A letter to parents dealing with talking to your kids about puberty and bodies.
Perspectives from a young, queer, genderqueer, disconnected, late blooming, female body:
OK, so I am writing this letter to talk to you about how girls develop shame around their bodies and the way that girl’s bodies are thrown even more into the spotlight as they begin to develop. I am sure that most females out there understand for the most part what I am talking about but I think that it is extra important to re-iterate this especially as you prepare to talk to your child about their body changing. I’m writing this in the form of a letter because I think it is the best way for me to share with you my own experiences with my changing body and what I wish my parents had known, or atleast expressed understanding/support of. Growing into my female body, especially as a late bloomer was always strange for me. I think the Pussycat Dolls, while they perpetuate the images that often oppress young women, do make a good point about growing up in the song “When I Grow Up”-
When I grow up,
I wanna be famous,
I wanna be a star,
I wanna be in movies
When I grow up,
I wanna see the world,
Drive nice cars,
I wanna have boobies
When I grow up,
Be on TV,
People know me,
Be on magazines
When I grow up,
Fresh and clean,
Number one chick when I step out on the scene
Now, I know that not every girl wants to be a superstar, but most girls are fighting against invisibility and shame in a very real way and they strive for positive attention. They have been engaged in this struggle all their lives and when a “woman’s” body begins to develop this is emphasized. Within my own history, although I began to develop shame around my body when I began to notice the differences between girls and boys. This happened around age 5, when my parents told me I couldn’t run around without a shirt on, and it started to become inappropriate for me to bathe with my male bodied cousins. While, my male cousins were learning how to take off their shirts and run around in the hot sun, when I stripped off my top to join them I was scolded. This and countless other incidents taught me that my body was something to be hidden. When puberty started to hit the other girls in my peer group, I felt ashamed for new reasons. I was flat until age 14, and didn’t start my period till second semester of my freshman year of high school. Within my peer group my development was delayed in often-visible ways and I was teased. We live in a world where society sets standards on beauty, which are often hard and impossible to reach, but girl culture does not make this easier. I spent most of my teenage years trying to fit into a cookie cutter mold of what my body should be like, at first the mold was too big, and then all at once it became to small. Female standards of beauty ask all girls to immediately embody a tall, white, blonde, skinny ideal. There are hygienic standards that must be kept to as well, legs and armpits shaved at all time, no acknowledgement of her period, or for that matter any bodily functions.
From birth our bodies are called into question and judged, when an adolescent enters puberty their bodies are judged on a whole new scale. Judgment and body talk comes from all over, parents, peers, medical professionals, teachers, the general population and ourselves. Parents struggle with accepting our changing bodies. Peers judge our development timeline. Medical professionals evaluate if we are “on track” and tell us if our bodies are appropriate or not. Teachers attempt to tell us what these changes mean, and what is “normal”. As our bodies develop the general population begins to judge our appeal, and believe me, no young female is safe from being judged by older men. And of course, we judge ourselves, as a combination of all of these other judgments and as we start to deconstruct the images that we see we build up judgments around ourselves as to whether or not our bodies are “good” and appropriate.
I know that this is not what you would typically expect to find in a packet about puberty, but I think that it is important for parents to understand the battle that girls go through, and especially those who struggle with a sexuality and/or gender identity. Puberty, and the teen years, are a time when bodies are put in the spotlight, they are emphasized by peers, parents, medical professionals, teachers, the general public and ourselves. Learning to deal with body shame is important for all girls attempting to reach 20 in one piece. I don’t have any solutions, or key lines that you can tell your children, but I think beginning to understand is important, and so that is why I wrote this letter. While there are not any magic words that I can tell you, I do think that for me I would have appreciated more support in experimenting with my body. The adjustment to a changing body is hard, it is not something that anyone should have to learn to embrace all at once, and it often takes a great deal of time to come to terms with one’s body. I would have appreciated it if my parents and other adults had not called out the changing parts of my body. They were mine to deal with, not theirs to criticize or judge. Feeling safe within the home is the first step to feeling safe within the body, so please, allow your children to feel safe within their homes and bodies.
Video Artist. Activist. Student. Life.