BY: Cherry Maggiore – “The Freak of Nurture”
Chapter 18: The Border of Puberty
You whisper a confession. A boy kissed you. In my bedroom? As I sat downstairs with our friends thinking you were just watching a movie.
Aren’t you a Child? Just five?
You are giddy as you share the tale from earlier that night. Speaking of your first innocent kiss as if it was some new adventure.
Excitedly. You talk about all the new people you met, especially the sexy rocker boys. Sexy? Did you just say sexy?
Aren’t you a child? Just five?
I’m lost. I didn’t know it would come up so soon. Well, not entirely true. You’ve been crushing on boys since you’re three.
And now you are starting to take action and experiment. There’s a part of me that celebrates this change in you. Finding yourself and your view through these moments s is beautiful.
And then there is that other part that is frightened. That cries and mourns for the innocence to stay. Remain intact.
All in all, the greatest joy is that you shared it with me. Openly with complete trust.
I hope I didn’t disappoint you. I wish I were a good mom and confident at that moment. It’s who I hope to be. Who I try to be every day.
There will be so many of these moments. But I had to mark the first. In black and white.
To note that change is here. Big difference.
And my girl, you will always lead it.
Written by Cherry Maggiore, November 2015
As the clock strikes 9pm, we lay side-by-side cuddling under the glow of her fairy lights as she grasps the teddy bear (aptly named Bear Bear) that she’s had since she was born and asks, “Mama, why do women bleed?”
The juxtaposition of Bear Bear’s presence and this poignant question is just simply startling. How did we get here? How did nine years go this fast? My heart is both joyful and sad as we enter the realm of the “p” word…Puberty.
“The Talk” about her changes started when we were browsing the panty aisle a month earlier in Target, and my mom turned to me and said, “It might be time to get her a training bra.” I looked at my mom’s eyes bright with excitement and understanding, then at MSP filled with expectations, and realized I had been in denial of her budding breasts. My eyes welled up, and I touched MSP’s cheek and answered, “Yes, I guess it is. MSP, pick out what you like…”. To my delight, she appropriately chose two Wonder Woman training bras.
Immediately after our shopping excursion, I went on Amazon and searched for books about puberty so we could start learning (and for me, relearning cause it’s been like 34 fucking years since I thought about it) about the process of becoming a woman. I found a great book by American Girl, called Caring and Keeping of You Part I. Nearly, every night she is with me, we’ve read a chapter, taking this process piece by piece, day by day.
Luckily, since living in Westfield, MSP has witnessed her cousin Livy (aka The Lone Teen on The Daily Feels) going through her changes and all the shit that comes with it. From periods to bras, to pimples and body image to boys and friendships. She’s seen the immense emotional and physical changes in Livy as she’s evolved from little girl to young woman.
After our talk, I walk into my bedroom with the immense fear and red-hot anger beginning to surface. As I think about my own passage into womanhood and the horrible trauma I’ve experienced. One of my first thoughts is how do I prepare her? How do I protect her from the hatred, criticism, overt sexism, misogyny, and worst of all the predators she may have to battle?
There is no simple answer as even at nearly 45 years old I face these continued challenges. It comes down to the fact that I have a love/hate relationship with being a woman. This is not a simple concept. It’s wrought with so much history or more like HERstory.
As this conversation was happening, I was about to take off to a conference in Savannah, GA where I was going to be on a panel at the GDS CMO Insights Summit. An incredible opportunity to be positioned as a brand and marketing expert among my peers. Due to a canceled keynote speaker, I was invited to be part of a panel of marketing peers to discuss the future of our industry. I am literally bowled over, like counting my lucky stars even to be considered to be part of such an esteemed panel (I think to myself, would a man feel lucky or would he feel they were lucky to have him? Food for thought). To be able to contribute to such a thoughtful and experienced group of marketers.
One of the questions the moderator poses is this…“An increasing number of brands are throwing traditional gender assignations under the bus, and re-imagining both masculinity and femininity as fluid concepts. Are the days of blue and pink aisles in decline? And what does this actually, practically mean for brands?”
So my head goes immediately to the fact that it’s about brands…but what about humanity. What about women who have this love/hate relationship with being a woman; and a woman defined by the color pink.
I look up the history of pink and blue and find out that in fact, PINK was identified for men as the stronger color in 1918 by Ladies Home Journal magazine. Pink was defined as the“stronger” more vibrant color. Unlike blue which was identified as a “softer” more feminine color. Ironically this all changed in the 1940s as women began to enter the workforce due to the need for men to fight in WWII. As men went to war, women went to war pushing gender limitations as they took on traditional “men’s” jobs. Women started wearing Pink and men identified with Blue. This is the point in history where color divides us, where color begins to limit us.
Please know that in branding, color is a critical emotional cue. Most brands sit on the color spectrum from red to blue to yellow to pink. It’s a rainbow of emotion as they seek to connect with people through something as simple as a color you can find in a Crayola box.
But it’s so much bigger than color…The idea of being a woman in the 21st century is terrifying. We have polarizing effects from the #metoo movement that goes well beyond the power of pink.
I do not blame the #metoo movement…I welcome it with open arms cause its about god damn time. And by the way ME (fucking) TOO. Me too ten times over and still ‘til this day. From being groped at two parties just three weeks ago to be limited in my success because I am in fact a woman. To the issues of how I dress, what color I wear, how high are my heels, do I wear make-up or not. I feel this constant tension between the kind of women I want to represent and the woman I am.
I’ve been bullied, sexually harassed, pigeon-holed, limited, judged. I’ve been in the “girls” and “boys” club and then out of those clubs. I’ve allowed myself to be a pawn in the game of gender and have yet to stake a claim. I try to remain neutral in a sea of pink.
At the end of the day, I know what makes us different. I bleed, and men don’t. My best friend once said as a joke, “I don’t trust anything that bleeds for seven days and doesn’t die.” And there it is…the general feeling that men have about women because they do NOT understand our biology. They can’t tolerate it because they are incapable of empathizing (or possibly jealous of our innate abilities). Men are intrinsically and biologically simple. Women are not. They are complex and layered and emotionally impacted. We go from our MENstrual cycle to MENopause…(please note that MEN are in both words and I have to question why that is if MEN don’t experience either of these physiological transitions).
So, how the fuck do I explain this to a nine-year-old if I can’t reconcile it myself?
How do I explain that she needs bras, maxi pads or tampons (truth be told I DO NOT believe in tampons unless you are swimming; because nothing goes inside my body without giving me pleasure). That she will have the choice of flats or 5” stilettos and in some rooms will be judged for not wearing the stilettos (mostly and ironically by women). How do I explain that wearing make-up is expected to make yourself more flattering and appealing? And then the fucked up part is that you will wear it so much, you won’t recognize yourself without it.
How do I explain that she will be groped, fondled and belittled merely because she’s a woman? How do I warn that when she walks down a street, she is a target if she sports a ponytail or if she wears a skirt too short or jogs in a park? How do I protect her and tell her that if she drinks too much at a party with co-workers, she may have to go along with the abuse just to get out safely?
How do I answer these questions without affecting her faith in humanity? Without making her hate being a woman.
And with that a straightforward question…”Mama, why do women bleed?” Our entire existence as females comes into question by a nine-year-old girl confronting womanhood.
As I examine her sweet face in the shadows of the fairy lights, I am overwhelmed by how bittersweet this moment is; and then my stomach wrenches with worry.
I finally surrender because I want her to believe that she is magic (because she is total magic) and there is literally nothing I can do to stop the trajectory of her life or the choices she will make. So I decide at that moment to share the magical aspects of being a woman in hopes that she will understand that we are sacred and will in turn respect and protect herself…
I tell her that women bleed because we are (fucking; I leave the fucking word out) Strong. God chose us to bear the miracle of birth because God knew we were capable of such care and love and strength. God trusted us with the ugly, messiness of life because God knew we were capable of seeing past the trivialities to understand the blessing. God trusted women with the ability to give and share life because we are selfless and empathetic.
I go on to tell her what I love about being a woman…
- We get our period, so we can be a mother…IF WE SO CHOOSE
- We have breasts to feed our babies…IF WE SO CHOOSE
- We get to paint our canvas with beautiful colors and glitter …IF WE SO CHOOSE
- We can lift our height a few inches by wearing heels…IF WE SO CHOOSE
- We can wear dresses…IF WE SO CHOOSE
- We can wear bras…IF WE SO CHOOSE
- We can have a career and be a mother…IF WE SO CHOOSE
- We can have short hair or long hair…IF WE SO CHOOSE
- We can have muscles… IF WE SO CHOOSE
- We can build homes and fix cars…IF WE SO CHOOSE
- We can fight wars…IF WE SO CHOOSE
- We can run companies…IF WE SO CHOOSE
- We can cook for our families and friends…IF WE SO CHOOSE
- We can be alone…IF WE SO CHOOSE
- We can wear pink…or blue…IF WE SO CHOOSE
I share that while society and cultural norms will force many things down our throat…It is our choice to participate or NOT.
So I bleed with pride. I am proudly and fiercely a woman. And while gender may divide humanity, there is one thing we all have in common…
Every single one of us was birthed from a woman.
Cherry Maggiore is the proud single mom of her 9-year-old super-sassy daughter (aka Miss Sassy Pants or MSP) and 15-year-old pug baby (Tiki Barber); in addition to being an award-winning senior marketing executive at NBCUniversal.
Beside her side hustle as the Freak of Nurture, she also started a home design company after being inspired by renovating and designing her 1880’s home in NJ.
This insanely curious and passionate “multi-potentialite” can be found dancing the Argentinan tango, swing and Hustle every Saturday, cooking her family an Italian Sunday dinner, singing and air drumming at concerts or searching for her next adventure.