I distinctly remember that Lizzie McGuire episode. You know, the one when Lizzie and Miranda attempt to purchase their first bras by lying about needing school supplies to Lizzie’s mom (and running into their cute English teacher while browsing the undergarment department — yikes!). Lizzie embarrassedly admitting “I want a bra!” in front of her parents, little brother Matt, and BFF Gordo has been ingrained in my mind ever since I was an 11-year-old girl sitting on my couch beside my older sister, who adored the Disney Channel series. With me four years younger copying her every move, I was hooked.
Watching Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret (which is expected to be in theatres in Australia later this year), I immediately flash-backed to that place. Margaret (Abby Ryder Fortson) is learning and hoping for rapid changes in her body due to pressures from her equally eager friends and ignorant comments from school boys. If you need a hint as to what “changes” she’s willing herself to grow, just queue this memorable line that she and her friends echo: “I must, I must, I must increase my bust!” My teenage self would’ve shuddered at the thought that I’m about to admit to stuffing my bras with socks (and many of my friends did too). While Margaret goes through the motions of the preteen age by kissing boys and praying for her first period, I remember the years that these things happened to me.
Entering into “womanhood” is a weird process. That stretch in young women’s lives that is often mulled over to avoid the discomfort of the conversation is the time that we should be talking about the most (shoutout to my mom for teaching me the importance of deodorant!). Are You There God? It's Me Margaret and Lizzie McGuire do just that, addressing the uncomfortable with some well-timed comedy to make way for open discussions. The film, adapted from Judy Blume’s original 1970 book of the same title, highlights what most young girls wish for: to be adults with big girl responsibilities, womanly bodies, and the freedom to make their own decisions. And despite Lizzie McGuire’s “taboo” topics, at least for its time, the Disney Channel series addressed the relatability of the growing up process or, dare I say, puberty.
I was a so-called late bloomer. My middle school journal exacerbated the fact that my friends achieved their puberty milestones before me (aka growing a chest and being able to sit out of gym class because of their period cramps). It was never a question of “if” this will happen to me, it was always “when.” Of course, it did eventually. The week before 8th grade was my big leap into womanhood and the world of menstrual products. I wish I had a better grasp on the information being presented to me in health class, considering I didn’t truly understand what a period actually was until years later, especially when I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (which is a whole other conversation). But while everyone’s bodies changed, including the boys in my class whose voices became deeper and height skyrocketed, I still had trouble dealing with my changing body. I constantly questioned whether or not I could truly fill out an Aeropostale graphic tee or if I could fit a tampon into my UGG boots to make sure it was hidden from classmates.
But what made my coming-of-age so bearable was knowing that I wasn’t the only one going through these confusing and scary changes. Lizzie was too. Lizzie needed to buy her first bra and had to muster up the courage to ask her mom for a trip to the mall. Lizzie tried to change herself for a boy that she crushed out on — Ethan Craft, we are looking at you — and experienced her first kiss (and heartbreak). Lizzie knew what it was like to be insecure, especially after being dubbed an “outfit repeater” by her school nemesis Kate Sanders.
And like Lizzie, Margaret is there too. In the film, in theaters on Friday, Margaret visits the mall to purchase her first bra because it’s a “requirement” of the secret girl club she joins. Once she gets there, it’s pretty evident to the sales clerk that she doesn’t necessarily need one — at least not yet — and opts for one of those “grow bras” instead. Similar to Lizzie’s experience, Margaret says “I want a bra,” shyly in the film. “Oh,” reacts Margaret’s mom Barbara Simons, aka Rachel McAdams, who, by the way, is officially old enough to play a mum in movies now. “You think you need one?” Full disclosure here, it took me a long while to grow into a double A, so I felt that pain deeply.
Margaret also likes a sweet neighbourhood boy named Moose, and grows nervous every time she tries to talk with him. That happened to me too (except a bit more sweating was present). Margaret understands the feeling of insecurity. When she attends a “boy-girl” party for the first time, she prepares by finding the perfect dress and attends as a friend group to avoid showing up alone. One of her friends even grabs a razor to shave her legs. I vividly remember my first razor was an electric plug-in that I used because I was too afraid to cut myself in the shower. Turns out, electric razors do not achieve the smooth results that you want, and you still end up cutting yourself anyways.
I specifically remember when I switched from pads to tampons. I had asked my mom to make the change and she was a bit unsure at first, but was more than willing to let me try them out. I had previously watched a YouTube video on which tampon size I needed and how to insert it, which I most definitely got wrong on the initial try. We ventured to Walmart a few times after that for errands, and whenever I picked up a Tampax box with her, I was instantly embarrassed once I reached the cash register. I would pray that it wouldn’t be a boy or man scanning the purchase, but to my (un)luck, it almost always was. It’s dumb even to say, but I still feel that shame sometimes, even as a 23-year-old woman. To avoid the unnecessary embarrassment that menstrual products bring, Margaret remedies the situation by throwing some Tic Tacs on the box at the last minute to cover up the logo. As the box moves slowly forward on the squeaky never-ending conveyor belt, I have never seen something more relatable in my life.
No matter if you are wishing to grow up or not, it’s a scary feat to go through puberty, let alone address it head-on with a parental figure. Physical changes are a given for young adolescent girls, but the mental changes are just as worthy of talking about. It’s all about dealing with fights with friends, learning how to navigate situations that you didn't expect to be in, or in Margaret’s case, feeling like the world is falling apart because you don’t know which religion you feel a part of. *News flash: that feeling of confusion or not belonging doesn’t go away in your mid-20s.*
Margaret and Lizzie make me feel less alone. They help me realise that I wasn’t the only one who went through puberty. Yes, I swore into a secret girls club. And yes, I did begrudgingly write down the names of the boys I liked in class. But seeing it on screen through Margaret and Lizzie’s eyes makes me reflect on that period of my life which was made bearable by these two characters. I, too, and still am, unsure on what to wear most times, or how to style my thick, curly hair. I, too, was, and often still am, completely frozen when my crush walks by. The relatability of Lizzie and Margaret is too perfect to not feel even the slightest bit understood. Even now, it makes me stop for a second and think, if they got through a hard time just as awkwardly and nervously as me as teenagers, and they succeeded (or at the very least, learned a valuable life lesson), then why can’t I as a 23-year-old?
That’s really all I needed to see and hear when I was younger. That the world wasn’t just picking on me, that everyone around me is struggling just as much in middle school and high school — and even college. To all of the Lizzies and Margarets currently in the world: Trust me, you’ll be okay. No one has puberty all figured out. Plus, your adolescent years are what shape you. Literally.