When Kaz Cooke began writing about pimples, her mind travelled back to suburban Box Hill and Sandringham. It’s there she spent her tween years ensconced in an armchair or up a tree with Enid Blyton. And pimples were a recurrent theme during those bookworm, primary school years.
“When I write, I always have that emotional knowledge underpinning the practical stuff and I remember feeling pimples were ruining my life,” she says.
“My information about pimples then came from what mum heard and what people at school thought. People still say you won’t get pimples if you have a silk pillowcase. Have they even thought about that for five seconds?” laughs the best-selling author and cartoonist.
Kaz began her writing career straight out of high school as a cadet journalist at The Age.
“I was very unsophisticated because I’d had my nose in an Enid Blyton book for most of my life. I loved newspapers – they were a shortcut to the rest of the world. I didn’t click in the same way with radio and TV news, perhaps because that escape to the top of the Magic Faraway Tree was in print.”
From the 1990s, Kaz discovered her talent as an author, writing Girl Stuff: Your full-on guide to the teen years; Up the Duff: The real guide to pregnancy; and Kidwrangling: Looking after babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Most of her books were prompted by what was going on in her own life.
“I did Up the Duff while I was pregnant and Kidwrangling while my daughter was a toddler and preschooler. Girl Stuff was the only book I wrote before I needed it,” she says.
Her latest work, Girl Stuff 8-12, was prompted by parent requests for a guide for tweens.
“Booksellers were telling me that so many mums and dads were asking for a book they could give their daughter about her first period. It doesn’t matter if you understand the mechanics of it, you still feel like a freak when you get your first period,” Kaz says.
“When a girl gets her first period at eight or nine, the first instinct of a parent is too say ‘it’s too early’. What they mean is, ‘it’s too early for me’. But puberty changes can start at seven or eight and it’s not because of hormones in chicken or in plastics. It’s a natural result of girls having better nutrition. And your first period does not make you a woman. It makes you a small girl with a period who has to have that situation normalised so she can get on with running about like a little girl.”
Kaz says it’s important parents are prepared to recognise their tween’s worries.
“Otherwise they look for information on the internet, or Taylor from grade 6 will tell them things like a man wees on a lady and she gets pregnant – good on ya, Taylor,” she says.
“With my own daughter, who is now 18, I made a conscious decision that my job as a parent was to find the right answer or to help her find the right answer.”
Kaz says girls today face different pressures with cosmetic surgery and Instagram raising expectations to be and look a certain way.
“Girls have to keep posting this version of themselves. I look back at my dolly cut now and fall about laughing – the girls of today will look back and think ‘why did we all look like ducks in those pictures?’,” she says.
“I get shouting-at-the-TV kind of cross when I see guides for girls by models with all those pictures of models running out of the sea with beautiful skin and a surfboard, wondering where they can find a mango to eat al fresco. Whose life is that?”
But Kaz is worried that sometimes parents decide it’s all too hard and back away. “They say ‘you’ve got an iPad, a phone and here’s a can opener. See you when you’re 19’,” she says.
“Parents need to hang in there and be the parent and ally – but not your daughter’s friend. Tell girls what the rules and boundaries are – and be wary of the parents’ retreat.
“I see real-estate ads [for houses] with a parents’ retreat as a feature. If you stay in that retreat, you are leaving your girls out on the battlefield with no armour and no supplies, and it will be tough for them.”
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO KAZ
Kaz shares some of her thoughts and some of her words of wisdom from Girl Stuff 8-12.
Real cool has nothing to do with fashion or money or looking hot; it’s about what’s inside your head.
Sometimes I think girls do the freeze-out because it makes them feel powerful. Some do it because they’ve learned at home in their own family. That doesn’t make it OK.
On social media
Online, social media and mobile phone stuff has changed things – it’s made situations better or worse. It can make bullying worse but make finding your people easier.
In one afternoon you could feel proud, embarrassed, sad, happy, brave and slightly baffled. Not to mention giggly, creative, clever, annoyed and dying to lie down in a hammock.
On body changes
Things happen when you are a teenager that you later forget – like your bosoms growing at a different rate.
Girls and women are supposed to look sexy from the age of 11 until they’re 903 – which is not helpful.
Girl Stuff 8-12
By Kaz Cooke,