As a Pakistani Muslim girl, I learned the word taboo very early. I had many taboo questions that required many taboo conversations that most adults would not dare indulge in. And while most of the time it didn’t matter, it became hard to be nonchalant when my body became taboo. I grew into a woman – a long, confusing, humiliating, and exhausting process – and I sometimes wonder if it was worse because it was so lonely. So many details of uncomfortable mornings and weird dreams and confusing moods that encouraged us to create taboos of our own.
That is, until Big Mouth graced us with its presence in 2017.
I had many taboo questions that required many taboo conversations that most adults would not dare indulge in.
With puberty as the main premise of the show, Big Mouth uses animation as a medium to contort reality through unrealistic and exaggerated scenarios with the use of imaginary creatures like Hormone Monsters – an embodiment of how monstrous, unpredictable, and crazy our hormones really are. The surreal play on puberty is presented to the viewers through the eyes of a pubescent teenager.
The show revolves around a group of friends – Nick, Andrew, Jessi, Missy, and Jay – as they navigate their school life and their changing bodies through the help of their Hormone Monsters. However, Big Mouth doesn’t only address overt bullet points about puberty but delves deep into the private and uncomfortable – yet relatable to the broad audience – struggles like tracking the growth of your bodily hair and comparing it with friends.
Here are just three moments Big Mouth addressed my pubescent-self’s concerns better than most adults.
1. “Girls are horny too.”
Season 1, episode 5 (Girls are horny too) is centered around an erotic novel that intrigues and arouses most of the girls in the grade, thus gaining the boys’ attention but not giving them many answers. Nick and Andrew don’t see the big deal about the hero of the book that Jessi and Missy are falling head over heels over but, as the episode progresses, they finally learn it’s because “girls get horny too”!
Sexuality and arousal is different for everyone.
This revelation is big news on its own for the growing boys but that’s not all. The group also learns how sexuality and arousal is different for everyone, especially for girls and boys. While this book is circulating, we see Jessi struggling with how to pleasure herself now that she is going through puberty but also finding excitement as the book teaches her there are different ways to explore your sexuality. Moreover, the encouragement to explore one’s sexuality in the first place is commendable on its own. I know a lot of young girls like me would have benefitted from knowing sexuality doesn’t have to shameful; it can be exciting and it can be in your own way!
2. Girl pillows or boy pillows?
In Season 2 the writers develop Jay’s narrative further as we see the seemingly-straight boy who often played around with a “girl pillow”, Pam, be seduced by a “boy pillow”, Brad. When asked by Pam if he liked it better with her, he answers, “I kind of like it with both of you.”
Instead of his story drifting into the background, the audience gets to see Jay explore his sexuality through both, his experiments as well as learning conversations. As the season progresses, we see him struggle with trying to define who he is, which again, is a harsh reality of exploring one’s sexuality. However, towards the end, Jay decides that love is love and embraces himself for who he is instead of confining himself.
3. Shame Wizard and Depression Kitty
One of the most important conversations on this show centers around the Shame Wizard and Depression Kitty, each being are namesakes of the feelings they bring to the characters’ lives. The Shame Wizard is the judgmental voice we all have in our heads every time we embarrass ourselves and if it gets too loud, it can perpetuate a shameful mindset about oneself. The Depression Kitty is a similar seductive kitty that convinces you to give up and stay in bed. Both of these characters introduce teenagers to new feelings that come with our changing lives and how heavily they impact us, but also how they are never our fault and that we are never alone.
Big Mouth recognizes puberty as a process that is made up of too many first-times, too many new feelings, too much confusion, and too much change.
Big Mouth may be breaking new grounds on the main premise of its show, but its significance delves far deeper. The topic of puberty is often superficially touched upon in TV shows through overused tropes like getting your period but Big Mouth dares to be honest about puberty. Rather than letting one incident define it, this show is perhaps the first to recognize puberty as a process that is made up of too many first-times, too many new feelings, too much confusion, and too much change. As an adult watching the show today, I still felt my inner-thirteen year old relating to Jessi and Missy on screen, and felt grateful to know that my younger teenage brother today has a lighthearted resource like Big Mouth to answer his questions without shaming or silencing him.