When I was eight, I awakened one morning, looked downward, and screamed. Seemingly overnight, I’d sprouted B-cup breasts. They were round, supple, and perky, a privilege I’ve lost as gravity pulled them downward. Immediately, I ran into my parents’ room, seeking the comfort of my mother. That afternoon, we ventured to the store together to purchase bras. Though I imagine it was difficult for my mother to see a store clerk measuring her eight-year-old daughter’s breasts, she appeared calm on the surface. We left the store with three bras, which she told me I should alternate every two days.
Soon after my budding breasts expanded to C-cups, my menstrual cycle began. I was nine. I was sitting in a bathroom stall at the local library attempting to figure out why my panties were covered in a brown-colored liquid. I trekked home and changed into another pair of panties before returning to the library.
That evening, as I soaked in a warm tub, the brown-liquid turned red. It was at that point that I realized I was bleeding. Panicked, I screamed for my mother. “Mom, I’m bleeding from the inside. What do I do?” She smiled as tears creased the corners of her eyes. “Baby, you’ve just gotten your first period.” Our relationship evolved from that point onward. She bought me menstrual pads and explained the benefits of using pads with wings. She taught me how to use pads and instructed me to change it every three hours. When I began experiencing unbearable cramps, she brought Pamprin and Ibproufen to the school’s nurse and negotiated with my teachers should I could leave class as needed.
The sudden maturation of my body drew the unwanted attention of hormonal boys who felt entitled to treat female bodies like playgrounds. When I began being sexually harassed, my mother and father arranged conferences with teachers, spoke with the boys and their families, and taught me how to seek help and vocalize my fears.
As a teenager, I was curious about sex. Those difficult conversations, about pregnancy, societal perceptions of Black girls, and orgasms were had with my mother. When I finally became sexually active in college, my mother bought me condoms and made sure I had the agency to select partners who both pleasured and respected me.
In teaching me about sex, intimacy, partnership, and the changes of my body, my mother also gave me space for autonomy.
Now, I recognize that the information I received in my home allows me to make informed decisions about every aspect of my womanhood, from who I choose to partner with to how I interact with my doctors.
Young Black girls need to have earnest and honest conversations about their bodies. In a world where Black girls are undervalued, belittled, and discriminated against, invoking agency is a requirement for survival.
In “The Misadventures of a Modern Mom” column for The Root, writer Aliya S. King details how she used the book Just for Girls: A Book About Growing Up to teach her then six-year-old daughter about sexual development.
“In the back of my mind, I thought about what others would say. Should a 6-year-old know the real way babies are made? Is it necessary? How young is too young? In previous generations, talking about sex with your parents was often awkward—or nonexistent. And if there were conversations about “the birds and the bees,” they often came near puberty, when many of us had already figured it all out on our own—or thought we had.”
Despite the lingering questions, King had the difficult conversation with her daughter, who is now able to identify body parts by their proper names and has a grasp on the ins-and-outs of puberty.
King’s column reveals the importance of teaching young Black girls about their bodies. We must empower young Black girls to make well-informed choices about their health instead of relying on the illogical opinions of their friends and peers. Young Black girls are often sexualized and exploited while their perpetrators are able to lean on the Jezebel stereotype to justify their predatory behavior. Giving Black girls’ knowledge gives them voice, so they know they matter, even if their bodies are seen as invaluable.