Hate Puberty? You’re in Good Company

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(The Vancouver Sun, September 2, 2002)

Q: Hi. I have a problem I’m wondering if you can help me with. I’m going into Grade 7 in September and I’ve been through a lot of changes this summer—mainly in the chest department. My mom bought me a bra and I’m getting used to it, but I’m scared the boys at school are going to make fun of me. How can I get prepared?
Signed, Hating Puberty

Saleema: Funnily enough, yours is not the only letter we’ve received in the past few weeks about this very topic and most of them have the same name as you! Not that it makes your situation any easier, but just know that you are in good company. Although it has been a (very!) long time since I went through puberty, the memory of going to Sears with my mom to buy my first training bra still haunts me. I feel your pain! Here are a few thoughts that I hope will make this time more bearable:

  1. I know you’ve heard this before, but I’ll say it anyway: Everyone in the whole world has to go through puberty (even Madonna and Justin Timberlake!) I know it seems like us girls get gypped because the changes to our bodies seem to be more visible or more often the target of ridicule, but consider the alternative. How would you like to return to school this fall, as many boys will, with your voice sounding like an out-of-tune clarinet? Or have your face look like a stuffed crust pizza? And, here’s a secret—if you look closely, you’ll notice that boys have breasts too. It’s a medical fact. Theirs just spread out as their rib cages get bigger and wider. I’ll spare you any more details about boys’ puberty, but I think you get the point. Trust me–you will be a “puberty survivor” and soon this will just be a distant memory.
  2. Demand respect from your peers and adults. A girl your age (let’s just call her Shelley) was recently telling me about her grandparent’s visit from England this summer. Upon arrival at the airport, her grandpa exclaimed, “Look dear! Shelley has little boobies now!” Of course, Shelley was MORTIFIED, not to mention angry, embarrassed, shocked and all of those other emotions. Of course her grandparents didn’t mean to hurt Shelley, but sometimes adults in our lives just need a gentle reminder that it is not appropriate to advertise such revelations—especially at the baggage claim! Perhaps Shelley could say something (very calmly) like “Grandpa, it makes me uncomfortable when you make comments about my body, and I’d appreciate it if you would stop.” When it comes to boys at school, the same type of “I” statement could be used (e.g. I don’t appreciate you talking about my body.). Sometimes, however, a little creativity is needed. For example, if someone comments or makes fun of your new bra, you could say “Funny, I’ve never noticed what’s under your shirt, why are you so interested in what’s under mine?” That’ll scare them away!
  3. Do you have an older sister or friend you could talk to? Talking to girls a bit older than you is a great idea because you know they understand what you’re going through and will give you the uncensored scoop on how puberty feels. Plus, they can help prepare you for what’s to come. Ask them how they felt when they first started wearing a bra. Did people make fun of them? How did they deal with it?
  4. Another thing that may help you to understand you are not alone as well as provide you with some really useful information about growing up as a girl is to take a trip to the library before you go back to school. There are some awesome books written just for girls that teach the info and skills you need to be a puberty survivor. My favorites are:
    • “Growing Up–It’s a Girl Thing: Straight talk about first bras, first periods, and your changing body” by Mavis Jukes (published by Alfred A. Knopf, 128 pages, $13).
    • “Deal With It! A Whole New Approach to Your Body, Brain and Like as a Gurl” by E. Drill, H. McDonald, and R. Odes, the creators of Gurl.com, (published by Pocket Books, 320 pages, $24.95).
    • “Real Gorgeous: The Truth About Body and Beauty” by Kaz Cooke, (published by W.W. Norton and Co., 288 pages, $16.99).
  5. Ask questions until you are blue in the face! There are so many people who want to support you through this time and provide you with the information you need—especially the adults in your life. They are puberty survivors so they actually know what they’re talking about! Use this column as a starting point for discussion if you’re not sure how to bring it up. They’ll be so glad you did.

So let me know how your bra debut goes—I have a feeling it won’t be as hard as you are expecting. Besides, I am positive that you’ll be able to deal with whatever comes your way. Just remember that you are not going to be the only one in your class sporting a new undergarment in September and use those “I” statements. If the going gets really rough, you could always break out into a rendition of Destiny’s Child “Survivor” at the top of your lungs—then they’ll really leave you alone!