Puberty - our changing body
Let's start with the obvious: our body.
Everything that lives needs to find a way to reproduce if its species is continue existing after the completion of the parent's life-cycle. In preparation for this biologic task, the human body must mature. This maturation process is called puberty.
Puberty typically begins between the ages of 10 and 14 years old. Girls usually enter into puberty younger than boys, probably because there is more involved in converting a girl's body into a child-bearing woman's body.
Around age 8 or 9 years old, you may notice that your axilla start to smell sweaty, especially after exercising, or at the end of the day. As the bacteria that normally live on the skin grow and thrive in the sweat, an unpleasant smell may result. During this time, it is important to keep your body clean with daily baths or showers. Be sure to pay particular attention to your axilla and your perineal area (vagina and rectal area). The bacteria on the skin grow particularly well in these areas because the sweat is more creamy (due to the apocrine sweat glands that predominate and are turned on at puberty onset).
You may want to start wearing deodorant. Deodorant goes on your skin and helps block any bad odors from developing. Don't confuse deodorant with anti-perspirant.
Antiperspirant is popular, but contains many ingredients that may be toxic. Antiperspirant has chemicals that actually clog-up the sweat glands to stop the sweating altogether. Sometimes, you'll want zero sweat and may be willing to use the chemicals to completely stuff ammonium (or whatever) into your glands to achieve this goal. But for everyday use, it's better to simply bathe and use deodorant. Deodorant allows you to still sweat, and sweating is an important way to eliminate toxins from your body.
Hormones are responsible for this entire puberty experience. Hormones are strong chemicals made in glands secreted into our blood, which cause changes to occur in our bodies. In addition to causing puberty in our body, they affect our brains. So it is common to have times where you feel happy, and other times where you feel frustrated on the inside - sometimes for no real reason. You may cry, have headaches, feel exhausted, be anxious, or angry at friends or family and you won't know why. But if you keep in mind that hormones affect us, and our brain, you will be able to recognize that maybe, just maybe, there's no reason to feel the way you feel...and give yourself (and those around you) a break and not take yourself so seriously.
As puberty progresses, the next thing you'll notice is the hair under your arms and in your vaginal area starts growing in thicker, and darker. At first it's just a strand or two. Then a cluster of strands. Gradually, more and more noticeable hair will appear in these two areas. It is this time where you may decide to remove the hair, particularly from your armpits.
Some people think that once you start shaving (or removing the hair, which we will talk about later) it'll grow back thicker. The only reason this is true is because it was *already* growing in thicker (even if you didn't shave, it was going to just get thicker). It won't get thicker faster as the act of shaving will have no effect on how quickly hair is pushed out from under the skin surface.
Also during this time, you may notice that the hair on your arms and legs may thicken up a bit as well.
It is common for your skin to get oily, and small pimples to pop up on your nose and forehead. It is at this time it becomes important to make sure your hygiene routine is adequate or you will smell bad, hair will sprout in all the 'wrong' places unchecked, your now permanent teeth that have to last a life-time will become yellow, damaged, and diseased. If you don't wash your face, you'll get more pimples. If you don't put on lotion, your skin will be rough. And as your interests change and you become more interested in boys (and looking cute), you'll be disappointed because it's not possible to be physically beautiful if you do not take care of your body. And a mature body requires more time, care, and grooming than a child's body.
Next, you'll notice your breast nipples begin feeling tender. When you touch them, you may start to feel lumps under the surface. These lumps grow gradually, and as they grow, they are tender. Your nipples will get darker, and stretch out. It will seem like everyone can see your nipple-buds under your T-shirt. This is when wearing a 'training bra' might come in handy. A training bra helps make the breast-buds look more 'normal' and smooth, and less like...marbles sitting on your chest.
Your breasts will continue growing, first the buds, then the skin *around* the buds will start to get full. The stages of breast development our demonstrated in the Tanner Stages Chart to the right.
Around this time you may start your menstrual cycle (get your period). Your first period is called menarche, and typically happens about age 11 or 12 years old - so about 2 years after the onset of puberty.
How does it feel to get your period?
For some girls/women it doesn't feel like anything. Occasionally they may feel moist, or dripping, from their vagina. Other girls/women have some lower abdominal/pelvic cramping and bloating which can feel like gas, muscle cramps, or outright pain. Your uterus is squeezing out the blood, so for some women, that's exactly what it feels like.
Your period will probably last 3-5 days. It will probably come once every 28-36 days. For the first few months it may be irregular and unpredictable. It may last longer, or may only be slight spotting (just a small amount of bleeding) at first. But a pattern should develop after a short time.
We will talk more about the menstrual cycle later, but realize that menarche is the beginning of your reproductive years. This means that, now that your ovaries are producing the hormones that causes the eggs to mature and migrate to the uterus - if there are sperm around, you can become pregnant. Also keep in mind that, even before your first period, that ovulation takes place (meaning an egg has matured and is migrating to the uterus). So it is possible to get pregnant, even before your first period!
Your body will continue to mature. A 12 year-old girl's body is much different from a 22 year old woman's body. Your breast will continue to grow. Body hair will continue to thicken and darken. Your voice may change/mature. Your hormones will continue influencing your thoughts and emotions. This may cause you to begin liking boys more, and your interests may change. You skin changes. And the way people in the world view you, will change.
As your body matures men will begin seeing you as sexual beings. People will expect you to carry yourself with maturity. When they look at you, they won't see a 7 year old child anymore...they'll start seeing a young woman! Even if you're only 12 years-old, you may appear to be much older 17, or ever 20 year old, to some people. And they may approach you, and treat you like you're 20.
What this means is, you must be aware. It means if you don't want men looking at you like a sexual object, be sure to cover yourself well. It means that if you like the male attention, be aware that these men may not realize you're so young, and they may expect grown-up attention (sex, money, dates, clubs) that you are not able (or unwilling) to give. Realize that as you enter into the realm of adulthood you lose the protections of looking (and being treated) as a child. And this could mean great danger to you - being that you are, in fact not an adult yet!
So take it slow. Learn the lesson of adolescence during adolescence, so when you become a bona-fide adult, you'll be ready to conquer the world!