What we ought to see in the agonies of puberty is the result of the conditioning that maims the female personality in creating the feminine. - Germaine Greer
Puberty is a natural phenomenon, wherein the sex hormones in males and females trigger various biochemical processes within the body resulting in physical changes which can greatly affect the emotional health as well. This process makes them sexually mature and fertile, to be able to reproduce. Though the signs of puberty are seen in both boys and girls around the same age, the process and development is totally different in both the sexes.
Puberty begins when the pituitary gland in the brain secretes hormones called Follicle-stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Luteinizing Hormone (LH). These hormones work in synergy triggering the production of estrogen and aid in ovulation. Estrogen, also called the female sex hormone, promotes the development of secondary sex characteristics (features specific to males and females that do not directly participate in reproduction, like pubic hair, breasts, etc).
Though usually the start of menstruation is believed to be the onset of puberty, it actually begins much earlier than that. Not every girl reaches puberty at the same age. The age group can range between 8 - 14 years. This difference is attributed to various factors including genetics, environment, ethnicity, nutrition, and other social factors.
During this period, major growth and development takes place in a girl's body. She notices rapid weight gain and difference in her body shape (like development of curves). These changes may or may not be readily accepted by a young mind. What makes it further complicated is the fact that no two girls undergo the same physical changes at a given point of time. All these can give rise to various questions in her mind. Girls nearing the age of puberty must know about the different stages to help them understand as well as accept the changes that take place in the body.
Here, we will try to understand the sequence of events and the significant physical changes that a girl experiences when she enters puberty.
Puberty in girls begins at the age of 8 or 9, signs of which are experienced internally. This stage marks the hormonal activities of FSH and LH triggering the ovaries to produce estrogen. There is no visible change in the breast tissues or body hair.
When a girl reaches the age of 10 or 11, one of the first changes seen is breast development. During this phase the pigmented area around the nipples, which is called areola, darkens and expands. Slight growth of hair on the labia might also occur.
During 11 - 12 years of age, a girl might witness a steady growth of pubic hair. Though the onset of pubic hair growth is seen in the earlier stage, it is at this level that it begins to turn thicker. Hair growth can also be seen on the armpits, and the hair on the legs become thicker or darker. The growth of breast tissues continues, making the areola grow wider and possibly darker.
This stage is marked by more lateral hair growth throughout the body, specially on the armpits and labia. Usually by the age of 12 or 13 the first menstrual period, also known as menarche occurs. There is no fixed age for the periods to start, and it can occur either before this stage, or after it. Ovulation may also begin at this stage, but it may take sometime till it becomes regular, i.e. may be 2 - 3 years. Also, the size of the vagina increases.
The breast tissues arise from the chest wall, and the nipple and the areola begin to protrude. Pubic hair become quite dense, coarse, and curly by this time, and long and thick hair may also appear on the inner thighs. This gives rise to a bushy triangular hairy appearance between the upper inner thighs. The girl continues to grow in height, and also gains weight, especially on the upper arms, buttocks, breasts, thighs, pubis, etc. which is quite important, as the body is preparing itself for reproduction and childbirth. In general, the fat percentage of females increases. Also, elevated hormone secretion leads to a more adult body odor and higher rate of perspiration.
By this stage, which is between 15 - 17 years, the body attains full maturity. The height of the girl usually becomes stagnant at this stage, along with breast growth which attains adult size. Moreover, menstruation as well as ovulation become regular during this period. Apart from these physical changes, most adolescents may also have to face the problem of acne. Estrogen and progesterone which are produced by the body during puberty are mainly responsible for this because they make the skin oilier, thus giving rise to acne. Severe menstrual cramps is another problem that teenage girls may have to undergo during this time. However, there are several ways with which they can be lessened or controlled. Finally, the skeletal, muscular, and cardiovascular system of the female body develops fully.
Apart from the above-mentioned physical changes, girls also undergo various emotional changes which are sometimes difficult to deal with. It is during this time, they tend to develop a negative body image. They have too many questions and feel uneasy to talk about it even with their own mothers. Proper support, understanding, and guidance, is necessary to help them deal with the various changes that occur during this phase.
Disclaimer: This Buzzle article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.