went on to find success in the modeling industry. Modeling actually helped them feel beautiful, and was a step toward their own empowerment and self-discovery. Cases in point: all of the women mentioned in the previous answer, and yours truly.

I’m also among the models I know who are proud feminists, so I can tell you that it really is possible to be both. If you assume that models can’t be political, that we can’t have strong opinions and beliefs, you’re just falling prey to the popularly held misogynist view that beautiful women are stupid. You are proof that that isn’t true. If you enjoy modeling and you know who you are and what you believe, there’s no reason not to do it. Go enjoy it! As a feminist, you can help change the industry by challenging beauty ideals, speaking out about the treatment of models, and being a role model for other women. It would be a shame if there were no feminists in fashion. The truth is we need more women like you.

I made out with a guy at a party and he went down on me later that night (consensually). When I told a couple of my friends they said it was bitchy of me not to give him a hand job. That sounded kinda stupid to me, but now I’m confused about what I am expected to “return” when I’m in that situation. I don’t want to do too much and be called a “slut,” but I don’t want to not do enough and be called a “bitch,” either. What the hell am I supposed to do?! —Bec

First of all, you are never obligated to return a sexual favor. That is ridiculous. You received pleasure and it felt good, I assume. End of story! Don’t listen to anyone who says there’s a set “protocol” for your own private sexytimes. What’s important is that you and your partner(s) communicate about what feels good to you and to him/her, and above all that it’s 100% consensual (and if you’re bullied into doing something by your friends, it’s not). Do only what you’re comfortable with and that makes you feel good. Love and respect yourself! You’re not a “bitch” or a “slut” (unless you find power in redefining those words as positive ones). The only person whose approval you need is yours, my darling! ♦

Questions for our You Asked It columns go to [email protected], except style/beauty queries, which go to Marie at [email protected].

Karen Elson Is Your Friend

I tend to be eventually friendzoned by any guy who shows interest in me. Should I act more mysterious around them or less interested in them? Should I show more boobs (because they are pretty nice, but I prefer to wear T-shirts)? How do I make them LIKE me and not just like me? —Ashley, 17

Honestly, you need to stop trying to impress guys. Acting mysterious, being aloof, or showing more leg, boobs, and so on may get some boy hot and bothered, but is that what you want? Wouldn’t you rather have a guy respect you for who you are than fall in lust with some version of yourself that you’ve manufactured for his pleasure? That said, I don’t know if you’re doing something specific that is giving guys you like the message that you’re not interested in them that way. Why not be more direct with the boy about what you want? Showing off your boobs may get you a lot of attention, but trust me, you do not want to be defined by them. Use your words, not your boobs!!

Should I get a Harry Potter tattoo? Is it too lame? —also from Ashley, 17

Don’t do it! Imagine your Harry Potter tattoo when you’re 70 years old and your grandchild is wondering why you have a wizard on your arm? Almost everyone I know who got a tattoo on impulse (this sounds like one) regrets it. On the other hand, I have friends who put a lot of thought and creativity into their beautiful tattoos; these are the people with no regrets. I could be wrong, of course—maybe Harry Potter will be your lifetime idol. In that case, then, you’ll still want this tattoo in a few years, and at that point you’ll feel more sure about it. But for now hold off. I loved the movie Labyrinth when I was younger, and I’m glad I don’t have the words “The Babe With the Power” on my back today.

I cheated. It was the most horrible thing I’ve ever done, and I hate myself for it. There are reasons why I did it, mostly me moving out, having a long-distance relationship, quitting therapy, and feeling disconnected from…everything. But I know none of these are excuses. Nothing makes it OK, because it was selfish and it was CHEATING. My boyfriend is working on forgiving me (we’ve been working on this for months), but how do I forgive myself? I hate me. I loathe me. I’m constantly reminded of my mistakes, and I cry constantly. I can’t keep it together anymore. Every song on the radio is telling me that cheaters don’t deserve to be happy. I feel like I don’t even deserve to get sympathy for feeling so depressed. Help me! —J.

Let me sit you down for a moment, J. Almost every woman, at various times in her life, will experience moments when she is cheated on, and moments when she is the cheater. I have been around the block and back, and my take on this subject is that things happen in life that you just don’t expect, and they usually reveal deeper problems you may not want to look at—but that you probably should. I don’t want to justify your actions, but you’ve owned up to what you did. That is important and huge. You also obviously feel bad about it. Maybe too bad—it sounds like you’re really beating yourself up over this, and that’s not doing yourself or your boyfriend any favors. Instead of all this needless self-flagellation, try looking at the deeper problems going on in your life. You feel disconnected—why? Is it possible you cheated to sabotage a good relationship? Do you do that kind of thing to yourself a lot? Why? Or maybe you didn’t want to admit that your current relationship isn’t working, so you cheated to create a more obvious issue to deal with. And what about the person you cheated with? How do they feel about it? How do you feel about them? These are all questions I think you need to answer for yourself. Are you in therapy? It’s not a bad idea to talk to someone about this, besides your boyfriend—though talking openly about it with him is obviously really important and might even make your relationship stronger from here on out. Or maybe you will realize that you are not happy, and you made this “mistake” to open an exit door for yourself. J, self-hatred is a beast that you need to tackle down to the ground. Please don’t beat yourself up anymore. You recognize that what you did was wrong. You are paying the price. Now forgive yourself, then find out why you did it.

When a guy, or a group of guys, comes up to you in the street asking for your number, is there a polite way to say no? —S.

You can always say, “I don’t give my number out to people I don’t know.” That’s super polite. However, in most situations a simple “no” is perfectly acceptable. ♦

If you have a question about ANYTHING IN YOUR LIFE for the Rookie staff and friends, please send it to [email protected].

Karen Elson Is Your Friend

Karen Elson is a music maker, a cabaret performer, a model, a mother, and sometimes a shoe designer. She is also the kind of friend who listens to your troubles while nodding sagely, dispenses the wisest advice, and makes you feel like a better version of yourself. Here, in the first installment of what will be an occasional treat on Rookie, are her answers to your questions about boys, sex, bodies, and life.

I want to be a strong, independent feminist, but in the face of a square jaw or an Adam’s apple I turn into a simpering sycophant. How can I stop being obsessed with guys and just be happy being me? —Kshemani, Toronto

Oh lord, I understand! I consider myself a very strong, independent woman of the world, and yet a dreamy pair of eyes can leave me in a state of recklessness. I think daydreaming is perfectly fine and healthy—I spent many a day in my 20s reading Anaïs Nin and lusting for my own Henry Miller to come and sweep me away—however, I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep your feet planted on the ground whilst daydreaming (this is an art I have yet to master…but I try). When you get carried away with boy-craziness, ask yourself if the boy you’re attracted to at the moment is really so great, or if you’re transferring your personal hopes and desires onto someone who’s not worth them. And when you’re feeling obsessive, try to distract yourself with the things you love in life (aside from boys): projects, hobbies, friends, etc. Speaking of friends, sometimes talking to them about your crush and getting it off your chest can help you relax. And if you feel really obsessive about a guy, I think it’s a bad sign; move on. My best advice, which I should also follow, is to remind yourself of reality and to remain the badass that you are. If you feel like you have to play down your independence for a guy (or, for that matter, a girl), walk—no, RUN for the hills!

I’ve never had sex, and never even kissed a guy. And I’m 17! I’m the only virgin left out of everyone I know. The problem is that I don’t feel ready for sex AT ALL, but all my friends say that I should have sex as soon as possible, just to get it over with. I’m so confused and scared. Maybe if I don’t have sex now, I’ll never do it, ’cause no one likes an 18-year-old virgin! What’s your advice for me? —J.

Don’t over-think it. So what if you’re an 18-year-old virgin? I was a late bloomer in ALL areas; now I’m 33 and I’m not a virgin anymore, ha! Know that it will happen, if you want it to. Trust your intuition: if you’re not ready, you’re not ready. Why rush? Besides, it can take years for a woman to really discover herself sexually. Having sex is the beginning, but the real treat is figuring out what makes you feel good and connected to your body. (You can start doing that before you have sex, by masturbating.) The key to enjoying sex, in my opinion, is to feel relaxed, adored, and empowered. That’s worth waiting for. Chances are you’ll have sex eventually—wouldn’t you rather do it on your own terms than listen to people who make you feel like you’re doing this wrong? You’ll already be way ahead of the curve if you play it by your rules.

What should I say when my friends say weird, sad stuff like “I have to get my bikini body ready before summer” and “Oh my gosh I am SOOO FAT”? —Anonymous

I’m a model, and I didn’t feel attractive as a teenager or in my early 20s. It takes time for some of us to grow into our skin. I know I’m in an industry that has contributed to this mythical ideal of physical “perfection” (though I do know a lot of positive role models in fashion who have embraced themselves as individuals and certainly don’t conform); but the problem is bigger than one industry. Society has burdened all of us women with the idea that we’ll never be perfect, but that we have to keep striving to be. And on top of it, that same society keeps changing its mind about what “perfect” is. Back in the ’50s the current zero-fat all-muscle ideal would have been seen as too skinny and boyish. If Marilyn Monroe were alive today she’d be told to lose weight before she could be in movies. And there’s always a new diet, a new workout, a new pill that promise to get us closer to where we’re “supposed” to be. I find this really tragic, especially as a mother of a daughter. I tell my children to love themselves for who they are, but that’s probably not enough to tell your friends when they talk negatively about their bodies. I think the most helpful thing you can do is to remind them that they’re great and tell them all of the things you honestly love about them: their intelligence, their sense of humor, their talents, their compassion, their personal style, their unruly curls, their crooked teeth, their birthmarks, etc. And tell them you don’t like hearing them be so harsh about their bodies. Sadly, almost all women, no matter how thin, curvy, short, or tall, have to deal with our own body issues, but having a supportive and truthful friend helps. All this said, if you know someone who dislikes her body so intensely that you’re worried about her, tell her you think she should get help from a school counselor or a therapist. And meanwhile, remind your friends that they can spend their lives trying to fit into someone else’s mold, or they can be themselves, be happy, and let it shine.


Questions for our You Asked It columns go to [email protected], except style/beauty queries, which go to Marie at [email protected].