Dear Harry [Finley, the museum director],
Hi! A while ago I wrote a story about my experience with puberty
and growing up for my zine. I thought about this Web site which has taught
me so much and I thought I would share it with you.
Thanks for all you've done for me, and womyn like myself.
Before I Grew Up
My mom had these peculiar toys in the bathroom. Inside a pink-and-white
wrapper was a plunger, almost like a gun. When you pushed the end of that
plunger, a long cotton cylinder-shaped thing, with a string attached, shot
out. I used to lock the door of the bathroom, drop them in the toilet, watch
them expand, and wondered why my mom could keep such a fun thing from me.
When I first learned about "the weekly curse" I thought how
strange it would be to see blood spurting out of my belly button. Yes, my
belly button. That was the only hole I knew of "down there."
Eventually my friend Laura told me where my period really came from.
She talked me into trading one of my mom's tampons for one of her mom's
pads. I didn't know why I had it and convinced myself I would get in trouble
for even possessing such an item. The pink, plastic-wrapped package was
secretly stowed in the back of my underwear drawer where I prayed it would
never be seen.
Around that same time I started growing two odd-shaped, fatty lumps
on my chest. I was one of the only girls in the fourth grade who had breasts.
Excited at the fact I was becoming a womyn, I shyly asked my mom to
take me shopping for a bra. A couple of weeks later the two of us went to
Marshal Fields department store. I was so embarrassed to be in the underwear
section. Old ladies looked at panties while the sales lady measured me,
and my cheeks grew hotter. I hated being there and I had no idea what had
possessed me to desire a brassiere.
When we finally arrived home I stowed my package of two white cotton
bras in my underwear drawer. They rested next to the single pad that gained
lint and dust from non-use.
My chest kept growing and I didn't understand why it didn't stop. My
breasts were so much larger than the other girls' at school. They bounced
when I walked and my school blouses became harder to button. My mom kept
asking me why I wasn't wearing a bra, and her best friend told me my boobs
would sag to my waist if I didn't.
I pulled one of the cotton training bras out of my drawer and put it
on. I stared at myself in the mirror: it was already too tight. However,
I wore it anyway from fear of another trip to the underwear section.
Eventually I started growing random hairs in a particular part of my
body. I was sure it was a strange disease, and was ashamed. I used some
old tweezers to pull out the hairs and watched them swirl in the water as
I flushed them down the toilet.
One weekend, around the same time, I remember being at my dad's house
and stealing a bottle of his Right Guard deodorant. I stowed it in my pants
until I got to my mom's house. Afraid to use it, I hid it in the Kleenex
box in my bedroom. Sometimes, I'd take it out, look at it, open the cap,
smelling it while I felt it on my fingers.Then, closing it quickly, I'd
stow it back in its hiding spot, wash my hands, hoping my mom wouldn't smell
the lime-ish sent and catch what I was doing.
It was one chaotic event after another, it seemed. I got my period during
the Christmas season at a family party. Too proud to be scared and to scared
to be proud, I stole a pad out of the cabinet of the house we were staying
in. Being 11 years old with blood running out between your legs and a big
bulge of pad stuck to your underwear doesn't sit too well at a family dinner.
It seems that everyone is staring at you, as if they can see through your
pants with smirks on their faces. Which is all thanks to the overactive
After a week of bloody clumps of toilet paper and nightly tears, the
flow finally stopped. I'd never been so embarrassed and mortified about
In seventh grade, at ages 11 and 12, girls were already shaving there
legs. I began to notice the masses of hair on my own legs and felt the need
to shave. One night, I locked myself in the bathroom, razor in hand. I had
never shaven, or even seen any one shave before.
I loaded Gillette cream onto my legs and started gliding the razor across
my skin. As I was finishing my first leg, I cut a large, deep wound into
the area just above my ankle. Who knew I shouldn't press so hard? I still
have a scar. I couldn't bring myself to shave again soon after that night.
In the summer, a few months after the shaving episode, I went to overnight
camp. An older, eighth-grade girl came up to me, questioning if I shaved.
I said yes, because I had in fact shaved my legs once before. That is when
she squatted down, inspected my legs for hair, and said, "Well, it's
been a while."
She took me to the fountain sink in the girls bathroom, where I watched
the girls in my bunk shave earlier. Handing me a razor and cream, she stood
there staring, shaking her head as she watched me shave.
It was degrading and I'll never forget it. I shaved incessantly, everyday,
for months after. I smile, now, at the thought of that as I feel the wind
blow through my leg hair. I have more hair on my legs than on my head.
It's scary to go through all that and have no idea why. If only I knew
all the stuff then that I now know about my body.
© 1998 Michelle Mann. It is
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