Puberty: an important part of life. Everybody goes through it, and though it’s totally normal, nobody talks about how freaky it can be at the time. Especially how daunting it can be as a young girl. Hair growing in weird places? More sweating? Periods?! It can make you want to hide in your room and not come out until it’s over, but trust us, it’s nothing to worry about. So let’s shatter the stigma and talk puberty!
When does it start?
There’s no handy calendar to help you figure out when puberty will begin for you. As a rough estimate though, the average age for girls to hit puberty is 11, but it can start at any time between ages 8 and 13. Hormones in the body signal puberty to start, which shows itself in a number of ways, so while your best friend may start to look taller or get her period, this doesn’t mean you are developing any slower than she is. It’s all natural!
How is puberty different for boys and girls?
You’ll likely notice the boys around you start to change too. For boys, hormones tell the body it’s time to start producing testosterone and sperm, which happens in the testicles. Once this happens, boys experience bodily changes just like girls do, except they get excess hair on their face (beards) and usually start to grow a little taller.
For girls, hormones tell the ovaries that it’s time to start making another hormone called estrogen. This tells the body, put simply, that it can now become pregnant with a baby, which is when the period starts. Remember, just because your body seems like it’s ready to have a baby, this does not mean you are emotionally ready, so don’t feel pressured into thinking that once you have started puberty it means you should be having sex. You can make that choice whenever you feel most comfortable.
Why am I getting taller?
Puberty often starts a ‘growth spurt’, and most girls experience this at a younger age than boys do. Girls usually grow most between the time breast buds start to develop, and about 6 months before they get their first period. You can usually expect to grow a further 1-2 inches after getting your period. Again, don’t worry if your friends are shorter or taller than you, as this could still change in adulthood.
When will I get boobs?
One of the first bodily changes to happen for girls during puberty is breasts start to develop. They start as ‘breast buds’, which are small hard lumps under the nipple. These can be very tender to begin with, but don’t worry, they won’t always be sore!
Sometimes one breast will develop before the other, but this usually evens out over time. If it doesn’t, don’t worry. Most women have a slight difference in the size of each breast, and it’s totally normal.
Why am I so hairy?!
With puberty comes hair growth, which is nothing to freak out about. At some point pubic hair starts to grow around the genitals, and some girls notice more hair on their legs and arms around this time too. Your pubic hair tends to become more coarse and curly over time.
You may also start to grow hair under your arms, and in less common places like your upper lip. While your first reaction might be to get rid of it, just know that it’s all very normal, and everybody is going through something similar. Embrace the hair and don't feel pressured to make any rushed decisions with the razor!
When will I get my period?
All the hormones flying around in your body means you may start to experience some clear or white vaginal discharge, which often begins 6-12 months before your first period. Periods start at different times for everyone, but typically the first period arrives around 2 years after you begin to develop breasts.
Your period (or menstrual cycle) is when blood comes out of the vagina, which sounds a little gross and scary, but it’s really not at all. All that’s happening is your ovaries are releasing an egg down the fallopian tube to the uterus. Before the egg exits the ovary, your hormones tell the uterus it’s time to build up its inner lining with extra blood and tissue, in case the incoming egg is fertilised by a sperm cell and needs something to hang on to, to grow a baby. With no sperm, the egg will simply pass through unfertilised, so the uterus no longer needs the extra blood and tissue, and breaks it down to leave the body through the vagina… voila! A beautiful period!
This lasts anywhere from 2 to 7 days, but in the beginning you might experience light, short periods. It’s usually pain-free in the early years, but your period can become slightly more uncomfortable over time, due to cramping and PMS related symptoms. This is generally normal, but if it becomes particularly painful, speak to your doctor about what you can do to minimise this. Remember, there’s no such thing as a silly question or query when it comes to your period and menstrual health.
What else changes during puberty?
Puberty brings on a lot of bodily changes, and as well as those mentioned above, you may also experience an increase in sweating, acne on the face and body, weight gain, and hip widening. It’s normal to want to fight these things and seek clearer skin and a slimmer body, but remember that these are unrealistic societal standards that women do not need to live up to. Everything you’re experiencing is totally normal, and if you talk to your friends about it, you will likely find they are going through the same changes you are. Try to view them as a sign of you growing into a woman, rather than something negative happening to you as a girl.
What about mood changes?
With so much change, and so many hormones whizzing around the body on a daily basis, some girls (and boys) feel uncomfortable with their changing bodies, and their mood becomes sad, anxious and even depressed. You might feel self-conscious, overly tired, easily irritated or inexplicably sad, but this emotional rollercoaster is actually pretty normal. Understanding mood swings before you experience puberty is important, so you can be prepared and keep things in perspective; this feeling won’t last forever.
That said, you shouldn’t have to feel depressed, so if you feel overly sad for a long time it’s important to chat to your doctor, a health professional or your family about how you feel, and how they may be able to help.
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