“No, I don’t want it there,” I wailed, standing up in the bath and looking down at myself. “I want it to go away!”
I was about 12-years-old and my mum and popped into the room while I was having a bath and helpfully pointed out that I had started growing my first few strands of pubic hair. I was absolutely devastated – it looked disgusting and ugly, or so I thought at the time. I was quite happy with things as they were – just some hair on my head, some downy bits on my arms and legs – that would do me fine. Why did I have to get a horribly beardy bit on my privates?
But I was a 12-year-old of the 1980s, had no older sister to look up to or try to imitate and still enjoyed playing with my Barbies. Puberty and sex never entered my mind. My mum never did the ‘talk’ so I was pretty clueless, apart from seeing some couples kissing and rolling around in cheesy American soaps like ‘Dynasty’ and ‘Knots Landing’. I had just assumed this was a different version of cuddling.
The idea of growing boobs was just as alien. I remember my mum getting me some rather odd coffee-coloured training bra before I had anything to really put in it. She insisted this was the right time to start wearing it, despite the thing being very itchy and chafing my armpits. They did grow quite a bit between about 12 and 15, but in the early days, I was just baffled and confused as to why any of these changes were happening to me, when I was pretty happy with my straightforward, uncomplicated girl body.
The story now is a whole new ball game. I have an eight-year-old who is practically on one giant countdown to becoming a teenager. She checks the growth of her chest on a daily basis, despite there being nothing to report. She wears lip gloss whenever she can get away with it, such as when we are in a rush to go out somewhere and I’m too busy to notice. She already has posters of boy bands on her bedroom wall, while I was 13 or 14 before I swapped my pictures of cute kittens and fairies for A-ha and Duran Duran. She even slams her door shut and listens to music when she wants to be alone – something I only started to do in my teenage strops.
So how does a reluctant teenager guide her teenage wannabe through puberty? I don’t want to put her on a downer by warning that it’s not all lipstick, push-up bras and prom dresses. She will have to be prepared for mood swings, spots, emotional roller-coasters, boys being senseless gits and period pains.
The trouble is that her ‘teenage dream’ comes from all the American TV shows she watches, where teens have an endless wardrobe of trendy clothes, perfect white teeth, hang out at milkshake bars and always have witty one-liners. Funnily enough none of them have spots or stomp off to their bedrooms, slam the door and put Slipknot on at full blast. And the boys all look really clean – they probably don’t have bedrooms that smell of sweaty jock straps and stale socks, as I recall my brother did in that era.
Maybe the answer is to find a teenager and get them to explain what it’s like, how it has its ups and downs. The trouble is getting one to willingly articulate that…