The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Girls from Twelve to Sixteen
GIRLHOOD FROM THE PHYSICAL ASPECT.
Everything which circulates freely and for a long time becomes worn by use. If it be a coin the image which is stamped upon it becomes faint as we pass it from hand to hand without so much as a thought of the causes and nature of barter by means of money. As it is with coins so is it with words, ideas, and facts. Long use so blurs their superscription and meaning that they require to go through some process of mental recoinage before we can see them in their proper aspects. This removal of the defaced image is sometimes brought about by the mere rearrangement of words and phrases. A fresh and original statement of the obvious may then strike us with all the force of a discovery. At other times the process consists in the severe cutting down of redundances. Strip the facts of life of their clothing of conventionality and only then do we see them in their true beauty and perfection. But let it be understood that this process of denudation must be a reality, for there is a true simplicity and a false. Nothing can be more simply and grand than the naked human body at its best as we see it represented in Greek statues; but turn to the naked figures of some modern painters and our judgment at once recognises that the mere fact of being clothed or unclothed has, after all, but little to do with simplicity. The mental or moral is so much greater than the physical that certain turns of expression in the figure or its surroundings are sufficient to rob it of all its directness and charm. What is of importance to absolute truth of form is that the whole being should stand out devoid of falsehood and conventionality both of mind and body.
Having thus cleared the way for our subject let us proceed to further statement of the obvious. Our objects are to see the healthy girl as she is, and to shew how she may be influenced by her surroundings. The first fact we have to recognise is that the period of human life with which we are dealing is one of growth. The march of growth is in the first place regulated by the sun. Plants have their day and night, their summer and winter, their dry years and their wet. Growth proceeds not evenly but by impulses. There is alternation of work and rest. After the same fashion the growth of the human body proceeds in stages. There are diurnal, mensal and annual changes. But in addition to these the life of the human body is broken up by yet other phases and changes. These phases and changes are of the mystic number seven. They are Shakespeare's seven ages with a different arrangement. First comes the period of foetal life when the body rapidly epitomises all the stages of its evolution. Then comes the "change" called birth, when a new mode of life begins. This is followed by babyhood with an apparatus designed for the special purpose of conserving nutrition. The waste of the body is then at a minimum while nutrition is at its highest. Then, to the great concern of many mothers, the baby almost suddenly loses its chubbiness and enters upon the period of childhood. The intake of the body is now but little in excess of the output, and the "wasting" which so often attracts attention is not due to disease but to the natural expression of a physiological process. This is the period of bone growth. The child increases mainly by addition to its skeleton and the soft tissues have to "catch up" as they best can. Until now both male and female have been running on parallel lines. Both have to pass through the same stages of foetal life, babyhood and childhood. But the onset of the next "change" their paths diverge, for the "boy" or the "youth," and the female, the "girl."
All the terms which express sex tend in time to become more precise in their meaning. The term man at one time included both man and woman, and it is still sometimes used in the same way. So also the word girl like the present German word Geschwister stood for both brother and sister, and we still apply the words churl and carl to the male. More recently the word youth has also ceased to be applied for both sexes and is now reserved only for the male. Today the word boy is applied to the male only. It is true it is sometimes used for males up to the age of 23 or 24, and among black people to men of all ages. And do we not still read in the newspapers of the "young girl" of 25? But to be precise the term girl should be applied to the epoch which marks the age between 11 or 12 to 17 or 18. It should begin with the "change" or climacteric of puberty and end with "young womanhood."
Now it is important that we should understand what takes place during this important time. Puberty not only marks the birth of sex, but is the beginning of a fresh impulse of bone growth. These two are so closely associated that where the one is before its time the other is nearly always premature also. And vice-versa, where the manifestation of sex are late in their appearance, there is a tendency for the growth of the body also to be backward. But let is be understood that the apparatus of reproduction may be of quite healthy development, though the usual sign of such development is not present. Mothers are often needlessly alarmed from this cause. As a rule, the growth of the body and of the pelvis is the most trustworthy indication of puberty. If the girl be otherwise healthy, of good general development, and there are no special indications of disorder, then the mother may rest content that all is well. As a rule, the growth of the soft structures of the body keeps pace with that of the skeleton. This is more often the case with girls than with boys. But sometimes the soft tissues lag behind, and then your daughter will appear gaunt and lanky. Among other girls the soft structures not only catch up but grow to excess, and over-fatness or "podginess" results. But there is another condition which gives rise to overgrowth of soft tissues, and which it is important to distinguish from healthy fatness, anaemia. There is in fact no scarcity of blood, but on the contrary the quantity of blood appears to be actually increased. The vessels are indeed so full that the corpuscles are hampered in their action and some of the clear fluid filters out into the tissues. There is also a genuine increase of fat, though it is of a somewhat unhealthy character.
This is not a medical article and has nothing to do with treatment, except to point out when health may lapse into disease. But it is of great importance that there should be some criterion of development, some standard to which the girl should attain. Only then will it be possible to guard against chlorosis or other diseases. It is first necessary to understand that there is no one standard of development. It is not possible by collecting together a large number of statistics to fix a standard to which each human being should attain. That is one factor it is true, but to ascertain the standard for an individual it is necessary to individualise. The degree of development of the parents is of far more importance in coming to an estimate than is any other circumstance. If the girl favour her father in appearance and in manner, it is probable that she will also tend to copy his height and physique. If he be short and thin, it must not be expected that the girl will reach the average standard of height and weight. But there is a third criterion, and that is the one which is furnished by the girl herself. From causes, of the nature of which we know very little, the offspring may take a line of its own and follow neither of the parents. It is probably that this is in some measure due to the repetition of features which were present in distant ancestors and were in abeyance in some of the intervening descendants. To whatever it may be due, it plays an important part in determining the development of the girl. It is to this cause and not to want of care on the part of the parents that we must attribute some of those instances in which poor physique or actual illness have resulted in spite of the most careful upbringing. Nothing is more certain than that you cannot bring up girls by mathematics. Physiology is not an exact science. The individual has a standard of her own, which will defeat all calculations. Do not thoughtlessly throw over good methods of upbringing because the results seem poor, for you cannot always judge by results. Set yourself a high standard, but not one which is higher than the evidence at your disposal will warrant you in making; then follow consistently and steadfastly those principles of conduct which you know to be best, and leave the result to nature. If people would but individualise after this fashion, we should hear much less of those loose judgments which are so easily passed on the habits or methods of others. Only those who know the mother herself and her child can say whether the behaviour of the latter betokens a faulty upbringing. Let us now ask what are the special points in the physical part of girlhood to which we should direct our attention. I should say, to begin with, that it is important that whatever is done should be done quietly and naturally. Let the first sign of backache or lassitude be an opening for a direct and quiet talk. Of course the way has already been prepared by such teaching of the facts of botany as should form part of all elementary education. It will be better if it is understood that the same scheme of reproduction runs through all animated nature. This generalization will enable us to descend to particulars without effort and in a way that will immediately be understood.
But the development of the reproductive system is only part of a widespread change. Remember that this system has only developed. It is still dormant, and it is not necessary to deal with those phases of the subject which do not come uppermost until years have gone by and womanhood is attained. Such topics may be left to the mother to deal with as circumstances may direct.
The development of the skeleton should be regulated by means of outdoor exercises. No supports of any kind should be worn. To put the growing body into splints for the sake of appearance is just a barbarous as piercing the ears or the nose and fitting them with rings. It is in truth far worse, for stays certainly weaken the back, and are a fertile cause of spinal curvature. Let the upbringing of the girl be robust. Do not train the body to be delicate. There is no need whatever to keep her indoors when her brother is out. Girls who catch shrimps or follow other outdoor occupations continue their work every week-day without cessation and remain in good health. No girl need fear exposure to ordinary wet or fatigue at any time, provided she be not brought up so fastidiously as to sap her powers of resistance. Backache and the like troubles should be regarded in the same light as headache, and treated on their merits, not as claiming special attention. At night the windows should be wide open. At one time the idea of a careful mother was one who wrapped her children in thick coats, put wool scarves round their necks, and saw that all the windows were fast shut at night. Now we say that the mother is careful who sends her children out just comfortably warm, without scarves, and who sees that the windows are wide open in the coldest weather. If a girl have a fairly good parental and personal standard, such treatment as this, combined with good food, occasional changes and genial society, will ensure that the physical being is well cared for.
Mrs. Hart Davis has dealt with some practical aspects of the subject in the February number of the Parents Review.
Typed by happi, Mar 2020
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