Smelly body odour, how to keep clean, surprise erections, unwanted hair, acne and spots. Our writers tell you how they got through some of the most embarrassing pitfalls of puberty (and beyond), with a little help from the Simpsons…
Causing a stink: body odour
Being a smelly teenager is awful. I remember being in school, around the age of 12 or 13, and constantly being conscious of any sort of odour. Days when I had PE were worse, and it got to the point when I always had a can of Lynx Africa with me – bless my teenage self.
Having BO was one of the worst things you could say about somebody, so I remember constantly worrying. Thankfully things eventually settled down and I found a deodorant or antiperspirant that worked for me. Then you grow up and – if you properly wash – the smell and worry seems to die down.
Keep it clean: smeg and sweat
Puberty is a nightmare; it’s the reason the woman doesn’t go back in time with Tom Hanks in Big. Everyone has grim stories about puberty, and it really doesn’t help when you’re dealing with something that feels really serious or embarrassing and your parents laugh (this happened to me *a lot*). The thing that got me through was knowing that it wouldn’t go on forever (and it won’t! Promise!)
You don’t realise how much you get away with as a child until you stop getting away with it, and I wish I knew then what I know now! You can make your life much easier by making a few minor changes. Body odour becomes an issue, and is (much much) easier to deal with if you avoid man-made and mixed fibres in clothes – that’s three years of grim experience you now have on me! Change your sheets at least every two weeks, and don’t mix shampoos and conditioners. Anything sugary you eat will come out as a spot about two weeks later, roll-on deodorant is better than spray because you pretty much can’t over-do a roll-on.
Because I grew up when Red Dwarf was on TV, and because I owned a dictionary, I already knew what smeg was, other than a fridge brand. While this was a strange introduction to the fact that my body was changing, the fact that the word was being bandied around a lot meant I was aware of it, so it never caused me any issues. My body started handing me new cleanliness challenges at a miserable rate.
Unexpected visitor: surprise erections
Surprise erections. The bane of my adolescence. Puberty hit me like a truck when I was 11, and most of it was fine, some of it was even great, but the random, uncooperative, incredibly hard to hide erections were crushingly embarrassing.
The worst part was I couldn’t even tell when it was happening. Imagine being a twelve year old on a bus full of other 12 year olds, staring out the window while your boyhood alerts his presence to everyone except you. I was that boy and I was thinking about rocks. Rocks are not sexy. Why penis? Why?
Hair everywhere: hair growth, hairiness
Having very thick hair was a blessing until puberty struck and it started appearing in places I could never have anticipated. Suddenly my legs, lower arms, upper arms and armpits, midriff, feet, toes and face were taking a distinctly animalistic direction.
Being a hairy teenager didn’t bother me until other people started pointing it out – but once the [misguided] notion that hairy was unsightful got firmly stuck in my head, the next five years were an uphill battle.
I began waxing my feet and legs, which thanks to my oily teenage skin gave way to ingrown hairs that were so deep they left my legs pitted with small scars. I overplucked my eyebrows – one of which never fully recovered and will be shorter than its twin for the rest of my life, making me look permanently surprised. When I was fifteen a boy in my year started calling me ‘moustache’ in homage to my blonde, but visibly downy, upper lip, which then fell victim to a variety of prescribed acids, bleaches, a german eroding technique, and eventually pills to try and stunt the growth.
The irony is that no-one was looking at my body – certainly no-one who cared about my hairiness. By the time I was 20, it had stopped being an issue: a combination of my hormones calming and my ceasing to care.
Spot the difference: acne, adult acne
Spots, spots, we all get spots. Acne though, is the next level. Deep, persistent, painful and gross.
Acne is just really crap. It should be called crapne. It robs you of confidence, just crushes you down with its red, pus-filled, angry welts. I first got proper acne aged 22: it’s horrible at any age, truly horrible, and it was doubly difficult to have acne then. I was supposed to be becoming a Proper Adult, starting a Career and Dating Men. Acne, though, tends to be associated with teenagers because it often comes on with puberty – so there I was, feeling 22, looking 13. Not great. Not how the Tay Tay song goes.
Whatever your age, the thing to do is hound your GP until you’re given treatment that works for you. Don’t let the embarrassment hold you back, and don’t take ‘let’s see how it goes’ for an answer if it’s the only answer you get for more than three months. Don’t listen to any nonsense about changing your diet to help.
There are loads of treatments and it’s your doctor’s duty to make your acne better. If they’re not taking you seriously, ask to see another doctor. It’s your right to do this, and you will find one that helps you. Go for it. You deserve it.