As girls celebrate each passing birthday, there are significant moments that happen. Beginning from the age of 13-years-old, our bodies begin to change – at first subtly and then all at once. In elementary school, educators took the time to teach my fifth grade class about the future of our bodies. On an ordinary day, teachers set aside time to separate the girls from the boys. The girls were led by female teachers into the small library where there was a smart board with diagrams.
To this day, I’m not sure what activity the boys did to pass the time, but we girls sat in a large circle where we learned about puberty. There were pink boxes passed around. It was our starter kit – two pads, two tampons, sanitary wipes and an informative pamphlet. The rest of the time was spent watching teachers pointing at a uterus diagram. They explained what a period was, why it happened, when to expect it and how to manage it.
The following year, I would get my period and I was prepared for it. The informative day at the library was incredibly useful because at home my mother didn’t speak about what was happening to me until I was older. In general, periods are seen negatively. Boys are taught about them and this attributes to the stigma that periods are gross. It’s important to educate boys and men about how the female body works for various reasons.
As for girls, discussing periods is a normal topic of conversation. But a subject that isn’t spoken about more often are stretch marks. It’s a part of puberty that both girls and boys experience. Adults also deal with them throughout their lives. It’s likely that everyone has stretch marks for one reason or another.
Recently, Chrissy Teigen shared a picture through Snapchat of her stretch marks on her inner thighs. Women praised Teigen for doing this because it began a discussion about growing bodies at any age. Twitter user Olive Scott Whilde responded to Teigen’s picture by writing, “thank u so much for this … i grew up hating my body bc of my stretch marks nd had no representation of women w visible stretch marks.”
Many others shared Whilde’s sentiment and for good reason. Women’s bodies are portrayed in a certain light through the entertainment world. Women are expected to have flawless, taut, hairless skin. But this is unrealistic and it’s isn’t only up to Hollywood to change this mindset. It begins with everyday women opening up about their personal experiences with their changing bodies, starting from puberty.
When I was in high school, I sat next to a good friend on the worn, plastic gym bleachers. Although we were both slender, she was the fitter version of myself. It was a warm spring day and it was no surprise that many were wearing shorts, including this particular friend.
As I looked around the gym, my eyes landed on her knees. There were visible light streaks going across her dark skin. After asking her about the white streaks, she said, “These are my stretch marks. I call them my tiger stripes.” From then on, the meaning of stretch marks changed for me.
It would be years later that I’d touch upon this subject again, this time with my youngest sister. Over the past summer, I sat on my bed with my inner thighs exposed. This is an area, like Teigen, where I have my most prominent stretch marks. My youngest sister was surprised to find out I had them because she thought only certain people experienced this. Since childhood, I’ve always been slender thanks to my fast metabolism and unknown genetics. Because of this, she assumed I didn’t have them but I also grew at a quick pace during puberty that made my skin stretch and cause permanent marks on my body.
I’m not ashamed of them or ever try to hide them. That day I spoke to my youngest sister about what stretch marks are, why they happen and how normal it is to have them. I told her to embrace her tiger stripes because it was a part of who she is.
I was glad to have this discussion with her but it was clear it doesn’t happen often for many young girls. As older women, we should take responsibility to teach girls about their bodies as a whole and not just stop at periods.