Very Public Exposure
Ainsley and I were in the New York Times Magazine on Friday. It was risky and scary, though important, because the topic was early puberty. TGR Body, our craptastic-ingredient-free skincare line (many skincare products are thought to have toxins that interfere with hormones), and The Girl Revolution were both highlighted.
You know I’ve researched the issue and shared the information here, but I’ve not discussed our personal experience. We considered the decision carefully — Ainsley, myself and her dad — and we felt that discussing it in public would be useful for other parents and girls. And it has been. The writer, Elizabeth Weil, has two girls of similar age to Ainsley and vowed to present us in a positive light, unembarassing, not humiliating. I thank her for keeping her word. I’ve received several emails of support, other parents and girls sharing their own experiences; thank you notes for being brave and helping them understand what’s happening with their daughters; making them feel less alone.
We chose not to have Ainsley’s face appear in the photographs because we couldn’t really determine the consequences of that.
Shame & Causes
I also felt that choosing not to talk about it added some sort of shame to early puberty, as if we had done something wrong to, as you hear constantly “allow girls to grow up too fast.” Well, we’re not ashamed and we shouldn’t be. We didn’t do anything to cause it. We didn’t neglect to do anything that caused it. We didn’t do a damn thing to “make our girls grow up too fast.”
It might be the hormones in meat and milk, it might be pesticides, it might be flame retardants, it might be the plastic Playtex insert baby bottles we microwaved when she was a baby, it might be eating more protein than our ancestors, it could be anything. Or it’s possible that it is none of these things.
It might even be evolution in action right before our very eyes. The world is on fast forward with our explosion of technology, maybe evolutionarily there is a very important reason for developing faster as a species that we simply don’t understand yet. Everything is happening faster for them, we expect more of them. Ainsley is already doing math that we weren’t expected to know until the 7th grade. They blog and learn PowerPoint in elementary school. These girls have not become adults and while we may be afraid of the consequences of early puberty, we don’t know the outcome yet. It’s not only happening to girls, it’s happening to boys as well. It’s not happening only in the United States where many of the suspected causes are more prevalent, it’s happening all over the world (Hindustan Times article). It’s at least possible that it is not harmful, but helpful in some way.
Either way, it is what it is, we’re not likely to stop it, at least not before this crop of girls develop into teenagers. The only thing to do is accept it, and dare I say, even embrace it.
Since last year Ainsley has continued to mature. But, it hasn’t been as emotionally or developmentally disastrous as I had feared. In fact, the girls in her class discuss their “stages of development” very openly. They trust The Care and Keeping of You by American Girl as the Bible of Puberty. As it turns out Ainsley is #7 out of 10, not # 1, in getting a bra in her 4th grade class. It was one of the best days of her life. Getting a bra is a badge of honor with the girls debating the best colors to get (tan) and the best places to buy them (Target). Girls appear to be discussing their developmental stages openly with their parents (someone had to buy them a bra). They shave their armpits, and sometimes legs, as a matter of course and are even excited about it.
Juxtapose this to the many stories you hear from women about their first menses: no one told me it was coming and I thought I was dying; I didn’t tell my mom for three days; she saw the laundry and finally explained it to me; it felt shameful to me and no one ever talked about it; my mother called it a curse and told me it would be horrible; etc. You’ve heard the stories and maybe it’s your story. Things feel different now. Parents who went through those experiences and didn’t enjoy them are communicating with their daughters about the experience of development and puberty. Girls, in general, know about and don’t fear their periods or getting breasts. Rather than weird clinical books with bizarre diagrams, they are given fun books like The Care and Keeping of You, replacing Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret (we must, we must, we must increase our bust!).
Sacred & Powerful Gift
If you’ve ever read The Red Tent, (and if you haven’t you should) you know that once upon a time, for thousands of years, a woman’s first menses was a celebratory and sacred, holy, exciting event. Women held rituals to initiate a woman in her various stages of development — from menses to birth to menopause — Girl, Maiden, Mother, Crone. I’d like to see that tradition resurrected. As I mentioned in New York Times Magazine I do intend to throw a party. Even if it’s just a party of her and I — a nice dinner and the Chocolate Cafe and maybe a piece of commemorative jewelry. Or a women’s circle ritual with our girlfriends at my friend Anna’s Women’s Sacred Way studio. I’m all prepared for her first period with a Red Goddess Celebration Box, filled with essential oils, eye pillows, letters from her grandmothers, etc. I have panty liners stashed away, just in case. I’d like to share an experience different from a tampon or douche commercial. I’d love to share an experience of menstruation as a sacred gift able to produce life, a source of power. (For more on the power of our cycles read Red Moon and The Optimized Woman: If You Want to Get Ahead Get a Cycle.) When I go to the bathroom to cry, it will likely be bitter-sweet, a mixture of joy and of saying good-bye to the baby stages of my little girl — knowing that precious, tender time will vanish from our lives forever. I imagine that’s what mothers have done for eons.
Puberty, whenever it comes, is not tragic. It’s a life-giving, sacred and exciting gift. Women have been having periods and growing breasts since the dawn of time, and we’ll keep on doing it until the end of time. We’ve lived, flourished and nurtured ourselves at varying degrees during different phases of history. Now is the time for a rebirth of our own sacred traditions. It’s time to heal the Sacred Feminine.