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KARENS PAGE.

The cover story of a recent issue of Time magazine contained news that many people find shocking-girls as young as 7 are now getting their periods. And breasts. And body hair. While this story was, evidently, a complete revelation to TV and newspaper folks, it certainly wasn't news to us here at Girls' Life. For years, we've been hearing about early puberty from our readers.

I can't tell you how many mailbags we receive, full of letters hastily written on ruled notebook paper. Some girls are confused ("I have brown stuff in my underwear, but I'm only in third grade!"). Some girls are embarrassed ("I have to go into a bathroom stall to change for swim practice because I don't want anyone to see that I have hair down there!"). Almost all say they feel like freaks ("How come this is happening to me and not to any of my friends? Help!").

It's time girls bring the realities of early puberty out of the closet.. .and bathroom stall...and locker room.

I don't think any generation has had a particularly easy time with the "becoming a woman" thing. But, certainly, we're moving in the right direction.

As recently as 20 years ago, girls had the "talk" with their moms (if they were lucky) or got the facts from oh-so-helpful classroom chat sessions. In my case, I heard the happy puberty news from Mrs. Granger, a woman who was our school librarian all the other days of that sixth-grade year. But for 30 minutes on a random Friday, the boys were hustled into the gymnasium (to play dodge ball, I later found out) while Mrs. Granger gathered up the girls to talk us through the "magical change" our bodies would go through. Mrs. Granger made this event sound like it would happen so far into the future that we'd all be driving ourselves to pick up that first box of maxi pads.

Flash forward a couple decades. We've published this magazine for over 7 years now, and I've been really heartened to learn how many girls' moms beat the Mrs. Grangers of the world to the punch in telling their daughters the facts of life. I even hear of divorced dads who happen to have their daughters the day Aunt Flo visits for the first time--and, without red faces or white knuckles, have driven their girls to the nearest drug store to pick up supplies.

But, while I hit puberty at 13 (average back then, just like my GPA), times have changed. Here are the recent stats: One out of every seven Caucasian girls starts to develop breasts and body hair by age 8. For African-American girls, for reasons nobody can yet explain, that ratio is one in every two girls.

This reality worries some parents. They notice breasts on girls barely tall enough to ride Space Mountain and, suddenly, they picture their little darlings as Britney Spears at the MTV Video Music Awards. The wave of media coverage on the topic may not help.

The best possible outcome of all this brouhaha is that adults may get a better handle on how to help girls cope with early puberty. (Although, Time advises moms to have these convos in the minivan so "you won't have to look at each other when it's time to talk about pubic hair." Eesh. But whatever gets ya through it).

The worst-case scenario would be to revert back to that '50s "lock up your daughters" mentality. Unfortunately, I hear all the time from girls whose moms seem to be in denial about their daughters' changing bodies and won't let them get bras. Or dads who think because their 1l-year-olds have their periods and 34Bs that the girls are now going to become sexually active. No, no, no, a million times, NO! For the majority of girls who do have sex before they should, it's not about puberty. It's about low self-esteem.

Yes, getting breasts and body hair while still faithfully tuning in to Powerpuff Girls can be a challenge. But the truth is you are perfectly normal! And don't let anyone make you feel like you aren't. Because the second you start to head down a shame spiral about your changing body, that's when trouble could begin.

Here's a news flash from us: Even if you have your period and a couple of Victoria's Secret specials, you are still a girl! Just be comfortable with your body--no matter what your age, no matter what changes may (or may not) be happening.
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Title Annotation:early puberty affects many American girls
Publication:Girls' Life
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2000
Words:755
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