Jessie Minassian writes books for teen girls, but unlike most authors, sometimes her readers start their encounters with, “Well, my mom/grandma bought me this book.”
“But after the first couple of pages, I was really drawn in by your stories,” they’ll say. “It felt like I was sitting down with you and talking about life.”
One book starts with an anecdote of Minassian as a 14-year-old, about to embark on her grand plan to run away from home. Another book starts with a secret about sexual addiction.
Minassian writes about love, family, relationships, body image, self-worth, shame—all these big, deep issues teenage girls are grappling with, all the while speaking directly to them. It’s rare to find media for teen girls coming from a place of love. Their concerns aren’t trivialized, but neither is the absolute nature of right and wrong.
“I just have such a passion for that age. It’s such an instrumental time in life, when you’re answering some of the big core questions that we don’t really grow out of,” Minassian says.
“If you don’t answer them in your teen years or in your early 20s, they just sort of carry with you through life and grow bigger, and you get more baggage.
“So my goal is to help them work through those questions in a healthy way, before they become adults and launch out on their own,” she says.
Minassian is a speaker, blogger, and author who has been working with teen girls since 2005.
It began with a Bible study she led with a group of junior high girls.
“They were so full of life and hope for the future, and excitement, but also felt so much pressure and had so many questions. And some of them were struggling with some pretty big issues already, even as young as 12, 13,” Minassian says.
When the opportunity came to write a book for teens with the “Soul Sister” series, she wrote “Respect: How to Get It, How to Give It” and has been addressing teen girls’ questions ever since.
“There were definite themes: A lot of the questions about boys. A lot about beauty and body image,” Minassian says.
Minassian has since identified three core questions underlying all of these issues.
“Am I beautiful? Am I lovable—is there a man who would find me worthy of pursuing? And is there a God who would accept me despite what I’ve done?” she says.
“I think the underlying root of those questions are identity issues. As girls, so much of our identity is wrapped up in the way God has designed us to be beautiful and to be in a relationship, so we’re trying to find out if we have what it takes in those areas.”
The recurring themes have led to her four books: “Backwards Beauty: How to Feel Ugly in 10 Simple Steps,” “Unashamed: Overcoming the Sins No Girl Wants to Talk About,” “Crushed: Why Guys Don’t Have to Make or Break You,” and “Family: How to Love Yours (and Help Them Like You Back).” Minassian also runs the website LifeLoveandGod.com, where she receives more messages daily than she can respond to.
Minassian is writing for an audience who believes in God and believes God has a role in their lives, and likely runs counter to a lot of the degrading media girls today are drowning in. It’s full of good advice even for those unfamiliar with the Bible, which she references conversationally, and those who are will probably glean extra layers of meaning and encouragement.
The first time Minassian spoke to teen girls, it was a group of 400, and she could just see that they were eager: nobody else was talking about these topics, not from a moral perspective and a female perspective.
“They were just so hungry to talk about things that were specific to them,” Minassian says. That first speech, she remembers with a laugh, was about “five tips for a match made in heaven.”
Many of the girls Minassian has met and corresponded with also come from broken homes; it was more common than she realized.
“They’re tired of pat answers. I feel like some of the things we tell them, like ‘It’s just on the inside that counts,’ it’s like putting a Band-Aid on a greased watermelon—it just doesn’t stick,” she says. “They need more; they need someone to validate what they’re feeling, too, but then also help them grow in maturity in those areas.”
Teen girls get a bad rap for being dramatic; she says.
For starters, “I never dismiss what they’re feeling.”
“Drama is sort of core to being a teenager; you have all these big emotions,” she says. “Everything feels really big, and all of the questions they’re having, the implications of those feel very life-altering at that stage.
“They’re very weighty, like for some of them getting broken up with in a text message is the worst thing that has ever happened to them in their life, right? I mean if you think about where they’re at in life, that might be the worst thing. So yeah, it’s going to feel overwhelming, it’s going to feel like the end of the world at that moment.”
Minassian tries to help guide the thought process, she says, to help girls realize what’s going on underneath the turbulent emotions. She wants to help them discover and become grounded in their identities.
For example, in “Family,” Minassian brings up the ugly attitude issues that sometimes bubble up—no teen girl is immune, but many of them are aware, and don’t want to be acting this way. Her advice is practical, and step-by-step.
All her life, Minassian has been a gregarious type of person, wanting to draw out everybody’s stories, and for teen girls, she now has a soft spot.
“I genuinely do care about them and care about where they’re at and where they’re headed, so I think that comes fairly naturally,” she says.
Walking alongside these girls has helped Minassian heal and learn about herself as well.
In preparation for her talks and books, Minassian spent a lot of time poring over the journals she kept in high school and college, really getting into the mindset of the issues she was struggling with at the time.
“Everything from relationships to figuring out, why did I struggle with an eating disorder? As I’ve worked to teach the next generation, I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process,” Minassian says.
A self-described “crushaholic” from second grade onwards, Minassian over time learned the difference between admiration and attraction while writing about relationships. She had never considered why women strive to be beautiful, pouring $30 billion into this big industry, until she wrote “Beauty Backwards.” The topics seem light to an outsider, but actually represent core identity issues.
“I believe God designed us as women to be the beautiful counterpart to Adam. Because that’s part of our identity, then that is going to be a struggle that we have—because of sin wanting to be more beautiful, or questioning whether we are beautiful because of that,” Minassian says.
Minassian doesn’t dwell on philosophy; her books are full of personal anecdotes: embarrassing moments, things she says to her parents she wished she could take back, secrets she was terrified to admit at the time.
“I always joke, ‘My life is an open book’ and I probably share too many details about my life,” she says. “Someday my kids are going to be like, ‘Mom, you shared all that?’ But I feel like I have a responsibility as someone—God’s been so gracious to forgive me of all the stupid things that I did. And I feel like there’s an element of when you’re forgiven much, it causes you to love much. And I feel like that love is directed at these girls.”
So many readers and listeners tell her, “Thank you for going first and sharing that first.”
“A lot of times, we can learn through other people’s mistakes, and so I try to have enough humility to allow others to do that,” Minassian says. There was only one book where she felt great reservation. She sent in the manuscript and immediately wanted to get it back. The book includes a line where she confesses she wishes she could delete this page.
“I think so many of us are just waiting for someone else to go first. So if that’s my role as an author, then I embrace that gladly.”
Then and Now
As a teen, Minassian was “a pretty good kid on the outside.” She was outgoing, captain of all the sports teams, and loved people. At home, she was the typical temperamental, sassy teenager (who now wishes she could make it up to her parents).
But on the inside, there was plenty she felt she was hiding. “I feel like I dealt with a lot of shame, a lot of embarrassment, a lot of ‘If anyone knew the real me, they would never accept me,'” she says.
Her faith helped steer her life on an upward course rather than a downward trajectory.
Her mother became a Christian after Minassian was born, and her stepfather became a Christian around the time he and Minassian’s mother married, so they all had the chance to figure it out together. Minassian remembers summer camps and the Christian counselors playing a major grounding role that helped “keep my eyes on the vision that I wanted for my life.”
Minassian realizes teens today probably need grounding even more than before.
“A lot of the things are the same—I think the core questions that we’re trying to answer are the same, but because of the advent of technology, it’s even more difficult to answer those questions correctly because we’re constantly looking for the answers to those questions through how many likes we get,” she says.
“Or, the advent of pornography I think has drastically changed that question that we have, ‘Am I beautiful?’ as women, and has been twisted to mean ‘sexually enticing.’
“The internet and social media are here to stay, but I’ve seen a deep undercurrent of girls who are sick of it, and who are trying to give it up.
“It used to be, when I was a teenager, a guy might try to do something with you on a date and you’d be like ‘you’re crazy,’ but now you might barely even know him and he’s asking for nudes over the phone.
“The crazy thing for me is, I’ve talked to a number of groups of girls, and I’m talking to them about this topic: I ask how many of them have been asked for nudes, and almost every hand goes up. And then the girls who haven’t—what’s really crazy is—what the girls who haven’t say is, ‘I feel jealous, because even though I wouldn’t want to send those pictures, I wonder why aren’t they asking me.’
“That is so telling, just the pressure these girls are facing. There’s always been pressure on teens, but I think the pressure is just crushing in 2019.”
She does have a little bit of dating advice: “I think so much of the heartbreak that I see, especially in teen girls, they’re dating like they’re married. And so when they break up, it really does feel like divorce. … I feel like we’re just kind of playing with fire if we’re dating at 12, 13, 14 and we’re expecting to keep our hearts whole and our bodies pure.”
Minassian gets inquiries from parents as well, but she often directs them to Parenting Today’s Teens (HeartlightMinistries.org/parenting-todays-teens/), because she says she can’t claim to be a parenting expert.
“I’m still in the beginning stages of this journey,” Minassian says.
She has two girls of her own, and they’re not quite teenagers yet. They’re all adventurers, and have spent the summer paddleboarding, hiking, foraging in the forest for berries, and watching the sunset over the lake. Minassian is at a place in her life when she wants simplicity, to be still, and let the lessons in her life sink in and settle.
“Goodness, when I found out we were having a daughter, I said ‘God, I will pour myself out for everyone else’s girls, if you will bring people into their life who will do for them what I’m trying to do for others, because I know that they will not listen to me!'” she says with a laugh. Even if she gets invited to speak all over the country, it’s anyone’s guess whether they’ll still listen to her when the attitude kicks in.
Minassian says if there were anything she could share with all teen girls, it would be the answers to those three core questions.
“I want them to know they are beautiful, because they were designed to be beautiful just by being female. I want them to know that they’re lovable and worthy of pursuit,” she says.
“And I want them to know there’s a God who loves them, despite anything they’ve done, and wants a relationship with them.
“I think that that would be, if I can communicate those three things to young women, I would say that I did a good job.”