When Acacia Chiddix’s mom told her 5th grade daughter they were going to class on puberty at Seattle Children’s Hospital, the 10 year old thought, “Oh no, not this again!”
I mean, her mom already told her where babies come from.
“I was about six? And I asked the question and I got the answer,” said Acacia.
But Acacia’s mom thinks there is more to talk about, so she took her to Julie Metzger’s class, For Girls Only: A Heart-to-Heart Talk on Growing Up.
Fifty-seven year old Metzger has been teaching the class around the Puget Sound, and in Palo Alto, Calif., for 27 years, and every single one of them sells out. Last year alone, she talked about pubic hair, periods and sex with 14,000 people.
“The world has a hunger for these topics,” says Metzger. “The human race has been having periods since the dawn of time. But we still don’t talk about them easily.”
I sat in on one of Metzger’s classes, and watched her capture the attention of other girls and women in the Children’s Hospital auditorium.
“Do you guys love talking about puberty? I know, me too!” she answers herself, chipper, as the crowd laughs, easing into the topic.
“And then sometimes do you have sleepovers, and when everybody shows up you go, ‘Hey, a change of plans. Let’s not watch that fun movie, let’s just sit around and talk about puberty.?’ I know, me too! I mean, it’s so amazing to talk about puberty,” she said. “But it it can be kind of confusing. I mean, what is puberty, really? Well, the definition of puberty is how our bodies change from girl to grown-up.”
Girls between 10 and twelve years old sit next to the adult who brought them, some of them wide eyed and fascinated, some of them mortified and hiding behind their hands.
“You’ve gotten taller, you’ve put on weight, you have pimples, greasy hair, BO and hair in new and interesting places,” Metzger said.
“This,” Metzger says, dramatically gesturing at a drawing of the female anatomy, “is a uterus.”
Some of the parents in the crowd have already talked to their kids about puberty and sex. Some haven’t. Most kids will take sex ed classes in 5th grade. But this class allows a daughter and a grown up, be it her mom, her grandma or her dad, to be on the same page.
And unlike a parental birds and bees talk, Julie’s class is unbiased and free of religious or other family values. She tells the girls they have options. They can shave their armpits…or not. They have choices.
“Now, some people, when they start to develop breasts, they start thinking about bras,” Metzger said. “But there is actually no requirement to ever wear a bra. There’s no scientific health reason…Most women in the world don’t own a bra and wear it everyday.”
Curious, nervous girls who are not too excited about puberty can anonymously write down questions for Julie, and she will answer them, a maxi pad comically stuck to her sweater. A lot of the questions are about when they’ll start their period.
“Here is one thing I can absolutely guarantee about the day you start your period. Absolutely, for sure, you will be surprised,” Metzger said. “It can happen in the morning, it could happen in the afternoon, it could happen at night. It can happen standing up, sitting down, sleeping. It can happen at overnight camp, at a friend’s house, in the middle of a soccer game, at a chess tournament.”
I loved Metzger’s class. I wish I had taken it when I was about to hit puberty. But what did Acacia think?
“She made the weird things funny,” Acacia said.
I also found the class to be empowering.
“There are women all over the world having periods in extraordinary places,” Metzger says towards the end of two hours. “In a desert, on the ocean, in a helicopter, in combat. There are women having periods standing in a science lab performing science experiments that will change the world.”
“There is one girl, who has the Nobel Peace Prize, who comes from a country where there are no pads and tampons to wear when you’re at school,” she said. “Who did the work she needed to do to get the Nobel Peach prize, while having her period, in a country called Pakistan? And her name is Malala. She did that work while having periods. So I know you girls can do it.”
There is also a similar class just for boys.