I feel uncomfortable in my body, but don't know how to express it to my parents: please help!

Anonymous
asks:
I'm a 14 year old who was assigned female sex at birth, but recently I've started to feel insecure, angry and depressed about my body. Whenever I get my period I feel super grossed out and uncomfortable, as well as angry and frustrated. I've tried to talk to my mom but I just don't know how to express it to her, and I'm worried that my parents will have a bad reaction. And I really wish I didn't have boobs, they're not big, but they make me feel uncomfortable and I try to wear loose, layered clothes to create the illusion of a flat chest. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I feel wrong in my body but don't know how to put that feeling into words, and I just can't deal with all my anger and frustration over it anymore.
s.e. smith replies:

Hello!

You're dealing with a situation that's very familiar for many teenagers (and ex-teenagers like myself): You're growing into your body and...you're not sure how you feel about it. But just because this is a common stage of human development doesn't mean you need to sit in silence, and I'm so glad you reached out.

If I'm reading you correctly, there are several interconnected issues weighing on your mind: Some are about your body, and maybe even your gender, and others are about communicating with your parents.

First things first: Your body. Thanks to some tricks of your hormones, your body is undergoing some very obvious physical changes, in addition to some emotional ones.

You've articulated some specific things about your body that are stressing you out: Your period and your breast development. It may help to sit down and take some time to think about what's upsetting you and why — thinking it out can improve your understanding of your relationship to your body. That in turn could lead you to formulate some clearer thoughts for communicating with your parents, as well as some specific, tangible things you can ask for (like clothing you feel most comfortable in, period supplies that work best for you, or ways your body is talked about at home). You might also want to think about how the way other people interact with your body makes you feel, and whether that is feeding some of your anger or frustration.

For example: What grosses you out about your period? Is it just the whole experience of menstruation? The specific tool(s) you're using to manage your period, like tampons, pads, a cup, period undies, or something else? Comments other people have made about menstruation or your period in particular? Mood changes that make it hard for you to do the things you love? Are your breasts frustrating you because people make inappropriate comments about them? Because you feel like none of your clothes really seem to fit right?

Sometimes you just feel a vague sense of unease and wrongness and find it hard to articulate why, but please know that this experience is also shared by lots of people, for all kinds of different reasons. Drawing, writing, or talking with a trusted friend around the issue might help you learn more about the issue.

For the record, there are lot of girls who feel this way, and experiencing these sensations doesn't mean you're bad at being a girl, if that's what you are pretty sure you are. Seriously. There's no right or wrong way to "do" any particular gender; we are surrounded by stereotypes and a lot of messaging about what men and women do, but there are tons of different ways to be a girl, from Dolly Parton to Grace Jones to Lucy Liu to Sasheen Littlefeather, to give a few examples of ladies I think are pretty rad.

But if you're starting to have some gender questioning feelings, that's okay too. You might be a guy! You might be genderqueer! Or agender! Or something else entirely! Our Trans Summer School series explores a lot of issues around gender, identity, and coming out, so you might want to give it a look. Know that questioning your gender isn't a final, no going back step. You might dabble your toes in the water, or even take a deep dive, and go "Nope, I'm for sure a girl."

Next up: The 'rents. Communication is tough. It can be extra tough when you feel like the people you are trying to communicate with aren't listening to you. As you explore your relationship with your body, it may help you to think about what you want to talk about with your parents, and what outcome you're hoping for. Do you just want to have a conversation about how you're feeling? Are you hoping you could start going to a therapist who can provide a safe space for talking through these issues?

Take that list of things you've been thinking about. Organizing them in the form of statements can help you define, for yourself, what you need, and it can ensure that you hit all the important points in a conversation. It's totally okay to bring cue cards to a conversation if you need to! If you're super nervous, you can even write your parents (or just one, if you want to start with the parent you're most comfortable with) a brief letter asking them to make time for a meeting with you and discussing some of the things you want to talk about.

If you have a trusted friend, opening up to them could help too — maybe you can process some things together, practice what you want to say to your parents, and troubleshoot possible scenarios.

It sounds like you've approached your mom to tell her you're feeling uncomfortable in your body, but you've had trouble trying to frame it in a way that will result in a positive conversation. Framing the conversation as a statement and a request can help start a conversation: "Hey, mom? I feel really uncomfortable using pads while I'm menstruating. Is there maybe something else I can try instead?"

One option with your parents might be simply to say that you're feeling uncomfortable in your body, and you're wondering if you can go to therapy to talk about it. A therapist can help you work through some of these intense emotions and develop a plan for communicating with your parents. If you're afraid your parents might be resistant, you can just ask to see a therapist and not explain why — or reach out to a counselor at school and ask them about options.

Therapy can help with feelings, but you could also ask to have a private conversation with your doctor about some of the things that are upsetting you. Your doctor may have some options to help you cope; if, say, you have a really heavy period, you might be able to use birth control to lighten up the load a little.

There are a lot of options available to you, and if you feel like your parents aren't prepared or able to help, depending on where you live, there may be free or low-cost counseling services and other supports in your community. No matter what the root cause of your discomfort is, there are tons of options available to help you experience more joy in your body, and know that this is something you deserve.