The Localist

The ‘Big Girl’ Phenomenon

Growing up in Sri Lanka is the same for little boys and girls until you hit a certain point: puberty. I suppose this can be said about any country, but most families on this island take a rather traditional approach when puberty hits.

If you’re a girl, you can’t prance around in shorts or skirts. Wrestling with the boys is also a big no no. Being picked up and dropped off from everywhere by your parents or sometimes a well-trusted ‘tuk tuk’ uncle is normal.  It seems like parents try and build a cocoon around you and before you know it, you’ve adapted to fit inside this bubble.

Relatives are told about how their precious little one has now become a ‘big girl’. Certain cultural practices include isolating the girl so that she is only allowed to talk to those of her gender. Then the finale, a puberty ceremony is held in her honour, announcing to society that this family now has a young woman ready to bear children. In ancient and not so ancient times, this practice arose from the need to encourage suitable proposals. Of course, then girls were married off in their early teens. But even today puberty ceremonies are celebrated grandly.

So do all women in Sri Lanka stay within these restrictions until they get married? Obviously not! They continue to wear their shorts and skirts, engage in punching matches with the boys and go about doing things they always wanted to do, while still staying true to the values that have been instilled in them. But a majority of them would have been through the puberty ceremony, decked out in finery and presented to the world – and wondering why they had to go through this. And I’ve had such a day too.





Image. The Bold and the Beautiful by Ignas Kukenys, Creative Commons license Attribution 2.0 Generic.

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