Wednesday, August 11, 2010

OK, Let's Talk About This

So, a study just came out in The Journal of Pediatrics that shows that girls are starting puberty earlier than ever - developing breasts at age 7 or 8, for example.

I am not a doctor, I'm not even vaguely a scientist, so I can't comment on the actual findings or why girls might be pubescent earlier than they have been. But I am a fat woman, so I feel qualified to comment on the supposition that this rise in early puberty might be due to fat, and to comment on the social consequences of early puberty.

First of all, I was a fat kid. I've been fat since I was born, and I was on diets when I started puberty, at age 10. The diets probably made me the late bloomer I was, at least for my family: my skinny mother had breasts at nine, her period at 10. I didn't have breasts till 10, and it was a full two years later, at age 12, that I "finally" got a period. I expect that my daughter will have much the same experience.

Was my "early" puberty a result of me being fat? Or of my genetics? Considering the stories I've heard about my maternal grandmother also starting her period at age 10, I'm more likely to consider genetics than fat. Especially since I get the fat from my dad's family - whose girls were well into their teens before they started menstruating.

What gets me, though, is that every news outlet who comments on this article mentions that the numbers of early puberty are up since 1997 - and so are the numbers of obese children.

Except, are they? 1997, as my fat acceptance friends will no doubt remember, was the year they moved the BMI goalposts for no scientifically valid reason. Millions of Americans went to bed "healthy" and woke up "fat". That sounds totally scientifically sound, doesn't it? And of course, we should apply these same standards to children, for whom the BMI was even less intended than it is for adult individuals, and then blame every health problem on their fat. That sounds like an even better idea, doesn't it?

So, no, there are probably not any more fat kids today than there were, so, no, I'm not simply going to say, "Ah, of course. Fatties getting boobies is a crisis! Put those girls on diets!"

Which brings us to the social consequences of early-onset puberty, which include low self-esteem, body-image problems, and eating disorders. 

Hmmmmm. Let's think, for just a second, about those three problems. What else causes those problems? Is it - maybe - just perhaps - American society's insistence that any ounce over a size 00 is fat? American doctors' insistence that fat is the root of all evil? MAYBE? YA THINK?

So fat kids get breasts earlier. Then they develop eating disorders. Obviously, it's the fault of the breasts.

The other correlation with early puberty is early sexual activity. Which is obviously because the early pubescents are just so ready, and not because everyone they know calls them a slut because they have tits. No one would do that, right? Right.

What we have is a scientific finding - there's more early puberty - butting up against the societal condemnation of fat sluts. While I think that early puberty needs more study, I also think that decrying the consequences of it as somehow caused by it, and not by society's need to put the hate on someone, is ridiculous. The reason we have low-self-esteem and eating disorders and slutty behavior in response to puberty is not because hormones make us crazy. It's because society looks at our bodies and thinks, "Hey, we own that. It's not yours, and it's not acceptable to us the way it is, so you need to feel bad about it. You need to treat it like crap, abase it appropriately, and then maybe we'll see about letting you back into the fold."

The fact that this study covers only girls, and that numbers about boys' precocious puberty are almost impossible to find, says a lot about what we want to know about as a culture, doesn't it. It's not about boys' bodies being unacceptable or somehow broken, even if they, too, are fat; it's not about boys becoming sexually active earlier.

It's about girls not fitting the mold, girls not being acceptable.

Just sit with that for a minute, and then ask yourself again why fat acceptance is necessary, why feminism is necessary.


  1. I would love to hear what you have to say about this article:

    I was horrified by it.

  2. Well, it is a beauty pageant. I'm pretty horrified by those to begin with. But I do think there's an expectation to fulfill the winner's year of service or representation or whatever in the same manner in which you won the crown - so I actually don't think she should have dyed her hair. I mean, you want money for being pretty, you have to accept the rules of prettiness.


Gimme some eggs for my bacon!