On the new Netflix animated series, Big Mouth, Maya Rudolph plays the Hormone Monstress, a disturbing creature who lures teen girls into bad behavior like stealing lipstick and listening to Lana Del Rey. Here she’s once again visiting the horrors of puberty. As told to Shannon Carlin.
I was a late bloomer. I was the kid in the class who wore a fedora, not going after the boys. My friends had crushes, but I was more the mediator. If a boy asked about one of my friends, I’d be like, “Oh, let me help you. I’ll help facilitate.” I was just so sad and nerdy in my fedora and short afro.
I was also a bit of a clotheshorse, so I was always working really hard on my outfits for school. We’re talking 10 or 11, I was starting to express myself with clothing, and I think I was doing a little Annie Hall androgynous thing. I don’t know if it was that conscious, but it was the eighties, so I think I leaned to a fun menswear vibe for a little lady. It’s pretty funny: a lot of blazers, a lot of bowties, and, of course, the fedora. I was also really into Denise from The Cosby Show. She was my fashion goddess. She could do no wrong in my book.
In my fedora days I was really into Duran Duran, specifically Nick Rhodes, the keyboard player. When he signed his name, the Rhodes had a cool R thing going on where he crossed the H with it, and so there was a phase when I used to sign my name “Maya Rhodes,” thinking that was really it. Right after I married the Fonz, I was going to marry Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran, obviously.
But I think that’s when you see the change, in grade school. It starts to feel unsafe to be a goofball, and you start to feel like, “Oh, I have to be more attractive. I have to be a girl.” That’s really when the shift happens, and then junior high is a full-blown nightmare.
I remember going through a phase when I couldn’t enter a drugstore in my hometown without being like, “Oh my God, I need to put a L’Oréal lipstick in my pocket.” I don’t know where it came from, but it was this weird little rush of being bad and doing something you shouldn’t do. But I was such a good girl I couldn’t imagine my dad having to bail me out of jail. The idea of juvie was so terrifying. I think I did it once, trembling, and never again. I got scared straight by my own experience! It really was so painfully harmless at the time, but it couldn’t have felt like a bigger deal.
It’s really funny, in the process of doing Big Mouth and talking about it, I found that there was such a PTSD when it comes to puberty and adolescence. I’m well aware I had these experiences and can certainly look back at embarrassing moments, but the details of them are so hard and painful that I really truly don’t want to relive these things again. I find that to be such a funny unifying element of this particular subject. Everyone you know has gone through this in their own way, but it’s so isolating that every single person goes through it kind of quietly.
For girls it’s like, “When did you start using tampons?” Some girls are like, “Ah, I just stuck it up there,” but I was terrified of them. It wasn’t until I went to sleepaway camp and literally had the population of my entire bunk coaching me from outside of the bathroom stall and explaining to me how to use this thing. It was this very specific rite of female passage where you’re like, “I’m not going to go to my parents about this. I’m going to go to girls my age who can talk me through this.” That was a really positive experience, but to get to that place I had to endure pads for two years.
Not one of us wants to talk about puberty when we’re going through it, but what’s ickier is having an adult go, “You know, I get it.” And you’re like, “Shut up, old lady. I don’t want to hear it, you’re gross. Your adult body is super disgusting to me.” The scary thing is I am going to be that old lady.
That’s what’s so funny about all of this: You think you have all this insight and are going to share your experience with a young woman and you end up being that creepy adult. Nobody wants to be the creepy adult, but yet we wake up and realize that we are and think, “Wait, how did that happen? I thought I was cool. I thought I was young and hip like you guys.”
But that’s the beauty of being a woman. When we’re younger, whether we realize it or not, we are creating this community when we’re forming those friendships. We’ve always had strength in numbers. We lean on each other. My friends were the ones I’d go to when I was like, “Oh my God, I got my period. Can I have your sweatshirt so I can tie it around my waist?” I’m very lucky I have a lot of friendships that I maintained since I was a kid.
That’s the nice part about aging—not the wrinkles, the other women.