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Puberty and Girls

By Edited Nov 11, 2015 1 3

Going through puberty is often like walking through a mine field.  Many unfamiliar emotions are kicked up and the body changes can exacerbate even the most benign of emotions.  Often, a girl does not understand the changes she is going through and at times is too embarrassed to ask a parent questions about something she feels is so private. Many girls turn to friends for answers, but what about those girls who have few or no close friends to share their deepest secrets?  This article will give some insight to those troubling questions that arise during puberty in girls.

Body Changes During Puberty

What is puberty?  Puberty is the time when a child’s body changes into an adult body.  In a girl

Body Development; Source: Microsoft Office
this can happen anytime during the ages of about eight to sixteen.[1]  When puberty starts, the body goes through growth spurts.  Jeans become tighter; shoes start to pinch the toes.  Growth spurts happen at different ages and is more noticeable in some girls.   A growth spurt usually lasts less than a year and then starts slowing down again.  During the spurt, growth increases about four inches per year as opposed to two inches when a girl is younger.[1]  The growth spurt usually happens before a girl develops in the breast area and before hair starts to grow under the arms and in the pubic area.

Once a girl has experienced her first period, the growth rate slows down and she will reach her adult height within one to three years later.[1]  While the increased height means bones are growing; the different bones in the body grow at different rates.  The foot bones grow faster than the other bones in the body, so it is not unusual for the shoe size of a young girl to be larger than expected by

Young Girls; Source: Microsoft Office
her height.[1]   The feet will reach adult size long before adult height.

The body contours start to take more shape.  The lower portion of the face lengthens as the face becomes fuller.  The hips grow wider as fat tissue increases around the hips, thighs, buttocks and breasts.  While the shape of the body can be changed some by diet and exercise; one factor cannot be changed.  Each girl has a basic body shape that is in part determined by genetics.

During this time, the hormones change in the girl and many emotions crop up about body image. Many young girls do not like their bodies and go to great lengths to change them into what they believe is more socially acceptable by their peers and by the culture as a whole.

Changes in Hair and Glands

When a girl turns about eight, she usually begins to grow pubic hair; although some girls do not experience this until they are sixteen or older.  This is another sign of the body growing into an adult.  It is not unusual for the pubic hair to be a different color than the head hair.[1]  Seeing the first growth of hair in the genital area can be confusing for a girl. She may enjoy the fact she is becoming a woman, or she may feel her childhood is leaving her and become distressed.

About the same time as the pubic hair starts to grow, hair becomes evident under the arms.  Some girls do not grow underarm hair until after their first period and others until after their breasts begin to develop.  Hair on the arms and legs begins to become darker and thicker. Some girls may experience darker hair on their upper lip as well.  Shaving the legs and under the arms is a personal decision. In the western culture it is considered unattractive for women to leave hair on their legs and under their arms, but in many cultures, leaving the hair is socially acceptable and in some it is considered more attractive.

Puberty Brings Acne; Source: Wikimedia Commons
Other body changes during puberty involve the sweat glands and the oil glands. Sweat glands become more active and thus, the body sweats more.  It is also not unusual for the sweat to take on a more adult odor.  The oil glands start producing more oil and most girls experience skin problems.  The most common skin problem is pimples.  Pimples crop up most commonly on the face, shoulders and back.  They are caused by the oil glands being clogged with oil and at times can become red and get infected. Some girls have a serious condition of pimples called acne which may require a trip to the dermatologist.  

Puberty and Girls--Developing Breasts

During puberty girls’ breasts develop and grow. Many times others notice the breasts developing before the girl notices.  Most girls develop breast buds between the ages of nine and fourteen.[1]  The breast bud stage of development is when the milk ducts and fat tissue form a small buttonlike mound under each nipple and the surrounding circle called the areola, which makes them stick out. As the breasts grow, the nipple and the areola get darker in color and the areola gets wider.  Not only do breasts grow at different ages in girls, they also grow at different

Puberty in Girls; Source: Morguefile
rates. Even the two breasts grow at different rates so it is not unusual to have one bigger than the other.[1]  When they are fully developed the difference in size is generally slight if there is any difference at all. As the breasts are developing they may feel sore or tender.  This is perfectly normal. 

Developing breasts can cause many emotions in girls. Some may become excited while others grieve the loss of their childhood body.  Boys often notice when a girl begins to develop breasts and this can add to the different emotions a girl experiences.  She may experience unwanted added attention, while some girls find it flattering.  When the breasts develop, girls need to decide whether or not they will wear bras.  In the past girls were expected to wear bras, but in today’s culture, that is not necessarily the case.

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A Girl’s First Period

Most girls have their first period between the ages of eight and sixteen; the majority between the ages of 11 and 14.[2]  The menstrual cycle comes monthly and is a way for the body to rid itself of the unused lining of the uterus. Women make seeds called ovum (single) or ova (plural) in their ovaries.  These seeds are also called eggs.  These are needed to make babies.  In women the ovaries produce a seed about once a month.  When it is ripe, it leaves the ovary, travels down the fallopian tube toward the uterus.  If the ovum does not meet and join with a sperm, it disintegrates.   If it does, the fertilized seed attaches itself to the wall of the uterus and over the next nine months grows into a baby.

Uterus of female; Photo by user smallbot, Source: Wikimedia Commons
The inside walls of a woman’s uterus is covered with a special lining. Each month the lining gets ready to receive a fertilized ovum.   The lining gets thicker and develops new blood passageways to provide enough blood for the baby to develop and grow. Spongy tissue develops around the passageways which fill with blood and provide nourishment for the seed to grow.  If the ovum is not fertilized, the lining is not needed.  About a week after the ovum disintegrates, the uterus begins to shed the lining.  The spongy, blood-filled tissue breaks down and falls off the wall of the uterus.[2]  It dribbles out into the vagina, flows down the length of the vagina and out the vaginal opening. 

This breaking down and shedding of the lining of the uterus is called menstruation.  The amount of blood varies as does the regularity of periods. Usually, the first few periods are irregular.  A girl can experience her first period and not have a second one for six months. Most periods eventually become at least semi-regular; happening every 28-30 days. When the bloody lining dribbles out, this is when a woman is menstruating or as commonly called, having her period. 

When a girl experience’s her first period, it can be traumatizing.  There is no way to predict when the first period will occur and this can cause a potentially embarrassing situation. Many young girls wonder what will happen if they start their periods while at school or during a social activity. Fortunately, today there are many resources for information and help.  Many girls are prepared for the eventuality of their first periods.  There are many choices for catching the menstrual flow and which one is used is a personal choice.

Teenage Girl; Source: Morguefile
The menstrual cycle may bring changes in emotions as well as other changes in the body. Some girls feel a change in their energy level; some have extra energy, others less energy.  There may be wild mood swings, feelings of depression, anxiety or tension. Many girls find they have a craving for chocolate or other sweets; some experience more pimples or other skin problems during their cycles.  Some girls get mild or severe cramps, others experience headaches or bloating.  Some girls will not experience any noticeable change in their bodies.   Many symptoms occur a week or so before as well as during the cycle; some girls experience symptoms only during their cycles or only before their cycles.  When several of the negative changes are experienced before the cycle it is called premenstrual syndrome or PMS.[2]

The body’s hormones are the mechanics of changes during puberty.  Girls today are much better prepared for changes as technological advances have afforded them more access to materials and information.  The emotional aspects of puberty may be somewhat eased by the information gleamed from the internet.  Girls too embarrassed to discuss issues with adults or peers can now find some answers online.


The copyright of the article Puberty and Girls is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

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Mar 22, 2011 7:23pm
I hadn't thought of girls turning to the internet for answers. Isn't it wonderful that such an option exists for girls who have no one to talk to. Well written!
Mar 23, 2011 2:50pm
Thanks. Yes, technolgy really makes a difference today doesn't it.
Mar 25, 2011 8:45pm
I agree - the internet is very useful for young women and men who have questions, but no one at home to provide the answers. Also, many young people are far too embarrassed to approach adults with questions regarding puberty or sex. Articles like this one offer good, solid information that can be trusted. Great article.
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  1. Lynda Madara and Area Madaras The What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Girls. New York, NY: Newmarket Press, 1983.
  2. "Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)." Mayo Clinic. 21/03/2011 <Web >
  3. "Puberty." MedicineNet. 21/03/2011 <Web >
  4. Gillian Rice, GP "Female Hormones." netdoctor. 21/03/2011 <Web >

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