If you — or your tween daughter — are already conversant in “sheroes,” “herstory,” and all things “vagical,” HelloFlo: The Guide, Period. is definitely for you. And if those words sound like Sanskrit, I’d wager the book will still resonate. HelloFlo is a frank, funny, and fact-forward new book about puberty for girls — think: real-talk about breasts, pubic hair, periods, and hormones, among many other informative things, replete with accessible illustrations and anecdotes from a wide range of real girls who faced down puberty and lived to talk about it.
It all started with helloflo.com, a health and lifestyle site that delivers content, as well as monthly menstrual care packages, to women of all ages. As its founder, Naama Bloom, said in an interview, the site was “a side project with a very simple vision: to change the conversation surrounding women and their periods.” That side project turned into a full-blown business — and now the nuts and bolts of puberty, from the inimitable HelloFlo POV, have been packaged into a book just for girls.
I caught up with Bloom on the eve of the book’s release.
My tween just turned 10. Those text bubbles on the back of your book are so spot-on: When will I get boobs? Does wearing a tampon hurt? What’s the deal with menstrual cups? Seriously, when will I get boobs? She and I have a version of those conversations almost every night. How do you know the tween mind so well?
I started the business in 2013 and the first big marketing push was the Camp Gyno video [which earned one million views on YouTube in just three days]. It actually started a dialogue for me with thousands of young people. They found me. They emailed me. I was constantly talking to this population of girls. I have an 8-year-old — she’s not quite there yet. But I have lots of friends with kids in the demo and I always engage with them.
It’s a fascinating time. More than any of other part of my life, I remember what it’s like to be 11 and 12.
Tell me a little bit about the tone of the book. Is this you? Is this the voice you wish you had in your ear when you were a tween?
It’s pretty close to me and pretty close to the way I speak. I joke that it’s part puberty book, part memoir of my puberty. I’m pretty straightforward. I don’t use euphemisms. I am a pretty frank and direct person in general. And because I’m talking about periods to everyone, I’m very comfortable talking about it.
The other part of the tone is me, as a mother, thinking about these girls. I have a ton of empathy for girls at that age.
I love this line early on in the book: “I’m going to tell it to you honestly … because nothing about this topic embarrasses me.” It’s modeling this wonderful stance: There’s no shame in this. Where did that come from?
My mom, when I was growing up, had no shame — and I mean that in a positive way. It drove me bananas as a kid. But there was nothing that she acted like was taboo about our bodies.
Then I went to sleepaway camp — hence, “Camp Gyno.” Those girls were extra sisters to me. We all went through puberty together — and talked about the very specific details. They weren’t my school friends; I spent the summers with them and we developed a real openness. You’re showering with girls. You see everyone’s bodies. No one’s telling you not to talk about it with each other. So perhaps I grew up in an environment that was more open than the average.
I was still uncomfortable with it at first, when I started the business. But then I had this big realization that if you just name the thing, it takes the stigma away. And I thought, if I model this, if I go to these tech conventions and introduce myself and what I do and I don’t blush, then other people won’t blush.
One of the things I really appreciate about the book is that it’s diverse. I see an illustration of a girl in a hijab. There are lots of different skin tones and names that feel like they’re from across the spectrum.
The whole team at Dutton was committed to this. We just decided that we wanted this book to be inclusive and make sure that all girls see themselves and find something that resonates with them in the book. It was a conscious effort.
Also, you don’t mince words — there’s a section about online porn right up front, in a sidebar to parents.
The reality is that the average age kids are exposed to online pornography is 11. They’re not looking for it. They’re searching “cute teenage boys”— and there it is. It finds them. And I wanted to be really straightforward. It’s up front in the introduction because I know that’s what parents are reading.
What’s the most surprising thing that came up as you were writing this book?
A lot of the historical stuff, as we were researching it, was very new to me. The merkin — I had no idea of the history of that! When we started doing this book I was slightly obsessed with the topic of pubic hair. My assumption was that pubic hairstyles were changing from maybe the ’60s to present day. It didn’t occur to me that this has been going on for ages, for different reasons, medical, aesthetic. That was mind-blowing.
That, and hearing people’s stories. In the process of capturing the testimonials [which are layered throughout the book], I met some girls who are so articulate. There was one girl — Isabel. She was 15 1/2 when I interviewed her — close enough to when puberty was going on that her stories were really visceral. And the confidence she had!
What would you want parents to know about this book?
I would definitely suggest reading it before giving it to their children, depending on the age and stage of the child. On the younger end, if your child is 8 or 10, you should definitely read it first. It’ll take you two hours. You know, if you don’t know that the book will cover pubic hair, you’re not going to be prepared.
And for older girls… it’s not just the biology piece. This book has so much more in it. So I would recommend either reading it simultaneously or reading it before. Then they’re on the same page as the child.
That said, I wrote the book with the expectation that girls would probably read it alone.
What would you want girls to know about this book?
Just that it’s straightforward. It’s honest. It’s the book that I wish I had had. I wrote it because I feel like we haven’t been doing a good job talking to our girls about the reality of life. This is the type of book where it’s not a grown-up talking to them like a kid, it’s a grown-up talking to them like the intelligent people they are.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.