Puberty was a blur. I remember my behavior being a tad more erratic than usual. I had big pimples on my forehead that I drenched in OXY Pads and slathered with Clinique concealer. Ordinary interpersonal drama stopped the world on its axis. The anticipation to finally get my period after all my friends were already toting Tampax Pearls was building up. This pent-up expectation was met by just two tiny drops of blood and one large sense of shame when telling my mom. Shaving my pubes was a pointless endeavor, but nevertheless, a nightmarish responsibility I placed upon myself. Music was the only cure, and song lyrics felt like they were written personally for me and all my self-made discontent. In my room I had a John Lennon poster, a massive Great Wave poster over my bed and a rotating snakes optical illusion poster. At one point I had this huge psychedelic Grateful Dead poster without knowing who the Grateful Dead were (this one).
Looking back, most of those difficulties were completely blown out of proportion, but the biggest problem I faced during puberty was the physical growth. I was consumed by the increasing number on the scale. And when my weight passed into the triple digits for the first time: 100 lbs (roughly 45 kgs), something went off in my brain. It was a reaction, and it wasn’t a good one. What should have been a welcoming of growth, I rejected. I didn’t want to change shape. I didn’t want hips. And no matter how much my mom influenced me to value my mind over my appearance, my surroundings had a greater effect on me.
When puberty hit, so did the insecurity and body dysmorphia that I’m just now (13 years later) sussing out with a more solid understanding. Now I can look back and laugh at all the unnecessary stress and tension. But if I could go back, here’s some advice I’d give to my 13-year-old self to better navigate puberty:
1. Welcome the changes in your body.
The changes occurring in your body are healthy, so don’t fight them. Many Western societies tend to shame any form of weight gain and forget to celebrate the natural coming of age. Try to notice these changes with an appreciative awareness rather than a frantic urge to control them. Feeling connected to your body will ease a lot of mental stress in your mind and give you freedom to focus on more important things.
2. Know that things pass.
Rising hormones do a number on your brain and make it much easier to dwell on minute issues. Remember: things will pass. If you ever feel overwhelmed at school, home or among friends, head outside for a walk and take some deep breaths. Everything will be okay.
3. Stop fixating on dudes.
Okay, this is also advice to my now-self. It’s all right to be fascinated by the opposite sex (or same sex or no sex or whatever sex), but don’t waste too much time wallowing over shoulda coulda woulda scenarios when there’s a whole world outside to explore. Don’t confuse love with mental loops and patterns that keep you coming back for more (thank you, dopamine and oxytocin). And if you do lose what feels like real deal can’t-eat, can’t-sleep, over-the-fence kind of love and your heart breaks, know that you’ll experience it again.
4. Don’t pick at yourself. (Physically and mentally!)
Be gentle with yourself and your emotions. Stop focusing on the things you don’t love and start focusing on everything you appreciate about yourself and simply being here. Also! Stop picking at your skin and pimples. That only makes the situation worse, and can lead to increased inflammation, infection and scarring.
5. Keep a journal.
It’s time to kill the diary stigma. bell hooks once said that “no woman has ever written enough.” And it’s true. Write down your thoughts, feelings and even mundane facts about your day. Don’t rip out and crumble up the pages. Save them — you’ll appreciate it so much later and it will give you so much joy to witness your own personal growth within the pages of your journals. You’ll have many opinions in your life and many of them will change with time. But don’t feel compelled to be silent or keep them inside because of your gender or outside pressures or fear. Don’t be afraid to express your passions and say what’s on your mind, whether it’s in a notebook or out loud.
Embrace your personal growth. Life is full of transitions. At 26, I feel like I’m going through a “second puberty” from young woman to woman, a very different phase from girl to young woman. This time around, I’m aware of the change and watching it unfold without trying to control it. And I celebrate it everyday within myself — by connecting with my body and my mind.