Hesperian Health Guides

When your body changes

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HealthWiki > A Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities > Chapter 4: Understanding your body > When your body changes

It is important to be able to ask questions and express your feelings, especially your confusions and fears, about your changing body and emotions. This is true throughout your entire life, when puberty, sexuality, fertility and childbearing, and menopause can signal great changes for your body and your health. When you accept your physical development, emotions, and sexual feelings, you can care for and respect yourself as a woman. Take the time to examine your own feelings and share them with others:

  • Be comfortable with your body and accept your disability as part of your body.
a woman speaking.
To be a healthy woman, I need to know as much as possible about my body and why it changes.
  • Learn about sexuality and the responsibilities that accompany sexuality. Older family members, health workers, counselors, and other adults with
    disabilities can be good sources of information.
  • Develop and nurture loving, caring relationships with
    family, friends, and loved ones. Positive relationships are essential for well-being. These interactions will provide you with an important support network.
  • Interact with other girls and women with disabilities, especially women who have jobs and are raising families.
  • Avoid spending time with people who make you feel bad.
  • Be involved in events outside your home. Treat them as opportunities to explore and develop friendships, and to develop and share the things that you do well.
  • Protect yourself from sexual abuse.
a young woman in a wheelchair speaking.
Being a teenager is hard enough without having your family pretend that your body is still that of a little girl.

Helping a girl become a woman

It is important to prepare a girl for the changes her body will go through as she becomes a woman.

Make sure she learns about monthly bleeding before she has her first period, and help her prepare to manage monthly bleeding when it begins.

Help her understand that her physical and emotional changes are normal.

Older family members and caregivers can encourage a girl to talk and ask questions openly by asking about her body’s changes in a light-hearted way. This lets a girl with disability know, even before she begins puberty, that the people closest to her are available for questions.

What families and caregivers can do

Parents and other family members can:

  • Accept that she is becoming a woman changing just like any other girl.
  • Help her meet other girls and women with disabilities.
  • Encourage her to develop friendships and activities outside the home. This will help give her confidence and a sense of herself.
  • Give her good food and timely health care.
  • Talk to her about sexuality. Encourage her to ask questions and express her feelings about her sexuality.
  • Protect her from sexual abuse.
WWD Ch4 Page 77-1.png
In some communities in India the girl is given a ceremonial bath and dressed like a bride. A grand feast follows and the participants present gifts to the girl.

Coming-of–age ceremonies

In some communities, the ceremony to mark a girl reaching puberty is a big event to let people know the girl is “grown up” and ready for marriage.

If you live in a community that has ceremonies to mark the change when a girl becomes a woman, make sure your daughter has a coming-of-age ceremony.

What health workers can do

Make sure to include girls with disabilities in any health education projects you organize for girls to learn about their bodies. Teach families and schoolteachers of girls and women with disabilities that the body of a girl or a woman with a disability is almost always the same as that of a girl or woman who is not disabled.