Relationship with Self- Second Puberty

Image credit: Maja Metera

By Amy Leadbitter

TW: talk of body image, weight gain and loss.

‘Second Puberty’ – never heard of it? Me neither, until I started experiencing it. What I had always been told was that you went through the magical process of puberty during your teen years and then came out the other side as your adult self with your new adult body. So, imagine my surprise when my body changed more drastically and rapidly between the ages of 18-21 than it had from 15-18. This is what many have informally dubbed ‘second puberty’; in other words, the further development of your body into your early 20s.

By the end of sixth form, I felt matured. Puberty was over, I was an adult and a young woman exploring the world. I had a bit of a booty, some smallish yet perfectly perky boobs and even though I got a little more weight on my thighs, giving me some stretch marks, it was all good; this is what puberty is I reminded myself, and now I have my ‘womanly’, ‘hourglass’ shape. I’m ready and cooked and I feel good! Finally, I felt confident and attractive in my body…

And then I put on a little weight. And a bit more. It gathered on my thighs. It gathered on my stomach. My hips seemed to get wider. More and more stretch marks appeared around my growing booty and hips as both got bigger. My waist didn’t seem so defined anymore. My bras almost overnight were too small, and I went up and up and up a few cup sizes over a short amount of time. I was confused- my lifestyle had not changed much, had it? Yes, I was not as physically active, but I was still healthy right? I ate nutritious meals and I exercised, but why did everything sit drastically different on my body? I spoke with female friends, who had noticed the same happening to themselves and wondered why everything seemed to be changing and why no one had spoken to us about it being an almost universal experience, so that we did not feel so alone.

Society idolises adolescent bodies. It may not seem obvious at first, but when we look deeper it starts to become obvious- teenage bodies are the epitome of attractiveness in our youth obsessed and body-shaming society.  For women, what we call ‘slim-thicc’ is on trend right now, and what is that? It is slim and ‘snatched’ waists, toned muscles, but with just enough development of boobs and ‘ass’ to tick all the boxes. However natural womanly features that would occur with this body type, such as wider hips and waist, cellulite, stretch marks, rounder stomachs, and bigger thighs, are frequently looked down upon. Look to porn, films, advertising- do you often see bodies that look like you? What’s worse is that women are shamed for these changes. Family members will chastise them for putting on weight and not being able to keep their childlike body. Furthermore, people will blame lack of exercise or poor diet for women developing cellulite even though over 90% of adult women have it. Personal trainers have attested to the fact that one of the most common requests they get from women in their 20’s is to help them get back to their teenage body. Somehow, developing an actual womanly body is a failure on our part, and we must strive to ‘correct’ that. Like many beauty standards for women, this is simply impossible because we are not teens anymore and there is absolutely nothing to ‘fix’- this is what adult women look like!

We do not see this in an age of social media, filters, Instagram influencers and plastic surgery but those women who you and society think are absolutely perfect, actually look pretty normal off camera and un-posed. Look up any un-posed shot of the model or celebrity you most desire to look like and you will see a normal looking woman; unfiltered, with not the most flattering angles and lighting, with skin that does not look perfect, an ass that does not look wonderfully toned and smooth, and an existing stomach pouch! The media is lying to all of us, including high profile women who also feel insecure about their bodies. Khloe Kardashian recently had her team conduct an insane mission to remove an untouched bikini snap from the internet. You want to know the worst part? She still looked gorgeous. She looked like a normal, if not very fit and still conventionally attractive, woman. But it wasn’t enough. Even she felt insecure of her normal body, showing you can be one of the most admired and desired women on social media and still want to hide the parts of yourself you think are ‘flaws’. These celebrities are also victims of this ‘perfection’ we all strive to achieve due to toxic media coverage.

I know that it is difficult, because I still battle with it, as do all the young women who surround me despite how often we lift each other up. When you live in a world that has constantly conditioned you to believing your natural body is somehow not desirable or attractive or normal, it is hard to break free and just love it regardless. When every change to your grown-up body is seen as a flaw, it seems impossible to keep a positive mindset. I wish someone, somewhere, had told us that so that we do not feel like failures as we age out of teenage-hood. Society does not see our bodies as the normal, natural, beautiful bodies that they are and that is hard to face. However, you must remember that they are, and you are not alone! This is exactly how you are supposed to look. This is how we all feel and look, and, if I haven’t said it enough, it is completely normal and completely beautiful! Well done you, for becoming a grown woman!