As a teen girl who went through puberty without a mother, I distinctly remember how little I knew and how poorly prepared I truly was. I started my period at school one day, finding blood on what I had assumed was a routine trip to the bathroom. I, at least, knew enough to know what this was, but I remember shaking at the sight. None of my friends had started their periods yet, and it had never occurred to me I might be so close to starting.
I remember walking into my classroom, still shaking, as I announced to my teacher that I needed to go to the nurse. “Are you okay?” she asked.
“Yeah, um… I think I just started my period,” I replied, far too loudly in a classroom full of tweens.
I was too dazed to stop myself from blurting it out.
The nurse was very kind and got me situated with a pad. And when my dad picked me up that evening, he did his best in taking me to the store to get the supplies I would need. He also got me into a gynecologist fairly quickly—albeit a male doctor I didn’t know and wasn’t exactly comfortable with—to answer any questions I may have had.
He did the very best he could in a situation he wasn’t at all prepared to handle. But ever since my daughter was first placed into my arms, I have been determined to usher her into puberty with more information and support than I had.
My first step, of course, was to stock up on books that could help explain the changes her body would eventually go through to her. When she was young, we relied on “Amazing You” by Gail Saltz. Reading it to her took some getting used to—the description of a stretchy vagina was especially hard for me to get through without laughing (because I apparently still have the maturity of a teenager). But it turned out to be an amazing resource during her early years.
Recently, however, I started to feel like it was time to step up our education. So I went out and bought the one book I’d heard so much about over the years: “The Care and Keeping of You” by Valorie Schaefer.
As with “Amazing You,” I sat down to read this book by myself first before sharing it with my daughter. And I have to admit, I was immediately unsettled by what I saw.
One of the first things that stood out to me was how the book (version number 1, recommended for girls 8 to 10 years old) spoke about crushes on boys as though those crushes are an inevitability.
I was definitely the girl crushing on boys from a young age. But my daughter doesn’t seem to be there yet, and I’m not necessarily comfortable with a book implying she should be.
I’m also not comfortable with a book about pre-teen sexuality assuming all young girls will have crushes on boys, when we know that simply isn’t the case. Some may not develop crushes until much later in life, or ever at all, and plenty will experience same-sex crushes.
“The Care and Keeping of You” doesn’t even pretend to acknowledge those possibilities, though, or the range of sexual attractions that might occur.
I was even more bothered by how the book addressed body issues, though. Much like the topic of crushes, the writer seemed to assume that all girls will go through periods of disliking their bodies and thinking they are overweight.
I don’t know if that’s true or not, but as a young girl who developed a pretty substantial eating disorder in her teen years, I know I have worked my butt off to raise a little girl who is full of body positivity. And maybe that will change in the years to come, but what I know for sure is that right now she has never expressed anything even close to thinking her body isn’t perfect.
I don’t want to hand her a book that tries to convince her hating her body is normal.
In general, the whole book felt outdated, heteronormative, and not at all body positive to me. And when I started looking through the reviews, I realized I wasn’t the only one.
I know this was the puberty book of our generation, but haven’t we come further than this since most of us were kids? I had to believe there was something better out there.
And you know what? There was. After consulting with sex educators (particularly those with a body-positive focus), I discovered “Celebrate Your Body” by Sonya Renee Taylor.
This book (now a #1 best seller) provided all the information I had purchased “The Care and Keeping of You” for, without the heteronormativity and body shaming.
Its focus on self-care was about being healthy, not losing (or maintaining) weight.
It had sections on social media and choosing friends who treat you well.
And it addressed romantic feelings in a way that didn’t feel forced or assume that everyone would have those feelings by a certain age.
“The Care and Keeping of You” is basically the same exact book most of us grew up with, and that’s exactly the problem—it hasn’t changed at all, even as our understanding of the pre-teen and teen experience has.
Parents just keep buying it for their daughters because it’s the only resource they know. But now you know better—and you can do better for your daughters by buying them a resource that won’t put them into a box.
Just don’t forget to be there to read it with them, and answer any questions they may have, while you’re at it.