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On Periods, Puberty, and the Problem with Growing Up

On Periods, Puberty, and the Problem with Growing Up

I got my period when I was 11. Like many girls at that age, I was ecstatic to have finally entered “womanhood.” Although I knew this wouldn’t be the most thrilling milestone of my entire life, that moment—crossing the threshold into puberty—had been glamorized by friends, family members and most importantly, society.

Since that climactic moment, my opinion on the matter has shifted drastically. I have had approximately 132 encounters with Mother Nature since I first found crimson red in my underwear lining, and I still dread that time of month. Not only was puberty anything but glamorous, it also didn’t come to an end just because my teenage years had.

At 22 years old, my face is decorated with faint pink scars, blemishes that were nonexistent a year ago. Remnants of pubescent acne are common among adult women, but a sudden onset of pimples in your 20s should not be—at least as far as I’m concerned.

The first breakouts appeared a few days after my partner left. We were in a long-distance relationship and he had spent his entire summer with me. When it was time for him to go back to Europe, small, red bumps appeared all over my face. I assumed the flare-up was just a response to stress at work and the overwhelming sadness of his departure, and was certain that after a few days, they would disappear.  

But they didn’t. In fact they only got worse. 

Everything became unbearable and my self-esteem plummeted. I wasn’t the only person to recognize the overnight change, either. My colleagues began to comment, as well as the members of the gym at which I worked. I started to dread face-to-face interaction. This made my job excruciatingly difficult; eventually, I isolated myself from everyone.

What surprised me most about my adult acne was how horrible people made me feel. The unsolicited advice from strangers, colleagues, and even my family was disparaging and exhausting. As a teenager, no one commented on my skin because pimples were seen as a natural development that accompanied puberty; but as an adult, everyone had something to say. 

The worst part was that I had no control over the comments or the pimples themselves. I changed my diet, drank more water, and worked out more often, but there was no improvement. For months I felt helpless and embarrassed of my face. 

It has been four months since my acne was at its worst and my skin has finally calmed down. I feel much happier and healthier, both mentally and physically, and I have learned I cannot avoid the inevitable changes that come with being a woman. 

Instead of providing a conversation about what to expect during different stages in a woman’s life, society has made it acceptable to belittle these natural bodily changes we’ll eventually experience. The negativity that surrounds acne, weight gain, hair growth, and stretch marks in the years past puberty has turned the female body into something to be ashamed of. Society has also put pressure on girls by failing to address what menstruation and “womanhood” really is.

A girl doesn’t “become” a woman the moment she gets her period; growing up is complex, and so is puberty. Isn’t it time we embrace that?  

By Charlotte MacKay, 22

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