Be careful what you wish for: A cautionary tale from someone who hit puberty early
Around the age of eight, young girls begin competing to see who gets visited by the puberty fairy first. When I was that age, I thought puberty was this amazing moment when I would no longer be a child and be transformed into a beautiful teenager like all the girls I idolized on TV. They had boobs, long flowy hair, boobs, cute boyfriends, and did I mention boobs?
I could not wait.
So imagine my joy when I grew a foot in half a year and started needing a training bra just shy of my ninth birthday. By the time I was twelve and a half, I was a D cup, and had hips and acne, too. Lots of acne. It turns out that the parts of puberty I was looking forward to (needing a bra) came with things that I hated, too.
And the acne was just one of many things about puberty they don’t show you on all of those Disney Channel sitcoms. Hitting puberty early can really suck. The girls who haven’t started to develop yet feel insecure, so they call you “slut” and “whore,” just to be mean (because even if you’re too young to know the words’ meanings, you know that they are mean, so you say them anyway). The name-calling doesn’t stop there. Other kids will call you every mean thing their mothers told them to never repeat and at first, you laugh it off. But after a while, the words stick with you.
You start to believe them when they say that something is wrong with your body. You find yourself staring in the mirror, pulling at your hips, slouching to make yourself shorter, trying anything you can to flatten your chest. In my case, the breasts I wanted so badly a few years before (and that I was so proud of developing early) became something that ate me inside. Kids can be cruel, but we can be crueler to ourselves than anyone else could ever be.
But children were not the worst part of my early encounters with womanhood. Developing early also means that, to the rest of the world, you look a lot older than you really are. As a result, I had my first experience with harassment early too.
The first time I was creeped on was when I was 12. I was with my mom at the mall and I heard a weird half-whistle, half-guffaw from behind me. I paid no attention until I heard my mom’s voice yelling, “She’s (expletive) 12 years old!” I turned to see a disgusted, balding, middle-aged man hurrying away. It was weird, but I didn’t really understand what happened and thought nothing of it… until a few months later, when I was in line for a water slide and felt hot breath on my neck. “Can I touch them?” A shaky voice asked from behind me. I turned around to see a man in his late teens or early twenties staring at me more intensely than I would have ever even thought possible.
After that, I began to notice it all the time. The “ow ow!”‘s the “come to me, mami” or the men who grabbed their crotches as I walked by. I complained to my best friend and she said it was a compliment. “It means that you’re hot. You’re so lucky; I wish boys would do that to me,” she told me at a sleepover. No. Being harassed is not a compliment. Your childhood ends. You are told that “you’re a woman now” and are expected to act that way. When you try to adjust to these new expectations and end up acting older than you are, even more creepy adults hit on you — but then it becomes your fault because you’re “growing up too fast.”
Even though I thought I wanted it, hitting puberty early turned out to be a curse in a lot of ways. It was something I could not control and something that people decided to punish me for. Hitting puberty early seemed to mean that I was no longer a child. I was now a woman and I could not go back, no matter how badly I wanted to. Our society sexualizes young girls that look like women. People say things like, “Man, I can’t wait until she turns 18.” We blame young girls for being too hot, we call them things like “jailbait.” Childhood is something that you can never get back and we’re robbing these children of it just because their hormones kicked in early. I hope, for the sake of early-developers everywhere that we can learn to just let children be children and stop making people feel guilty for the way their bodies naturally change.