Girl to Girl: Honest Talk About Growing Up and Your Changing Body

Body Basics
Growth Spurts, Body Odor, Sprouting Hair, and Other Changes Happening on the Outside

Remember those hormones we talked about at the beginning of the book—the chemicals that start all the changes that come with puberty? Well, even as those hormones are working on the inside, they are changing things on the outside. During puberty, you’ll notice a lot of differences in your body and how you look. You’ll even smell different!

As you get older, you’ll need to learn new ways to keep clean and smell good so you feel your best. You’ll also need to be patient. I know a lot of girls who want to be taller or shorter, or have bigger feet (so they can wear their older sister’s shoes!) or longer fingers (so they can reach more keys on the piano!). Taking care of your body is also about loving your body. It’s important to be nice to yourself as you grow up and not to decide that one height or size is the “right” one. You are meant to be just the way you are.

What Is a Growth Spurt?

A growth spurt is when your body grows anywhere from a couple of inches to a foot (or about 5 to 30 centimeters)—or even more!—in a short period of time. That’s why it’s called a spurt—the growth is fast, and someone who doesn’t see you every day might even say that you “grew overnight!”

I didn’t realize I was going through a growth spurt until suddenly my shorts were all too short and I was assigned to stand in the back row of my class picture because I was taller than almost everyone—even the boys! For the next few years, I was one of the tallest in my class. But by the time I started middle school, everyone had seemed to catch up with me.

Not all girls get tall early; some may grow just an inch or two (or several centimeters). Your parents’ height will give you a general idea of how tall you might be, but your combination of genes is different from everyone else’s—even your parents’—and that means there’s no way to predict exactly how tall you’ll get. It’s up to your body to get you there.

Growth spurts aren’t just about getting taller, either. During puberty, you start developing a more womanly body—your hips will get a little wider, and your butt and thighs might get rounder. Your breasts will also get bigger (and we’ll talk more about that in chapter three). You will gain some weight in your entire body as you fill out. Some girls get tall and then round out, while others round out first and then get a little taller. Your body will grow in the order that’s best for you.

A Girl Who’s Been There:

Going Through Growing

“When I was in seventh grade, all of my friends were taller than me. I kept waiting to hit my growth spurt, and my mom tried to make me feel better by telling me that she was a late bloomer, but when I didn’t get much taller after a few years, I realized I was never going to be tall. At first, I was disappointed, mostly because I wanted to be the same height as everyone else. But I got over it. Why should I want to be like everyone else? I’m happy being short now.” —Jenna


Squeaky Clean

When you were younger, your parents probably used to give you a bath a few times a week. You probably didn’t need one every day (unless you got really dirty!), because your body doesn’t sweat as much when you are a kid.

But during puberty, your sweat glands swell and grow (here we go with the growing again!), which causes you to start perspiring or sweating. Sweat, when it mingles with normal bacteria on your skin, starts to smell. And, boy, does it smell! When you get really sweaty and don’t clean off, you’ll notice that your body starts to have a “ripe” or pungent smell. That’s body odor (or BO for short). BO isn’t bad—we all smell when we sweat a lot—but now that you are sweating and have body odor, you will need to take a bath or shower more often.

How often you need to bathe depends on how much you sweat, but it’s a good rule of thumb to plan a bath or shower every day or, at the very least, every other day. If you play softball or take dance or do anything else that’s really active, you might need to shower more frequently.

Wearing Deodorant

Another good habit that will keep you smelling fresh is wearing deodorant. You can buy it as a gel, liquid roll-on, or solid. The gel and liquid varieties take a little longer to feel dry under your arms and are usually clear. The solid kind usually looks slightly white or powdery once it’s on your skin. There are some great natural and organic brands of deodorant that are good for sensitive skin—and for the planet! Different girls like different kinds, so try them out to see which one feels the best for you.

Sarah’s Tip: Do Away with Deodorant Streaks

I always smear deodorant on my shirts when I am getting dressed. Even when I am super careful, it still happens. I can’t help it!

If you get deodorant on your clothes, like me, just get a soft, dry washcloth and rub it gently on the white spot. The fabric of the washcloth will pick up the particles of deodorant off your clothes, magically erasing them!


Deodorant goes only under your arms, in your armpits. One girl I know thought it was supposed to go everywhere (it does smell nice, after all!), and she was rubbing it up and down her legs when her mom walked into the bathroom and told her it was only for your armpits. She was embarrassed—but, after all, if no one shows you where something is supposed to go, how would you know?

Most people put on deodorant after they get out of the shower (you can reapply after gym class or playing sports, if you want), and one to three swipes under your arms should last the whole day. There’s no need to load it on. Remember, sweating isn’t bad—it’s the way your body cools itself off, like its own air-conditioning system.


Deodorant and antiperspirant are both designed to keep you from smelling bad, but they are slightly different. Antiperspirant prevents your pores from sweating or perspiring in the first place, so you don’t start to smell. That’s why it’s called ANTI perspirant. Deodorant, on the other hand, doesn’t stop you from sweating; it just tries to eliminate the sweaty smell. Many doctors think that deodorant is healthier than antiperspirant. Sweating is a natural way for your body to cool off and release toxins, so you don’t want to block sweat. If you can choose between the two, go for the deodorant.

Girl Talk: How to Handle Sweat Stains

Dear Sarah,

My armpits are really sweaty, and sometimes you can see wetness through my shirt. It’s so embarrassing, and I don’t want to lift my arms up. What can I do?


Dear Madison,

Don’t worry! People probably aren’t noticing your sweat like you are. After all, you can feel it, so you are much more aware of it. If you are still worried, try to wear looser shirts made of natural fabrics like cotton, which help your armpits “breathe” more easily. Tighter clothes can trap in sweat and can make your armpits feel sticky. Check the tag or label on your clothing to see if it’s 100 percent cotton. Try to steer clear of spandex and polyester blends, especially when it’s hot.

You can also keep a small, travel-size antiperspirant in your bag for really hot and humid days. Most important, remember that you are thinking about your sweat more than anyone else is. Try not to focus on it. Sweating shouldn’t ruin your day!


Body Hair

Getting older means getting hairier. During puberty, you will grow hair in your armpits, on your legs, and even in your pubic or crotch area. (We’ll talk more about pubic hair in chapter four.)

In many cultures, women shave their underarms and legs, but it’s not something that you have to do. First, talk to your parents about your family traditions to figure out what’s best for you.

A Girl Who’s Been There:

You Don’t Have to Shave

“I don’t like shaving. I started when I was a preteen and then, as a teenager, decided I didn’t want to do it anymore. Now I just let my hair grow naturally. Women shouldn’t have to shave if they don’t want to. It’s a personal choice.”


Girl Talk: Why Won’t My Mom
Let Me Shave?

Dear Sarah,

I really want to shave my legs because they are so hairy and the hair is so dark, but my mom won’t let me. All of my friends shave, and I feel like such an outcast. I know I shouldn’t want to shave just because everyone else is, but I want to anyway. My sister shaves, and she’s only a year older than me. How can I convince my mom to let me shave?


Dear Isabel,

The first thing you need to do is figure out why your mom doesn’t want you to shave. Since shaving is an ongoing process, once you start, you’ll probably be shaving regularly. Maybe your mom doesn’t think you’re ready to handle it yet. Or maybe she has another reason. You need to talk to her to figure out where she’s coming from. Listen to her reasons and share how you’re feeling.

Once you’ve both heard each other out, you can work together to decide on a shaving time line that will work for you and your mom. Remember, your mom loves you, and together, the two of you can work through anything!


The Three Shaving Essentials

Keep these in the bathroom for every time you shave.


1) A Razor: A lot of razors are decked out with bells and whistles, like pivoting heads (the head is the part with the actual razor blades), padded handles, and “lubricating” strips. There are also razors that boast three or four or five blades. These special features aren’t bad, but they aren’t necessary either.

A disposable razor is meant to be thrown away after the blade gets dull. With a refillable razor, you just throw away the head and replace it with a new blade cartridge. Most refillable razors come with a few cartridges to get you started, and you can buy new ones as you need them.

2) Shaving Cream, Gel, or Soap: You definitely want to have foamy lather on your legs before you shave. Shaving cream or gel is nice to use, but it’s not essential—lathered soap will get the job done, too. And don’t think you have to get the shaving cream that says it’s for women.The men’s shaving cream is exactly the same stuff!

3) Lotion or Moisturizer: Freshly shaved legs might feel dry and itchy. Rubbing some lotion on them after your shower or bath can help stop that feeling. It’s like giving your skin a drink of water.


RAZOR SAFETY: Always handle your razor with care! Only grip the handle and keep your hand steady so you don’t drop it. If you need to change the blades on your refillable razor, do it before you get in the shower, since they can be slippery when wet. You know how you are careful when you work with scissors? Razors are just as sharp, if not sharper, so you want to be alert when you are dealing with one.

When it comes to shaving, you just need to make sure that the blades on your razor are clean and sharp. Dull blades can lead to cuts, and dirty blades can lead to infections. You should also be sure your razor doesn’t have any nicks or dents—these will catch against your skin as you shave and can cut and chafe you. A smooth razor is much safer and easier on your skin.

Sarah’s Tip: Sit Down for Your First Shave

If you are shaving for the first time, it’s a good idea to try it sitting down, either inside the bathtub or on the edge. Sitting down will help you keep your balance and focus. As you get more practice, you can begin to shave standing up in the shower.

If you’re nervous about shaving alone the first time, ask your mom, your older sister, or a friend who knows how to shave already to help you out. You don’t have to invite them into the bathroom while you shower—just sit on the edge of the bathtub with your pant legs rolled up over your knee. This way, you can have some company while you get the hang of shaving.


Shaving 101: Legs

Now that you’ve got the equipment you need, you’re ready to start! While you shave, do not push down on the razor; just let it glide over your skin. And don’t shave an area more than once, which can irritate and nick the skin. Remember, take your time—there’s no rush.

If you nick or cut yourself, which happens a lot when you are just starting to shave, wash the cut with soap and cold water, then dry it off and put an adhesive bandage on it when you get out of the tub. If the cut is bleeding a lot, show an adult immediately.

1) Soften Up and Lather Up: Let your skin and leg hair get wet with warm water for a minute or so. Moist skin is softer and will keep the nicks and cuts to a minimum. Next, apply shaving cream, gel, or soap all over the part you’re going to shave. Never rub a razor on dry or bare skin.

2) Calves and Thighs: These are easiest, so shave them first! Once you’re lathered up, start with the razor above your ankle bones. Slowly pull it up along the skin to just below your knee in one long, smooth stroke. After a few strokes, rinse off your razor blade in the tub or run it under the faucet.

Many girls don’t shave their thighs because they are often covered by clothing, and the hair is usually finer. If you do shave your thighs, start at the point above your knee and slowly move the razor in straight lines from the top of your knee to the top of your leg.


3) Ankles: Maneuver carefully around your ankles, since they are bonier and have more “edges.” If you are standing in the shower, bend over at the waist or place your foot on a ledge (be careful, as showers can get slippery!), so you can get closer to your ankle and see what’s going on. Move the razor in short, precise strokes around the ankle bones and NEVER drag the blade over any bones. That will definitely end with some cuts.


4) Knees: Your knees are knobby just like your ankles, so they require a little extra care, too. When you shave the front of your knee, bend your leg so it forms the shape of a mountain with the knee as the peak. Pull the razor in short movements to the near top of the peak and do the same on the other side. To shave the backs of your knees, straighten your leg so the skin is taut—you don’t want folds of skin to get caught in the razor.

When you are done shaving, give your legs a rinse with cool water. Then pat them dry with a towel. If they feel sensitive, apply a thin layer of lotion to keep the skin moisturized. And voilà! You have shaved your legs!

Sarah’s Tip: Don’t Be a Slave to Shaving!

If you decide to shave (and not everyone does), remember that you don’t need to do it every day. Your skin will get dry and irritated if you shave too often. How often you need to shave and how often you need to change your razor will depend on your body, since everyone’s hair grows at different rates, but as a general rule, shaving every few days or even once a week should be plenty. You’ll be able to feel when you get prickly, and that will be a sign that it’s time for another shave.


Hair Removal Creams: An alternative to shaving is using a hair removal, or depilatory, cream, which dissolves hair so that it can be rinsed or wiped off. You may have seen these creams at the drugstore near the shaving section. The thing is, depilatories are made with harsh chemicals, and they can irritate sensitive skin. They usually smell really strong, too. Girls with allergies should definitely stay away from them. Be sure you talk to a parent or doctor before you try one, or consider just sticking with shaving, which is what I do. Why rub chemicals on your skin if you don’t need to?

Shaving 101: Armpits


Start with the razor at the top of your armpit. Pull it downward in soft, straight strokes. Since armpit hair tends to grow in many different directions, you can also start at the bottom of your armpit and pull the razor up. Use a few different strokes to get all the hair, and rinse the razor blade between armpits to remove any trapped hairs.

A Girl Who’s Been There:

Armpit Hair Angst!

“Armpit hair. Argh! One day, I was doing my hair in the bathroom, wearing a tank top, and my mom walked in and saw my underarms and said, ‘Honey! You have grown some armpit hair.’ My dad teased me about it, and it was so horrifying that it’s still seared into my memory. Now, I know he wasn’t trying to be mean, he was just joking with me, but it was a big deal to me at the time! I should’ve teased him right back. His armpits are way hairier than mine were!”

Razor Burn Rash

If you shave too harshly, use a dull razor, or shave an area that’s very sensitive, you can get razor burn—a rash of tiny red bumps on your skin. It can be itchy and irritating, but it won’t last forever. Here’s how to help it heal:

Image Take a break and wait for the rash to go away before you shave again. Remember, your skin is alive, and even though it seems tough, it’s actually pretty delicate.

Image Keep the area clean and don’t scratch the rash.

Image Apply unscented lotion or Vaseline in a thin coat over the irritated skin to keep it moisturized and to help it heal.

Image When you start shaving again, soften the skin with water and use shaving cream, shaving gel, or soap to lubricate the area. You also want to use a new, clean razor and be very gentle.

MYTH BUSTER: Shaving Won’t Make Your Hair Grow Back Darker or Thicker

It’s a common myth that shaving will make hair on your legs or underarms grow back darker or thicker. Shaving doesn’t change your hair at all. Each piece of hair grows out of a follicle that is underneath your skin. When you shave, you are just cutting off the hair. The hair follicle, where the hair grows, stays exactly the same, which means the amount of hair you grow after you shave is exactly the same as before.

If your hair feels thicker after you shave, it’s just because the end of the hair is blunt from being shaved. New hair can also look darker since it’s fresh and seen against your bare skin, but the color won’t change from shaving.

Ingrown Hairs

Using a dull razor can lead to ingrown hairs, which is when the hair gets stuck beneath the surface of the skin and grows back in on itself, causing an infection or bump. If you get an ingrown hair, exfoliate or scrub the area lightly to help remove dead skin cells and bacteria that could be blocking the pore. Regular sugar is a natural exfoliant! Sprinkle a teaspoon of it on the affected area, rinse with soap and water, and dab a zit cream on the spot to help it heal.


Nail Care 101

Since you often shake hands when you meet someone for the first time, it’s nice to have clean, well-maintained fingernails. Here are three easy steps to keeping your fingernails tidy:

1) Scrub Them Down: Clean dirt out from under the nails with a small scrub brush (they make them just for nails!), soap, and water.

2) Keep Them Trimmed: Your nails grow slowly, but you’ll still need to cut them about every other week. Position the clippers close to the skin—don’t catch any skin between the blades, though. The best way to shape your nails is to cut them straight across. Then smooth and slightly round the edges with a nail file or emery board. Sawing the file back and forth can weaken your nails, so just rub it in one direction. Don’t cut or file the edges down below where the skin and cuticle grow; that will give you ingrown nails. And always keep your clippers clean!

3) Don’t Cut the Cuticles! The cuticle is the strip of skin at the base of your nail. It’s an important barrier that protects your nails from germs and infection. If your cuticles start looking scraggly, soak your hands in warm water and then use an orange stick (a long wooden stick with flat ends) to gently push the cuticle down toward the knuckle on each nail. Or apply some cuticle cream!


At Home Spa: Playing with Polish

Nail polish can be a fun way to express your style. Just make sure your parents say it’s okay to paint your fingernails or toenails. Do the painting in your bathroom, so that if the polish spills, it won’t stain any furniture or the rug. Nail polish is a beast to get out of fabric!



Nail polish—experiment with a fun color!

Rag or towel to put under your hand or foot when you’re polishing

Acetone-free nail polish remover

A few cotton balls or cotton swabs

Get Creative with Your Polish Designs!

Try polka dots in different colors by dotting the tip of the polish brush in a few spots on each nail. You can also do stripes, diamond shapes, or even smiley faces!


Healthy Hands and Feet

Your hands and feet, from your fingers to your toes, need more attention than you might think. Keeping them clean and well-groomed is an important part of caring for your body.

Wash Up!

Think of all the different ways you use your hands and fingers throughout the day, from pulling your hair back in a ponytail to writing the answers to a pop quiz. With all this use, your hands can get dirty and pick up microscopic bacteria, so it’s important to wash them regularly with soap and water to keep germs from spreading from your hands to your mouth, nose, or eyes.

That means you should wash your hands every time you use the bathroom, before you eat, before you cook anything, before you put your contacts in, when you handle garbage (your cat is cute, but that kitty litter is full of germs!), when you use public transportation, after you blow your nose . . . I could go on and on, but you get the idea. You should also be sure to wash your hands a lot when you’re sick or when you’re around someone who’s sick. To really get your hands clean, lather up for about twenty seconds, rinse well, and dry.


Confessions of a Nail Biter

When I was younger, I was a nail biter. I would bite my fingernails down to the skin—it hurt, but I just couldn’t stop! Sometimes, when I was watching a movie or doing homework, I would realize that I had been biting my nails without even thinking about it! My mom tried everything to help me. We painted a horrible tasting polish on my nails (it worked for a while), and I started wearing a ring that I would twist around every time I was tempted to bite. It was a good distraction, and eventually I was able to break the habit. But it took almost a year. I really had to work hard, and if you’re a nail biter, you’ll probably have to work on it, too.

Do You Know . . .

Your Nails Are as Complex as the Rest of You?

Image Your nails don’t grow at the same speed! Your pinkie nail grows slower than the other nails.

Image Your nails are made of a tough protein called keratin.

Image Eating a balanced diet and drinking water will actually help your nails grow stronger and faster.

Image Your nails grow faster in the summer than in any other season.

Biting doesn’t just make your nails look bad, it’s also bad for your health. Your hands carry a lot of germs, so those germs go into your body every time you put your hands in your mouth.

If you are a nail biter or have a habit like sucking your thumb or your fingers, you can stop. It will take time, but with help from your parents and a lot of effort on your part, you’ll be able to break the habit, and it will feel great when you do!

How to Deal with a Hangnail, Callus, or Wart

You’re bound to encounter one of these issues at some point, but happily, none of them is a big problem.

Image Hangnails: A hangnail is when dead skin pulls away from the nail and is left “hanging” there. Never pull or pick at a hangnail, since this can tear the healthy skin and can cause an infection. Instead, soak the finger in warm water to soften the skin. Using clean nail clippers, cut the hangnail off and let the area heal.

Image Calluses: When there is friction against the skin for a long period of time, your body grows extra layers of skin, creating a thick, tough spot—or callus—for protection. Calluses usually look whitish or grayish and can feel dry and scratchy. You usually get them from a repetitive activity, like gripping the handle of a tennis racket or even holding a video game controller. And you probably have them on the bottoms of your feet and on your writing finger, too. Since calluses are your body’s way of protecting itself, don’t worry about getting rid of them, especially if they make it easier to do something you love—like grip the uneven bars for a great gymnastics routine!

Image Warts: Warts are small skin-colored bumps that usually show up on hands and feet. They are caused by a virus and you can get them from accidentally touching someone else’s wart or an object someone with warts has touched. That’s why gyms and locker rooms, where people walk barefoot, are common places to catch warts. You might have heard fairy tales that feature mean witches who had warts on their noses, but in real life, warts aren’t dangerous or scary, and they usually go away on their own. You can treat warts with medicine from the drugstore or see your doctor about having them removed.

Foot Care 101

Trim Those Toenails: Since toenails grow much slower than fingernails, you don’t need to trim them as often. When you do, cut them straight across, just like your fingernails, smoothing down any jagged edges with a file. And remember, keep those feet and toenails clean!

Ingrown Nails: When the edge of your finger or toenail grows into the skin, this causes tenderness and sometimes infection. It’s more common to get ingrown toenails because shoes, especially tight-fitting or pointy-toed styles, can put pressure on the nail. Preventing ingrown nails is one of the main reasons you should trim them straight across—rounding the edges can cause nails to grow into the skin. Lightly ingrown nails should be trimmed closely. Since it’s hard to do this on your own nails and get the right angle with the clippers, you might want someone to help you. An infected ingrown nail should be treated by a doctor.

Shoes That Fit: Growth spurts can affect your feet, too! One girl I know said she grew three shoe sizes in one year! If your shoes are feeling tight or your arches are hurting, you might need to go shopping. You don’t want cramped feet to cramp your style!

Blisters: Have you ever worn shoes that were too small and had a sore red spot on your heel or pinkie toe at the end of the day? These spots are blisters, and they are caused by something rubbing or putting pressure on your skin. Blisters usually heal on their own, so don’t pop them. Just cover the spot with an adhesive bandage until it heals.

Image Fresh and Foot-tastic! Image

Smelly gym shoes? Your feet sweat just like your armpits and when they sweat in your shoes, it can really stink!

Image Keep It Fresh: Be sure you always wear clean socks. Smelly shoes come from bacteria that can’t get out into the air, so wear cotton socks to let your feet breathe. Wearing shoes without socks makes them smell more quickly, since there’s nothing between your feet and the shoes to keep your feet from sweating directly on them.

Image Get Rid of the Smell: Sprinkle a little baby powder inside your shoes to dry things up and make them smell cleaner. Another trick is to put your shoes outside overnight (or for a few days) when it’s really cold. The cold will freeze and kill the bacteria and should take some of the smell away.

Image Athlete’s Foot: If your feet are itchy and irritated, or if the skin is flaking, you might have athlete’s foot—a fungus that grows in damp, moist environments (like shoes and feet!). Most girls get athlete’s foot from walking barefoot in gyms, shower areas, and locker rooms. Wearing flip-flops in public showers can help prevent it, and it can easily be cured with the right medicine from a pharmacist or doctor.