pubic liberty

Brassiere.  It sounded like a fish, usually grilled whole, served with pressed olive oil and pink, coarsely ground, sea salt, or at the very least, a place that served stellar French onion soup. But when someone leaned in and explained it was actually a bra, I began to panic. I was eleven.  I’d have sooner eaten fish than have anything to do with puberty.  To this day, I despise this word.  Not brassiere, but puberty: a cross between pubic and liberty. At the time, though, there’s nothing liberating about it.  Change rarely feels good, even the good kind.

Aside from my fat jeans becoming too small, it’s the only time in my life where I remember being embarrassed about growing.  When I’ve suffered, in emotional pain, too anxious to sleep or talk about anything else, I at least realized I was growing by getting through it.  We do our most growing when we’re in pain.  So while it felt embarrassing not to be liked, or to be rejected, I still knew I could learn from it.  I would grow and become, somehow, more because of it.  A bra didn’t feel like more, even if there were more of me.



  1. The Westchester, NY version: (ahem) We must, we must, we must increase our bust. The bigger the better, the tighter the sweater, the boys are depending on us.

    Thank you. I'm here till Thursday. Try the veal.

  2. I. loved. Mrs. Lieberman.

    Mrs. Bassen was out for a good portion of my 7th grade year, so she filled in. I remember taking a field trip with her and we "kibbitzed" over lunch at Old Bethpage Village. The Harvey Fierstein voice is right on target! Thanks for bringing back good memories this morning.

  3. Your very own Judy Blume moment that is now such a great memory. I wouldn't let my mom say "underwear" until I was like, 16 or something. It was "the u-word". Deoderant was also not allowed.

    Judy Blume deserves a statue somewhere.

  4. I really enjoyed this post, especially: "Change rarely feels good, even the good kind." I'm going through a quarterlife crisis at the moment and feel like that could be my personal mantra.

  5. AAAhhhhhhhh, I am dying! You totally hit the nail on the head with this one! Mrs. Lieberman?! The Gucci loafers with her matching suede pants, the huge diamond studs that practically dangled because of their karat weight, and that damn lip liner! Like eating a bag of Oreos I tell ya! Uch, how classic?! She always reminded me of a toad for some reason…

    And the Judy Blume books?! I only read them cause you did…and let's face it, MADE me.

    And how ironic, I just woke up because I started to get cramps…yes, my Aunt Flow has come to visit me on this very same morning! Could it be any more strange that this is what your entry is about? Big boobs and periods?!

    Let's face it, if it has to do with boobs…

    I love u Neph…great entry. You have reminded me of the Ellios pizza and the halls smelling of stale pretzels! Of course, food.

  6. I hate to say it, but the use of the phrase "play date" took me right out of the story. Play date, really? Did you call them play dates in the 80's? I certainly never heard that turn of phrase until well into the 90's when over scheduled kids were being carted around by their parents. Didn't we just go over to our friends places? Wasn't our youth more spontaneous?

    Mrs. Lieberman sounds like a blast, BTW.

  7. Thank goodness for Margaret. Getting my first bra and my first period was the most traumatic thing for me growing up, as I too was in 5th grade and "first". I went as long as I could without a bra, until I had a teacher say something to me.

    I also remember highlighting Judy Blume's "Forever" as it was passed around the students in 6th grade. We would highlight and giggle.

    So, all I learned about puberty and sex, I learned from Judy Blume. God Bless Her.

    Excellent story!!! Thank you for sharing.

  8. This is a great post. Girlfriends are the best during times like these. Buffers. My Dad actually CONGRATULATED me when I got my first bra. I made sure to take a girlfriend with me to buy my first box of tampons.

  9. This was the perfect cup of coffee post. Thank you for that. When I got my first bra, I was mortified beyond words, and certain that no other person had ever felt like I did. Sitting at dinner with mom/dad/brother/sister, my dad said, in all innocence…"looks like our little girl is growing up". Of course, I reacted like I'd been stabbed with a hot poker, pitched a fit, and ran crying from the table – holing up in my room until my dad realized the enormity of this atrocity against my personal development. He hasn't yet – a mere 27 years later. I think mom and dad sat there, trying not to laugh, rolling their eyes and whispering to each other "only 6 more years until she returns to the human race".

    My littlest daughter got her first bra the other day. I tried my hardest not to say anything that will warp her for life…but that's the tricky part. The most innocuous comment can become part of the ever-developing tapestry of drama that is life.

  10. Well there's one thing I never had to endure. There was, of course, the gym locker rooms. Oh, good times.

  11. Sterns Department store and the woman with the iron grey beehive hairdo and the measuring tape draped across her shoulders. Black cat's eye glasses with the 3 rhinestones in each corner and the silver chain dangling off the bows, making an optional glasses necklace. Tabu perfume. She was packed into the changing room with my mother and a totally humiliated young girl thrust into "public liberty." Did I say that I had a vivid memory of that event? Sometimes your blog is so close to the events in my life, it is frightening…I am thinking you must have found my lost diary. LOL

  12. The horror of being a teen!! It's funny how and about what we cry at the different stages of our lives.

    I remember being really happy when I got my first bra (or "top" as I called it). I was a bit younger than the rest of my class mates, and went on forever as a really flat girl. So when I got it as a present for my communion I was really excited. It meant that I could join the club of the breasted!! Someone actually thought that I – I! – should wear a top! But still there was some trauma involved: When I told my mom what I was going to wear for the party that my class had in order to celebrate our communion, I referred to my bra as "the top I got as a present". And I was mortified when my mother said "Oh you mean the bra?" Everyone in my class wore white cotton tops, and the one I got was grey with tiny black flowers, wiring and everything… So yeah – it was a bra!
    I loved it – it made me feel pretty. And for the "clever" girl in class, that was quite a big thing…

  13. I got my grandmother snapping the elastic of my first bra against my back. She laughed at it afterwards, in front of all my uncles and male cousins.
    I am still traumatized.
    This post is great. Also, the book that you recommended ("The 3 A.M. epiphany") is very helpful.

  14. One day in fifth grade, Shana blocked the doorway into our classroom and asked me if she looked any different. When I looked lost, she haughtily declared, "I'm a woman now."

    Back in my day, The Talk also meant getting your first belt which would hold your maxipad in place. Tampons weren't dangerous yet either, but they certainly weren't worn by Good Girls. (Since they were also as big as fists pre-TSS, perhaps that point had merit.)

    And back in the day, my mother would send us outside to find kids with whom to play, telling us to come home when it got dark. These days, that would get a mother arrested. Hence, the advent of The Playdate, a planned time to rendezvous with another child.

    (But I don't think the term playdate came into vogue until the last ten years.)

  15. looks like you really hit a (relatable, positive) nerve with your female readership on this one. Such an awkward experience – maybe mothers and daughters both should thank Judy and Margaret!!

  16. In the gay community, I’ve noticed that a lot of women will wear bandages and wrap it around their chest so they look “smaller”. Almost like having penis envy or something. As a feminine lesbian, I try to push those puppies up…but sometimes they just flop out. I don’t know which is worse.

  17. Q-What is a dad supposed to say when his daughter gets her first bra? Nothing? A quiet and quick 'congrats'? I know that everyone is different, but I'm the type that likes to have his entire life planned and scripted.

  18. Joey … I would say don't mention the bra directly. If you want to wait a couple of weeks and then tell your daughter how much you admire her in general, or how pretty she has become, or whatever, that would be good. Girls can always use a boost in tumultuous times. (Well,that's true of people in general.) But I would have been mortified beyond belief if my father had ever specifically mentioned me wearing a bra or hitting puberty.

  19. Gosh, I remember those days. I matured at age 10–became a woman the day my parents' divorce was final. The worst part of pubic liberty happened when a boy from my fifth grade class snapped my bra in front of my peers. The bra came undone, and I ran to the bathroom, mortified and feeling like I belonged on another planet called Freakozoid.

  20. JoeyB, say nothing. Make no mention of this. At all. Nothing new happened at all. Now let's go get some ice-cream. Bigger scoops.

  21. "Well there's one thing I never had to endure. There was, of course, the gym locker rooms. Oh, good times."

    For some reason, this made me laugh harder than Stephanie's post. As a single mother of a 14 year old boy, I worry for him, but it is apparent many manly men make it through and are just fine. Thanks for the laugh!

  22. Wow, people really use the comments section for confessing personal details about themselves. Oh, why don't I have a go at it…I, too, went through menarche at age 11, and began to wear a bra at that time as well. I was the first among my friends. This was rather embarrassing at summer camp, I recall, as I was the only one, and felt very different. The worst part – I stopped growing (yes, I now know that estrogen causes the epiphyseal plates of the long bones to fuse, thus preventing further elongation – but at age 11, I was not very scientific about things, merely disappointed). I never quite made it to 5 feet. The one good thing about being so petite is that people assume I am much younger than I actually am (I'm 31, but people think I'm a teenager). They think that my six-year-old daughter is my sister. Correcting them takes too much time; I just go along with it. Now, when people say to me, "Oh, your little sister is sooo cute," I just answer, "Why, thank you very much."

  23. I got my period in 5th grade and my elementary school didn't have trash bins in the bathroom stalls. So, of course, I was mortified to walk out into the sink area to throw out my pad wrapped in toilet paper. I started stashing them under the toilet, and then I'd sneak out when nobody was there. I did so for a few weeks until I noticed that someone else was doing the same thing. Once, we came face to face and we understood what the other had been doing. We never spoke of it, but it was always a silent bond between us. Not too long after that, the janitors installed mini trash bins in all the stalls and it was one less thing for me to stress out about.

  24. Wow, thanks for bringing back those horrible memories Stephanie! :)

    I too got mine in 5th grade…after being forced to wear a bra in 3rd grade. I never quite got over than one. My mother is very petite and has never been bigger than a 34A. I was a 34B before I reached junior high. My mother commented on it all the time which lead me to slouch and hide my new chest behind baggy clothes…jackets in the summer, etc. When my period came along I was too embarrassed to tell my mother. I had remembered what to do from sex ed and just winged it. She found out the following month while doing laundry. I pray that my daughter isn't too embarrassed to come to me during this awkward time…I wish I hadn't been.

  25. Relatives commenting on 'growth' is the worst. My grandmother's sister would press my t-shirt and commented (in a loud voice ofcourse) that I didn't need a bra yet. At 13, this is rather painfull. It was the other way round for me, I was almost the last to get one.
    I cried every time I had to go bra-shopping, since I always had to pick the smallest size. 10 years later, it is still the only kind of shopping I loathe. I just buy the same model without trying it on, I have 6 of them. I keep telling to myself that one day, when the store is completely empty, I'll get myself measured. One day.

  26. Margaret and Judy Blume were my hero's. – I think they still are. I got my 1st bra in the 3RD grade. It was a B. So mortifying! It was bigger than my moms and she was really upset by that. By 5th grade I was a C and never took a gym class again. Like you, I was the first one with boobs, the first one to get my period and then the first one to me teased mercilessly! I made my best friend, Marci, wear a bra even though she didn’t need one … now a few decades later, she still doesn’t … but she would wear one so that I wouldn’t be as embarrassed!
    I was so disappointed when my oldest daughter didn’t love Judy & Margaret as much as I did … now my 2nd oldest (of 4) is reading them and LOVES then, I am over the moon!

  27. I've been reading your blog for a few months now and this post made me laugh out loud. When I was 12 (I was a late bloomer) my mom finally took me to Kmart to buy a bra after I repeatedly begged her. I was the last girl in my class to shave, wear deo, get a bra. Undershirts were not going to cut it in the seventh grade. We had to take my little sister, who was about 9. As I was picking out bras, my sister started chanting "bra lady, bra lady, my sister is a bra lady!" at the top of her lungs. My mother, laughing hysterically, quickly lost control of the situation. One hysterical hissy fit and a bag of bras later, we returned home, where said sister began running around the house chanting "bra lady" again and trying to snap my straps. I'm 30 and she's 27 and she still calls me "bra lady" on account of my larger than average chest. I still hate it.

  28. I'm glad this was a story in and of itself and not an introduction to a pseudo-profound topic like, "And I feel like that in Austin now; do I fit? Does it fit ME?"

  29. I actually was a rather late developer and didn't start wearing a bra until the middle of 7th grade. Even then, I only started because a stupid little f*&%er in my science class went to snap my bra and made fun of me mercilessly when he found that there was none there…

  30. I was raised by my father ONLY. No mom… I had to be in Big Brothers/Big Sisters so I could have some female influence.

    Every time we went to the grocery store or department store, He would yell out "Do you need tampones (slang in spanish for you know)" or "Do you need brassieres (say with a spanish accent)". My father thought if you said it in spanish no one would understand. He mortified me until the age of 18 about this stuff. Now he just asks me if I'm pregnant since I live with my bf.

    He took me to first trip to Victoria's Secret after one of the tennis mom's told him it was the rage for her little girl (my buddy). My buddy was girly, jewish, rich, and fit in the country club world. I was a tomboy, insecure, no money, and barely had tennis outfits. So my dad takes me to Barton Creek (you know if you are from the ATX) and I get measured while tears are coming down my face. I am steaming mad afterwards and he tells me to choose whatever I want. I chose the a grey t-shirt number with matching panty. I swear it took a total of 10 mintues and I just sped walk all the way to the car.

    My life with my father should be on TV. Stephanie, you have a lot of material from your childhood but if you need more stories, ask me as I have more stories then I know what to do with. great post!

  31. Just to chime in – I read all of the Judy Blume books, too, and loved most of them, but I hated that some of her characters really wanted boobs and boys and blood. I never wanted puberty to come (and still hate the word). I didn't understand girls that wanted it, and I certainly didn't know any girls who did. I wanted a book about a girl who dreaded it all as much as I did.

  32. I have to say, anonymous's comment made me laugh out loud. I too thought for sure this was going to be the foundation for a launch into a "do i fit in Austin" diatribe, followed by the requisite "Stephanie, you fit wherever you are, you are magnificent" blah blah blah.

  33. JoeyB — I agree with Stephanie. When I got my first period, my father silenced the entire dinner table to congratulate me on becoming a woman. To this day, I hate toasts. Say nothing.

  34. Right on target, sister! I was a late bloomer who dreaded the shackles of this womanhood with a similar embarrassment. It's amazing how fast hips and breasts come along when puberty finally comes around.

  35. i still have all of my judy blume books stored in my bedroom closet at my parents' house … my all time favourite is "starring sally j. freedman as herself", oh and "tiger eyes". i got "are you there god …" for easter one year … i was staying at our neighbours/my best friend's house because my mom and dad were away on business, and my mom had bought me "margaret" and my best friend (a boy) "then again maybe i won't". having a boy and not being familiar with the books, his mom mixed them up in our easter baskets and i remember having to bribe him with a lot of easter candy to get the period book back and make him take the wet dream book … lol.

  36. Try waiting until age 16 to get your "Aunt Flow"! It was equally mortifying to be on the opposite end of the spectrum.

    And why is it that ALL saleswomen who work in the bra department are older, stout, stocky-legged, bee-hived, cat-eyeglass wearing Russians?? That d*mn tape measure…

  37. Stephanie, this one was awesome. Every female reader took a trip down memory lane to their oh-so-anxious pubic liberty days. Extremely well written and fun to read, as has been the vein of your last several posts.

    Kudos, Ms. Klein, love it.

    A great day to you!

  38. I had a bra but nothing to put into it. So I stuffed it with cotton wool. Then I was kissing and hugging a boy I liked and next thing he unexpected stuck his hand down the front of my shirt and into the bra and out came a wad of cotton wool.

  39. JoeyB, please don`t think you have to say something to be a good father. You`ll be the best father if you just say nothing – THIS is not a man`s world ;-)

  40. I think the funniest thing is that everyone who has survived it has a terrible story to tell.

    Joey B, I have to agree with all of the above. Say nothing. It will only come back to bite ya.

  41. If I ever have a daughter I have always wanted to name her Gretchen, after Gretchen herself!

    It is one of my all time favourite books – I always thought Philip Leroy sounded like a real fox! :)

    Great post!

  42. Ah the boobs problem. Worse for me was the day I got my period. I was devastated. It was so humiliating to have my mother say, "You are turning into a woman," and to have my dad be lighthearted ("Cheer up! You get to stay home from school today!") about what seemed to me an unbearable burden.

    Imagine having to bleed every month for a week! And not knowing when that week would be? I would never be able to stand up without fear of a telltale, horrid spot ruining my pants–and life. And nothing to be done about it.

    The only thing comparable to the period and boobs disaster of puberty was the I got when pregnant. "Oh, you are really popping now." "You won't be able to do the camel [yoga pose] for long–you'll just feel too stretched down there [points, touches]." Or my personal ick factor favorite: "Well, it's just nature taking its course."

    Hateful stuff, this loss of control of one's self.

  43. Since everyone is sharing their private details, I'm sharing mine too. Joey, I finally got a bra at 11 (I was a late bloomer too) when my dad barged into my room without knocking. He took one look at me, walked out, and went straight to my mom and said: "You're getting her a bra this weekend!!" So no, he never directly mentioned it–and it's better that way!

  44. Great Shapes moved a few blocks north since your experience, but I swear if Mother Russia still doesn't work there, the underthings powers that be imported a clone. Or cones. My daughter refuses to go and I don't blame her. Women with healthy curves shouldn't have to thrash through racks of coverups and size zeros to desperately seek fitting help. We do just fine in normal stores.

  45. are we talking Great Shapes in Albertson/Roslyn area?
    How long have they been alive?

    I agree with UM….
    somewhat boring.

  46. At 22 I have to say that I don't remember getting my first bra. Maybe it was because I had two older sisters, so nothing was very new or exciting for me because my parents had been through it two times before. I honestly don't even remember at what age it was that I got my first bra. I also don't remember reading Judy Blume books and having so much in common. I might have to go back now, on my summer vacation and reread these books that have so much to do with womanhood and growing up.
    One memory I do have is getting my period. I remember I got it when I was at Hebrew School. I was wearing black pants, and hebrew school was only 2 hours long, so I figured I could wait without having to rush home. When my mom picked my sisters and I up, I told her straight out that I got my period and she turned around and slapped me accross the face and said "Mazel Tov". I don't know if this is Jewish tradition, or family tradition, but it's what she did. My oldest sister, 8 years ahead of me, took me home and showed me right away how to use a tampon and told me that pads were awful. From that day forward it was perfectly normal, and living with three daughters and my mom, my dad was open to it all. I was never nervous or shy to tell him we had to pull over to get tampons, or I needed money for a bra, etc. I guess I was lucky that I was the baby of three. The roads, however bumpy they were supposed to be, were paved nicely for me.
    Now it's off to re-read those Judy Blume books and see what I was missing.

  47. Very fun post! I loved Judy Blume too although my mother took away "Forever" when she found out what it was about. First love? Nope. First fornication! Ah, youth!

  48. I loved this post! I went to Catholic school so 6th grade was the first year that you wore the plaid skirt without the accompanying bib. So everyone starting wearing bras whether you needed one or not. (I was the NOT variety) During the winter we worn cardigans so I began stuffing (jut a little) to give my bra something to do. Even when it got hot in the classroom, I would prefer to sweat to death instead of take off my cardigan for fear someone would be able to tell through my white blouse that I had stuffed. The horror! Two years later, I was a C cup and have been ever since. But those long days in the classroom wondering if I would ever develop (my sister had boobs in 5th grade) remain with me. Luckily, I have boys so I will never have to deal with this drama with a daughter. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

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