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Want to know about your feelings, body, sexuality and relationships growing up a girl today? Girling Up by Mayim Bialik is the perfect book for you!
Mayim Bialik wears many hats. She is a neuroscientist, is a well known actor who began early, as a child actor and growing up in the acting field, and is also a writer – she has drawn from all this, and speaks openly of many of her personal experiences and feelings. That makes the book that much more real to a reader.
Being a girl in today’s world is a complex thing and involves body positivity, stereotypes, bodily functions, education, and so many other things, and as the author of Girling Up herself said, such a thing cannot be talked about under just one heading. The book therefore has loosely linked chapters which each explain a completely different aspect of being a girl in modern times.
The book begins by explaining chromosomes, hormones, puberty and healthy eating. There is information on various body parts that people have difficulty speaking about, such as the breasts, the reproductive system and the vulva specifically. Bialik describes menstruation, the various types of sanitary supplies that can be used, such as pads, tampons and silicon cups, and also provides ways to deal with period cramps, including certain exercises, medicines and foods to avoid. Boys’ bodies and what happens to them during puberty are also briefly mentioned, because most sex ed classes for girls don’t talk about those much, and I for one was too uncomfortable to ask about it.
The book also deals with those irritating stereotypes of “girl behaviour” and “boy behaviour”, explaining that not everyone fits into those stereotypes and should not be expected to. It also briefly mentions transgender people and expresses a hope that some day they will be treated the same as cisgender people.
The book then moves on to eating and drinking healthy, and exercising enough. The illustrations and cartoons which pepper the pages of the book include girls with various body types, which I was happy to see. Too many books, movies and other media have a very rigid notion of what a “good body” is, which conditions young people to think of these as the norm – which obviously they aren’t.
A balanced diet and healthy snacks are described and encouraged. A list of vegetarian alternatives to meat for protein is included. There is a section of this chapter that talks about body positivity and eating disorders, explaining them in detail.
All points, including those about eating disorders and stress, are well explained and backed with facts and simple scientific explanations. There are many links and references to websites and organisations that can help a girl who has a particular problem or wants to find out more about something.
Education is a privilege, and a part of the book explains why, giving references to people like Malala Yousafzai who have fought for girls’ right to go to school, and suggests ways to make the most of it. There is a section on how we learn from both school and media, and I agree wholeheartedly. Everything around us influences us, and Bialik has hit the nail on the head.
The book deals with the idea of consent and quickly disabuses girls of many thoughts about consent that society keeps drumming into everyone. Bailik says, “The notion of consent has nothing to do with the clothes you wear, the way you flirt with someone, or even agreeing to be treated to dinner.” The book talks about dating, touching and sex as enjoyable, but only if both parties are ready and want it. It also describes the difference between how dating used to be and how it is now, to explain why some parents may be a little iffy about their daughters dating someone. For example, it describes how in our parents’ generation, the boy would come to the girl’s house and talk to her father while she gets ready for the date, and explains the purpose that served— allowing the girl’s family to get to know the boy she is dating.
The sex ed section does not tiptoe around the facts like so many sex ed teachers or guides do. It has clear, labelled diagrams without making it graphic. It explains masturbation in simple terms. The way sex is talked about in this book takes away the stigma attached to it. It speaks about the different forms of contraception with brief details on how they work, gearing girls for a time later in life when they may want or need to use such contraception and have to make a choice as to what form to use.
However, the book does contain some problematic statements, such as, “Boys and girls both have a growth spurt at puberty, which means girls are generally taller than boys for a few awkward years at school dances!” The implication is that there is something wrong with a girl being taller than the boy she is dating or dancing with.
Girling Up isn’t just about one thing. It’s about all the things that a girl might face in today’s world. It’s for girls aged anything more than 13, and I, at 16, learnt quite a few things. It answered some questions I was uncomfortable asking. It gave me more information on things I wasn’t quite sure about, for example, eating disorders. The book has, however, been written primarily for American cisgender heterosexual girls, making a few parts of the book irrelevant and alienating for some readers.
Overall, though, I think this book is definitely worth a read. Have a good time Girling Up!
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Image source: By Misnanita (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons, for representational purposes only.
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Zefeni. A teenager curious about the world around her, a book lover, poet, and dreamer.
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