Posted from Tamarack Song’s new blog.
The small size of villages means that girls approaching puberty have few, if any, peers to compare themselves to. Thus they do not develop to maturity in a context of intense comparison and competition. Each young girl is likely to be the center of attention for a number of years. As a girl begins to mature, the men of the village offer running commentaries on the changes in her body—obvious in a culture where the breasts are not covered—and joke about wanting to marry her or to run away with her. It is unlikely that the attention will have to be shared.
This experience seems to inspire self-esteem, as shown in the following sharing I had with a twelve-year-old girl. Her breasts were just starting to develop, and I saw her admiring herself. She was a lovely girl, although not outstanding in any way except by being in the full health and beauty of youth. She saw me watching. I teased in the !Kung manner I had by then thoroughly learned, “So ugly! How is such a young girl already so ugly?” She laughed. I asked, “You don’t agree?” She beamed, “No, not at all. I’m beautiful!” I said, “Beautiful? Perhaps my eyes have become broken with age that I can’t see where it is?” She said, “Everywhere—my face, my body. There’s no ugliness at all.” These remarks were said easily, with a broad smile, but without arrogance. The pleasure she felt in her changing body was as evident as the absence of conflict about it.
From pages 269-70 of Nisa, The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman (NY: Random House, 1983) by Marjorie Shostak.