Everytime we chat about the sexualization of girls in our culture or media, there never fails to be the “early puberty in girls” defense tossed in. Although I’m not an advocate of dressing a 7-year-old with breasts like she’s a 17-year-old breasts, many adamantly disagree with me on the grounds of simply “flattering that figure” and appealing to her “mature” interests. However, the “Puberty Before Age 10: The New Normal?” story in The New York Times Magazine unfortunately adds more gasoline to that “I’m so happy I didn’t have a girl” fire.
Early developing girls rightfully have many parents concerned as mothers and fathers turn to contributing factors like obesity and chemicals in the home. But once your 6-year-old is sprouting pubic hair, there’s really only so much eco-friendly cleaner and meatless meals you can provide. Many of these parents are just resigning themselves to their daughter’s physical advancement, looking for alternative ways to ready her mind for this new body. Doctors don’t really have a solid idea of when puberty should be beginning anyway as evidenced in this piece, and so Western science doesn’t have much an explanation. However, the numbers these experts do have detail a parent’s worse nightmare with a lot of statistical woes that come right along with that blossoming figure.
Writer Elizabeth Weil writes:
We know that girls who develop ahead of their peers tend to have lower self-esteem, more depression and more eating disorders. They start drinking and lose their virginity sooner. They have more sexual partners and more sexually transmitted diseases. “You can almost predict it” — that early maturing teenagers will take part in more high-risk behaviors…For early bloomers, the effect persists, causing higher levels of depression and anxiety through at least age 30, perhaps all through life. “Some early-maturing girls have very serious problems,” [Julia Graber, associate chairwoman of psychology at the University of Florida] told me. “More than I expected when I started looking for clinical significance. I was surprised that it was so severe.”
A big chunk of this teenage wasteland reflects more so our cultural faults rather than the fault of these little girls. A 9-year-old who appears to possess the body of a 16-year-old will be subject to all kinds of attention, sexualization, and scenarios that her little girl brain cannot successfully navigate. It’s not necessarily that she’s sexually precocious, even though her body suggests otherwise, as a buxom body doesn’t mean that her social comprehension has caught up. In fact, it’s often the opposite. Most of these young girls don’t have the mental wherewithal to even maneuver this mature terrain:
…a girl who is not yet in puberty may not have developed an adolescent brain. This means she would not yet feel the acute tug of her own sexual urges. She would not seek thrills and risk…Besides, some of the psychosocial problems of early puberty derive from what’s happening inside a girl’s body; others, from how people react to her. “If a girl is 10 and she looks 15, it doesn’t make any difference if her pituitary is turned on or if something else caused her breast growth,” [Frank Biro, lead author of the August 2010 Pediatrics paper and director of adolescent medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital] says. “She looks like a middle adolescent. People are going to treat her that way. Maybe she’s not interested in reciprocal sex, but she might be pressured into sex nonetheless, and her social skills will be those of a 10-year-old.”
Louise Greenspan, the pediatric endocrinologist at Kaiser Permanente, advises that parents treat their daughters their age, “not the age they look.” She also recommends “defend[ing] against a culture that sells push-up bikinis for 7-year-olds and otherwise sexualizes young girls.” Still, regardless of what path parents choose to take in response to their 8-year-old’s raging hormones, these risk-taking statistics reveal much more about how little girls are mistreated and perceived in our modern world rather than any innate urges. That revelation alone should be enough to concern parents all over again.