I remember the moment when I realized my teenage body was changing; a moment that’s been burned into my memory like a brand on flesh. It was during my summer camp’s annual water balloon fight. I was a stealthy, determined soldier whose only mission was to douse as many of my fellow preteens as possible. I looked forward to the watery fiasco every year. Me and my friends would hide behind trees, duck to avoid flying water balloons, and flee from deadly Super Soaker streams with utter abandon. As per usual, my sneaky tactics failed me, and I got hit: BAM, square in the chest.
I’ve always been a magnificently gracious loser, so my response was to laugh, take a little bow, and congratulate the assailant who vanquished me. Curiously, my performance was met with deafening silence; that silence slowly turned into a sea of whooping, giggling, and pointing at my chest. To my horror, I looked down and was met by a big ol’ set of brand-spanking-new overnight boobs. And worse, my surprise boobs were on full display to all of my peers thanks to my wet T-shirt. Cue the first of many in a long line of tearful, frantic sprints to the girls’ bathroom.
Big Mouth Makes the Horrors of Puberty Hilarious
Adult humans share a collective amnesia when it comes to puberty. If we were completely honest with kids about how weird and painfully awkward that time can be, our nation’s preteens would all seek cryostasis and freeze themselves to avoid the experience entirely. The physical and emotional changes that come with puberty are so sudden: One minute you’re exchanging Yu-Gi-Oh! cards with your buddies on the playground, and then POOF! You’re a sobbing, acne-covered mess who’s barricaded herself in the bathroom. And you’re mad at everyone, but also sad, and hungry? And you have boobs.
That same sad confusion is what makes Netflix’s brilliant animated series Big Mouth an utter revelation. Big Mouth is an unflinching look at the universal process of growing up. The two-season animated series follows a group of preteens navigating the path to adulthood. Each kid is aided by an individual Hormone Monster — a physical manifestation of their pubescent journey that only they can see.
Both seasons are a raw, beautiful, and sometimes gross depiction of how different puberty is for everyone — and that magic is aided by the broad spectrum of the show’s cast and their experiences: Nick (Nick Kroll) struggles with being a late bloomer, Missy (Jenny Slate) is a sexually curious early bloomer who’s always a little more mature than her peers, Jessi (Jessi Klein) is bristling with angst while her parents divorce and her family life falls apart, Andrew (John Mulaney) hit puberty early and can’t tame his patchy mustache or stop ruining the front of his jeans, Matthew (Andrew Rannells) is learning about the guard he’s had to put up to protect himself as the only outspoken gay kid in his class, and Jay (Jay Mantzoukas) is a latchkey kid whose situation probably merits a call to social services.
Gina’s in Control of Her Own Sexual Feelings
Big Mouth focuses a microscope on the relatable terror of puberty — and enhances the horror, forcing us to stare unblinkingly into the void. With Season 2, the creators zoom the microscope in on a new character: Gina Alvarez, a refreshingly smart and savvy Latina preteen who’s voiced by the charming Gina Rodriguez. Listen, I’m real thirsty for representation; I’m parched. Representation starts revolutions — especially on TV, a platform that spoke to me so directly as a kid and helped me feel seen. From Ricky and Lucy pushing their beds together and having that baby to Ellen Degeneres coming out of the closet, when a person gets to see themselves depicted on-screen, they know someone out there is aware of their existence and that their experience matters.
From the moment Gina showed up in Big Mouth as the previously unnoticed classmate whose chest blossomed overnight, I knew she was my girl. As the girl who grew boobs overnight and then unknowingly flashed her peers during a camp water fight, I could relate. I was labeled a “curvy Latina” by the world before I even knew who I was. When the world sexualizes you before you’ve had a chance to figure out sexuality for yourself, it can make you feel pretty powerless. And Gina learns that as quickly as I did.
How Gina Breaks the “New Boobs Girl” Trope
The New Boobs Girl is a well-known trope, and she’s mostly used to showcase prepubescent boys’ reactions to her anatomy. From Bebe in South Park to Krelboyne Girl in Malcolm in the Middle, the New Boobs Girl is a visual vehicle for, well, her boobs. She exists to drive the story for the male leads and their sexual maturation; we only see her through their lens. Gina shows up in the middle of a soccer game with big boobs and the boys react similarly, but then Big Mouth breaks the New Boobs Girl trope.
At his mother and sister’s urging, Nick gets to know Gina. He talks to her at lunch, actively trying to ignore his pubescent urge to stare at her chest, and listens to her instead. He discovers she’s funny, quick-witted, and they like the same stuff; he’s surprised. Gina’s also super self-aware. She notices the new not-so-subtle eyes sexualizing her newly formed body; sometimes she likes it, sometimes it’s terrible and isolating. She both takes ownership of her sexuality and acknowledges how good and bad the ogling can make a girl feel.
Gina’s a faceless conquest to boys — literally, there’s a dream sequence in which Andrew marries her disembodied boobs — and competition to other girls, and Gina Rodriguez’s voice captures her character’s frustration and pain in a way that deeply resonated with me. Young women are told to push down, avoid, and deny their burgeoning sexual feelings, but Gina wants to be in the driver’s seat. She wants to make out with boys, but she wants to be the one to invite it.
Gina Deals With Slut-Shaming
It’s hard for teen girls to win, especially when they’re so often pitted against each other, and Gina’s storyline in Big Mouth heartbreakingly captures that struggle. In the episode “Smooch or Share,” the school mean girl Devin tells everyone that Nick got to second base with Gina, and the school immediately brands her a “slut.” Gina has a small breakdown, but she gets right back up and confronts Devon (first physically, then verbally). With a confident stance she declares, “You know what Devin, I liked getting my boobs felt, and if that makes me a slut… well, that’s your problem!”
Gina’s Helped Me Heal My Own Teenage Trauma
Unlike any other girl in the show, Gina’s also distinctly Latina. When we were first introduced to her live-in abuelita (who only speaks Spanish) and her boorish brood of older brothers, I felt seen. She helps girls like me feel the warm embrace of being represented on the silver screen. A writer in a room knows we exist.
From her body autonomy to her bold choices, Gina’s a character who both provides representation and sparks conversation. Even as an adult, I struggle with feeling shame for taking up space with my own distinctively Latina voice and body shape. But even now, years post-puberty, seeing Gina’s self-acceptance and bravery has helped reopen and heal wounds I’ve long ignored. I needed her words. I know if I had a character like Gina growing up, I would have picked myself up off that bathroom floor all those years ago, grabbed a water balloon, and sprinted back onto that playground. Because if my boobs are distracting you… well, that’s your problem.