As the oldest of four girls, I had plenty of girl talk while I was growing up. I was the first of us to develop, which means my sisters came to me with lots of questions. We talked about everything, from shaving our legs to wearing bras. Since then, I’ve written a few books for girls, and I’ve had the chance to interview thousands of teens. I’ve gotten countless questions—and real-life stories—from girls like you about what it’s like to grow up. So, while you read this book and go through puberty, think of me as a big sister. I’ve been there, and I’m going to share everything I know.
I remember the day in fifth grade when I officially learned about puberty. The boys left the classroom with the gym coach, and the girls stayed with our teacher. She drew the shades and turned on an animated video about our bodies. It was hard not to giggle at the cartoon character on the screen, especially when she clutched her stomach and said, “I have cramps!” All of us were laughing nervously. Sure, it looked funny in the movie, but were cramps really going to be that bad? And what about all the other stuff—like wearing deodorant and actually getting my period?
That night, my mom sat me down and asked if I had any questions. I’d had so many while I was sitting in class, but I was nervous—even with my own mom!—and the entire video was jumbled in my brain. My mom told me I would probably have lots of questions during the next few years. And I did! There’s no way I could’ve figured out the answer to every single thing in that one night. With every change, whether it was shaving my armpits or using tampons, I had new questions. And you will, too.
Whether you’re feeling ready for puberty or a little unsure of what’s happening inside you, this book is here to help you along the way. We’ll talk about all the changes you can expect and how to deal with them. Whether you want to know how to find the right bra size or how to deal with acne, I’ll help you get to the bottom of things, as well as explore common rumors and myths. I also answer questions from real girls that deal with everything from how to handle sweat stains to whether it’s okay to swim when you have your period. Your body is an amazing thing, and understanding how it works will help you be healthy and happy.
I was lucky that my mom was around to answer my questions, and you have people who care about you, too. While you’re reading this book and thinking about all the changes you’re going through, be sure to talk to your parents or another adult you trust. It might feel embarrassing to talk about your body—it’s normal to want to keep some things private—but they’re here to help. Even though it might be hard to imagine, every single woman you know has been through what you are going through, from your female teachers to the latest movie star to your mom or stepmom. And men have to go through puberty as well (though it’s a little different for them), which means you shouldn’t feel embarrassed talking to your dad or stepdad or another trusted adult male. Puberty is part of growing up for everyone.
The most important thing to remember while you’re dealing with all these body changes is how amazing you are. Even though I giggled when I watched that video in my fifth-grade class, I remember thinking how impressive it was that my body would just know, on its own, when it was time to start growing up. Think about it. An airplane can’t fly itself, and even the fastest computer in the world needs someone to turn it on. But your body is able to figure out exactly what to do and when to do it so you develop into a woman. How cool is that?
So over the next few years, remember to be patient with your body—and yourself. Growing up is an adventure, and that means you’ll have some ups and some downs. But I’m here to help you get through it all and have fun in the process. Ready? Let’s get going!
Experts Praise Girl to Girl
“Girl to Girl is an engaging resource for girls going through puberty. Sarah O’Leary Burningham addresses the wide range of emotional and physical changes that girls experience in a way that is comprehensive, fun, and caring.”
—Mark A. Schuster, MD, PhD, William Berenberg Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, Chief of General Pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital, and co-author ofEverything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask)
“Ever wish you had a smart, savvy, cool big sister to give you the inside scoop on your changing body and emotions? Sarah O’Leary Burningham delivers! Practical and confidence-building, she covers everything from taking care of your changing hair and face, to a great how-to for learning to shave your legs. Going through puberty leaves some feeling alone and confused. Girl to Girlleaves girls feeling understood and self-assured.”
—Alan Greene, MD, Pediatrician, father, speaker, and author of Feeding Baby Green and Raising Baby Green
“Girl to Girl is the perfect guide for girls going through the many changes of adolescence! The friendly text, positive attitude, and expert information (from grown-up girls who have ‘been there and done that’ as well as some medical professionals) provide reassuring advice for young women. I highly recommend this book to my patients who are looking for healthy ways to deal with tween and teen hygiene, practical tips for buying bras, and a whole lot more!”
—Jennifer Shu, MD, Pediatrician, mom, speaker, and co-author of Food Fights and Heading Home with Your Newborn, and editor of Baby & Child Health
“Growing up is never easy, but with today’s media pressure on girls to be perfect, it is wonderful to read Girl to Girl, a lovely, engaging book for kids going through the transition into puberty. It’s a great book for girls to share with their mums, as it will open up dialogue easily and make asking and answering those often embarrassing questions a breeze! The friendly, conversational tone and lively pictures will make it fun to explore the exciting changes involved during puberty.”
—Sue Atkins, Parenting coach, speaker, and author of Parenting Made Easy: How to Raise Happy Children
“The illustrations, organization, and tone of voice are all pitch perfect for girls entering puberty. Girls will have fun reading this terrific health and hygiene chapter book by themselves, and following up afterwards with questions for mom. Girl to Girl will help every girl hold up a thoughtful mirror to her concerns about her changing body, and in a way that should minimize obsessions with body image.”
—Joan Jacobs Brumberg, Professor at Cornell University and author of The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls and Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa
“Girl to Girl is a must-read for girls and their parents. Filled with practical, sensible, and informative advice from an array of experts and written in a reassuring big sister tone, it’s sure to be a great conversation starter for parents who want their daughters to be confident in their changing bodies. Sarah O’Leary Burningham has put together an important resource for girls who will find answers to all of their questions about what’s happening with their bodies as they grow up. An added bonus is the wonderful illustrations which help ease discussion about some sensitive topics.”
—Sue Scheff, Founder of Parent’s Universal Resource Experts, Inc. (P.U.R.E.™) and author of Wit’s End: Advice and Resources for Saving Your Out-of-Control Teen
“As adult women, we sometimes forget what it feels like to be a young girl entering puberty in a body image–obsessed culture. Sarah O’Leary Burningham has not forgotten. Girl to Girl will enable girls to navigate the sometimes treacherous passage into womanhood while holding on to a healthy sense of self-esteem. I wish Girl to Girl had been available for me and my daughters.”
—Kate Della-Piana, LCSW, Executive Director, Family Counseling Center
First Things First
Your Body’s Time Is the Right Time
Even though puberty seems like it’s all about physical changes in your body, it actually starts inside your brain. When you reach a certain age—for most girls, between eight and twelve years old—your brain starts sending out hormone signals to your body that it’s time to get ready for puberty. You won’t know that these signals are happening—they’re part of your normal body function, just like breathing.
Using these hormone signals as instructions, your body starts doing its job—growing. I mean really growing. Puberty usually lasts three to four years, and during that time you will become taller and rounder, your breasts will develop, you will start your period, and you will grow pubic hair and hair on the rest of your body. You are a growing machine! It’s a lot of work for your body, so your brain keeps the hormones pumping, which is why you might feel emotional during puberty, too.
It’s important to remember that you’ll start on this puberty journey at the time that’s right for your body. Since every girl has a different body, you can’t expect to start developing at an exact age or in a certain grade, and you probably won’t develop at the same time as your friends or classmates. Some girls start maturing early, while others are “late bloomers.” You might start puberty around the same age your mom did, but there’s no guarantee. When I started my period, I was almost four years younger than my mom was when she got hers, but my sister started at the same age as my mom. Don’t worry if you are at a different stage than your sister or friends. Just like no one else on earth has your same fingerprint, no other girl will have your exact same experience going through puberty. And that’s a good thing. You are 100 percent original!