by Izzy Labbe

My birthday was on July 22nd. I turned fourteen. Birthdays have always been the best day of the year for me – well, okay, birthdays and Christmas. But that’s because of presents. Birthdays are even more special than just presents, though – they’re about growing older, growing wiser – and for those of us my age – growing up.

And I’ve just unwrapped a birthday present from the Universe. It’s more than I could ever ask for: I’m growing up in a safe, loving environment, surrounded by amazing women who let me know that I can be anything I want to be. I’m constantly reminded that hard work pays off. I’ve seen a little effort put in by myself and other amazing girls (especially Julia Bluhm) turn into a petition with over 80,000 signatures. I’ve seen our actions make history!

When I joined SPARK in October of 2011, I didn’t expect this. I expected just writing blogs about stuff that I thought was wrong. But I couldn’t make myself really shape the idea of changing the world until I did it. And let me tell you, people: it felt amazing.

Feminism is something that I didn’t embrace until I was in seventh grade, which may seem kind of early for a lot of people out there. But I think I was born a feminist. And SPARK was the thing that pushed me to realize that my feminism holds so much potential. SPARK has taught me so much (a lot of ‘90s karaoke songs, for one). But it’s also taught me the importance of self-acceptance. And in the big, scary world of High School that I’m about to enter, I can feel safe and secure knowing that I’m embracing myself, and that I won’t fall into peer pressure or succumb to changing who I am to fit in.

Feminism has taught me that I am strong. That I have a voice. That I should be able to make decisions for myself, and not hide behind anyone else’s opinion. I am not afraid to tell someone when something makes me uncomfortable. I am not afraid to speak up when I think someone or something is wrong. I take risks. I write blogs. I am outspoken about my opinions. And, most importantly, I can make my OWN opinions about things, and not fall for the media’s indoctrination.

SPARK has given me so much as an individual: All of the awesome things in the last paragraph; the chance to change the world; seeing myself, Julia Bluhm, and Maya Brown on the cover ofThe Boston Globe; being able to say I helped end photoshopping in “Seventeen Magazine”… but mostly, SPARK has helped me become a better person. And I promise you, SPARK, and I promise you, World, and I promise you too, Universe. I’m going to use those things to make a difference.

But first let me survive High School. And make it past 14.