Being a tween girl is kind of awesome. You’re at that age where people are still mostly completely decent to one another, but you’re now old enough to watch big-kid movies and opt out of coming into the grocery store. You’re allowed to earnestly and unabashedly still like things — horses, sports, any and all pop music — without it pigeonholing you, and there’s this whole thing called Bonne Bell Lip Smacker which (and I actually checked so I’m not speaking from memories of decades past) is still a very real and very awesome thing.
And then — BAM — puberty comes along.
Not that puberty is all bad. It can be a really exciting time, but it’s also a really confusing time, especially if you’re not totally prepared for it, which I wasn’t. I went through puberty very young, which means that I didn’t even know what was happening to my 9-year-old body when I went to the bathroom in Mr. Zablotney’s science class only to learn that I’d started menstruating. I told him I thought I was dying and he was nice enough to give me a friendly awkward head pat and a hall pass to the nurse’s office.
My daughter has my genes and my early boobs, and while we’ve chatted about puberty in the past, there’s a lot to get through that just can’t be said in the moments between locking your child in the car to talk about the wonders of hormones and when they figure out how to jimmy the lock. The fact is that in order to tell her everything I wish I had known, we’re going to have to sit down and tackle a list of really important things, one by one. Here they are, in list form: everything she needs to know about her changing body before she hits the big 1-0.
1. Puberty is awesome awful awesome.
There’s a lot that can be really freaky about having your body change on you, and there’s no way around the clinical fact that you will begin to get breasts and start menstruating because you’re undergoing the biological change required to have babies. Babies are a result of sex, as you know, so I understand that adds a bit of an “ugh” and “ick” factor to what you’ll be going through, since you won’t even be thinking seriously about sex for a few more years. Plus, you might go through some unpleasant things: tender breasts, body odor, mood shifts and even cramps. Put that way, I can understand why my first explanation of menstruation and puberty left you in tears. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging the suck factor of growing up.
But there’s an exciting aspect to it, as well. You’re getting older. You’re growing up. As you mature you’ll be inducted into a worldwide club of awesome period- and breast-havers, and one day, you’ll even find the thought of sex exciting too. It’s OK to be excited about puberty, and it’s OK to hate the idea of it. Sometimes you’ll feel both things at once.
2. Get ready to ride the roller coaster, whether you want to or not.
Speaking of which, get ready for your emotions to get whacked. I know this is already happening a little, and it can be really confusing. As your hormones start fluctuating, it’s actually the opposite of weird for you to feel deeply bummed out for seemingly no reason, or for things that usually don’t bother you to make your skin crawl.
Please don’t apologize for this. Try not to be nasty to people, and if you get frustrated enough to snap and hurt someone’s feelings, you should apologize for that, definitely. But when you’re feeling inexplicably down and feel like crying for no reason, that’s not apology-worthy. Just tell me if you’d rather have your space or some company, and I’ll help you weather the storm if you want.
3. Anyone who tries to tell you that all period cramps are a “slight discomfort” is a liar.
I’m not trying to scare you. I’m trying to tell you that when every single body book, health teacher and sex-ed textbook is saying that you might feel some “mild discomfort” that is easily magicked away with a few muscle relaxers and a heating pad, two things might happen.
The first is that cramps — if and when you get them, and if and when they are the ugly achy kind — will be a godawful shock to you because you were expecting a little twinge and then suddenly you don’t want to get off of the couch for a few hours. The second is that if your cramps are bad you might start wondering if you aren’t maybe a little weak/crazy/broken for thinking so. You aren’t. I’m not guaranteeing you that you’ll have awful cramps, but if you do, there’s nothing wrong with being gentle to yourself. Now you know.
4. No one has the right to touch or stare at your body except for you.
Seriously. If a comment about your changing body or a lingering stare makes you feel ookie, you have the right to tell that person to move the fuck along. If you’re not comfortable doing that, go get an adult and have them back you up.
If someone touches you without your permission, go straight to an adult. If they don’t listen, find one that does. I am promising you now that if you come to me and tell me that someone has made you uncomfortable, I will not question you. I will not brush this off. You can trust me on that.
5. You can talk to me and your dad about anything…
Yeah, I know that coming to chat with me about nipples and discharge is probably the last thing you want to do. Well, second to last thing. Talking to Dad about it is probably the last thing. But you can, if you need to. Nothing about you is gross, and if you have a question, ask! If I’m not around, don’t feel weird about asking your dad to clear up a burning question you might have about bra rash or to go get you some ‘pons, because any dude worth his salt a) knows exactly where they are and b) won’t bat an eye when you ask. And your dad is a dude worth his salt.
6. … But you don’t have to
Still, I know that there is a weirdness hurdle that is sometimes just a little too hard to clear, especially when it comes to sex stuff, and I’m not going to force you to talk to me if you don’t want to. But in return, you do have to promise me you’ll talk to someone about this stuff. An aunt. Your doctor. I can refer you to a list of women that won’t give you bad information.
I hope that once you blurt it out once, you’ll feel better coming to me. But if you just can’t for some reason, remember to take everything you hear from your friends with a grain of salt, and for the love of god, stay off the internet. If you need some good websites I’ll bookmark them, but trust me when I say that there are better people to ask about vaginal discharge than the Googs.
7. Vagina, menstruation, period and tampon are not dirty words.
I know that stands in direct opposition to probably everything you’re seeing and hearing, but at least half of the population will be born with a vagina, vulva, clitoris… the whole shebang. Most of them will get a period. Something that half the world has and does is not shameful, gross or weird. You don’t have to wear a shirt that says Period Pride, but you also don’t have to laugh at someone calling a period “a rag” or a “vagina” by a nasty or even cutesy name.
8. Carry pads and tampons before you start getting your period.
This is just practical. Even if you’re totally comfortable with the idea of a period before you get yours, you might just prefer taking care of business without going to the nurse. Or one of your friends might need a spare. Carry them.
9. Body hair is normal. Cellulite is normal. If you’re wondering “is this normal?” it is almost certainly normal.
There. Is. No. Wrong. Way. To. Have. A. Body.
10. You’re still you.
Puberty is not a door that you walk through, where, once you reach the other side, you are required to stop doing the things that you like doing, or where you must cease enjoying things because they suddenly meet some arbitrary qualification for being “babyish.” You are not under any obligation to stop dressing comfortably in the summer, and you certainly are not bound by Puberty Law to have sex any time soon.
You are growing, that’s all. A lot of stuff is going to change for you, and some of it will be really confusing. I can’t guarantee you that your periods will be light and pain-free, or that acne will skip a generation or that you’ll always find a bra that will fit. But one thing I can promise you is that you will still be you. And you, Kid? You’re awesome.
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