A Girl’s Guide to Puberty: Keeping it ALL the way Real!
Puberty can be a confusing time in every young girl's life. Your body starts to look different, things are growing in different places, you have feelings you haven't felt before and you're wondering what is happening to me? Did I wake up in an alternate universe? Don't worry girl, there is nothing wrong with you, it's a normal part of life! Everyone has to go through puberty in their teen years and yes, even your parents!
Think about puberty as the process of transformation a butterfly goes through. As a caterpillar, they start to grow and prepare themselves to create a cocoon, where they will spend time forming their adult body parts. Once that process is complete, out comes a beautiful butterfly. Before the caterpillar can become that beautiful butterfly, it has to go through this process of transformation to adulthood. Here’s what you can expect during your own transition to adulthood.
What is Puberty?
Puberty refers to the physical and emotional changes you go through as you make the transition from a child to a young adult. For girls, this transition usually happens between the ages of eight to 13, but the age you start to experience puberty can be different for everyone. You can experience it earlier or later than some of your friends and that’s completely normal!
During puberty your brain sends signals to certain parts of your body to let them know it’s time to make some changes. The growth that you experience during puberty is caused by the changes in the levels of hormones in your body. Hormones are molecules that send messages to different parts of your body to tell it how to do things such as breathe, grow, drink, and eat. The main reasons you go through many of these changes is to start preparing your body to have children and to mature your body from a teen to an adult.
What to Expect: Physical Changes
Some of the most noticeable changes during puberty are the physical changes that happen to your body. As you go through the different phases of puberty, you’ll start to notice different symptoms that’ll tell you that your body is beginning the transition from teen to adult. Here are some changes you will start to see during puberty.
Body Hair (Where did all this hair come from?)
During the first phases of puberty, you’re going to notice hair growing on parts of your body that you didn’t even know you could grow hair. You’ll find hair growth under your arms, on your legs, and in your pubic area. Some girls might even find hair on their arms, face, and stomach, because of their family genetics. Some girls like to remove their body hair by waxing or shaving and some girls don’t make any changes to their body hair. Whether you want to shave, wax, or neither, the decision is yours to make.
Body Odour (What is that smell?)
The amount of sweat you produce during puberty increases thanks to your sweat glands becoming larger and more active. As a result, the sweat combines with bacteria that will leave you with a funky smell also known as body odour. You’ll probably find your body odour very noticeable after gym class, but don’t panic girl! Body odour is managed by practicing good hygiene and wearing deodorant.
Body Growth (Why don’t my clothes fit?)
If you start to notice your clothes no longer fit like they used to or you can now suddenly reach things that you couldn’t reach before, this is due to the growth spurt that occurs during puberty. During a growth spurt, you’ll get taller and you’ll notice changes in your body shape. Some of these changes include wider hips, rounder thighs, and a smaller waist as your pelvis (the bone across your hips) starts to grow. Once your body stops growing, you will notice stretch marks which are indented lines in the areas that you’ve experienced growth, such as your breasts, hips, or thighs. Stretch marks are normal and will eventually fade as you get older.
Breast Development (Did my Chest Get Bigger?)
One of the biggest changes you might notice during puberty is the growth of your breasts. Breast development can last from three to five years. During this time, your breasts will look a lot bigger and fuller than before. Breasts are developed in different shapes and sizes and some girls might even have a breast that is larger than the other and yes girl, that is normal! During this growth period, you will experience soreness and discomfort specifically when participating in physical activities such as sports or exercise. But that doesn’t mean you have to hang up your jersey just yet. You can manage this by wearing a sports bra or even a regular bra.
Acne (What is Happening to my Face?)
One night you might go to bed with your usual clear skin and then you wake up the next morning, look in the mirror and meet your very first pimple. Thanks to puberty, your hormones cause the glands under your skin that produce oil to grow bigger, which also leads them to produce more sebum. Sebum is your skin's natural oil, it's what keeps your hair and skin moisturized. The increase in sebum causes your pores to become clogged and that is how pimples are formed. A great way to prepare yourself for the occasional breakout or manage your acne is to build a skincare routine.
Menstruation (Did I Just Start My First Period?)
Your period is one of the changes that can sneak up on you without announcing its arrival. One day you’ll look down at your underwear and notice blood without a clue of where it came from or how it got there. The reason you get your period is because your uterus is preparing your body for pregnancy, plus it’s a natural part of being a girl. When your body realizes that you aren’t pregnant because you don’t have a fertilized egg, the lining of your uterus passes through your vagina and causes bleeding which is called menstruation.
Girls generally get their first period between the ages of 9 - 15. Your period can last for about five days but it is different for everyone, some girls might bleed for two days and some might bleed for eight days. The first few years of your period will be irregular, this means it will last a different amount of days and can come at different times in your cycle. Periods usually occur every 28 days but you can get your period twice within those 28 days or you can go months before you get your next period. You might also notice different blood flows throughout your period. You can have a heavy, moderate, or light blood flow depending on where you are in your cycle.
Vaginal Discharge (What is that Stain?)
If you find white or yellow stains on your underwear, no need to worry, this is a sign that you are about to start your period. These stains are a result of a clear fluid known as vaginal discharge. This discharge is produced by the body to keep your vagina moist and clean. If you want to avoid these stains in your underwear, you could wear a panty liner on the days leading up to your period.
What to Expect: Emotional Changes
While the changes in your hormone levels cause you to experience all these physical changes, they also affect your emotions and the way you feel during puberty. How you feel about yourself, how you feel about the world, and how you interact with and respond to those around you also start to change as you go through puberty.
Mood Swings (Why Do I Feel Like This?)
Throughout your puberty journey, you’re going to experience a rollercoaster of emotions. One moment you’re happy and ready to explore the world and suddenly you want to crawl into bed and sleep for a few hours. As a girl, you might feel more emotional about a week before your period arrives, this is commonly known as premenstrual syndrome or PMS. You might find yourself crying often or becoming easily irritated, but don’t worry nothing is wrong with you, it just means your hormone levels are going up and down. It’s OK to let these feelings flow, what’s important is finding healthy ways to communicate with your loved ones and express your feelings.
Self-Confidence (Why Do I Look Different From Everyone Else?)
Going through all these physical and emotional changes are going to affect how you see yourself. You’re probably paying attention to how you look, how your friends look at you, or how those around you see you. With all the time we spend scrolling down our social media feeds comparing ourselves to our friends, influencers, models, or celebrities, has a huge impact on our self-esteem. It won’t be easy, but learning to love the new body you’re in is important to manage the self-conscious feelings you’ll start to experience. A great way to boost your confidence on those days you’re feeling down is to put on your favourite girl power playlist to pump you up and remind you that you’re beautiful and still you despite all these changes.
What they Forget to Tell You
Now that you’ve learned all the changes and emotions you will go through during puberty, there are some things that people forget to mention when talking about puberty.
Is Everyone Staring at Me?
While you’re constantly becoming familiar with all the new changes to your body and emotions, the people in your life will also start to notice these changes, whether it is a family member, a friend, a sibling, or a classmate. Sometimes it will feel like someone is always commenting or pointing out all these changes you’re going through as if you haven’t already noticed them every time you look in the mirror. When this happens just remember that puberty is a normal part of life and the journey is yours, only you can decide how you feel about these changes.
Can Anyone Hear Me?
Another thing they don’t tell you about puberty is sometimes it can feel lonely. It feels like no one understands what you’re going through and you just can’t find the words to express how you feel. While it’s normal to feel embarrassed when talking about the things happening to your body, remember you aren’t alone! Your friends are most likely going through puberty at the same time as you, and they might be feeling the same things you’re feeling. Your mom, an older sibling, or another family member, already went through their own puberty journey and probably have some stories to share. Talking to someone about what you’re going through is a great way to put things into perspective and can help reduce any worries you have and remind you that you’re not alone.
How do I Learn to Love This New Version Of Me?
Investing in your self-love and self-care is key to dealing with all the new changes to your body. Giving yourself some extra love and care on the days you don’t feel your best, is a great first step towards becoming more comfortable with this newer and older version of yourself. A self-love activity you could practice is getting a journal or using the notes app on your phone and writing three things you love about yourself, three things you’re good at, and three things you’re proud of. You could also practice taking care of yourself, whether that is taking a warm bath, applying a face mask, or putting on some cozy pajamas and watching your favourite movie. The Girl Guide: 50 Ways to Learn to Love Your Changing Body by Marawa Ibrahim is a Girl Gang Strong favourite and is a great resource to help guide you on this journey.
Now that you’ve learned everything to expect as a teen girl during puberty, just remember it doesn’t last forever! Eventually, you will stop going through all these unexpected changes and start to become more comfortable with this version of yourself. All these changes you’re going through are just part of the process of transforming you from young caterpillar to that beautiful butterfly.