“We must, we must, we must increase our bust!”
Familiar to generations of women, the iconic chant for bigger bosoms has been recited in front of mirrors and behind closed doors for more than 50 years and remains a lasting legacy from Judy Blume’s groundbreaking 1970 novel “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.”
With its frank conversations around puberty, sex and religion, Blume’s young adult book has touched the lives of adolescent girls everywhere, reassuring them that zits, periods and those first flutters of sexual awakening are all just normal parts of growing up.
Between social media and the internet, there’s not much that we don’t talk about nowadays. Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, however, when the book was first published, topics like the aforementioned were mostly taboo, relegated to whispers in school hallways or late-night sleepovers.
But Blume changed everything.
“This book spoke to young girls as women for the first time, and it allowed us to be ourselves,” TODAY's Jenna Bush Hager said while speaking at the New York movie premiere of the book's adaptation.
Even so, Blume’s books weren’t exactly fodder for dinner conversation. “It was what we read under the covers with the flashlight,” Jenna said.
Deemed controversial for its portrayal of Margaret Simon, a sixth-grader coming to terms with moving to a new town, interfaith parents and her changing body (including — gasp! — menstruation), the book was banned from many library shelves. More than a half century later, Blume still remains on the list of frequently banned authors according to the American Library Association.
Did Blume know that her novel would be incendiary?
Not even a little bit.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” Blume said while speaking at the same event. “I knew nothing about writing. I didn’t know anybody who had ever written, but I had all this stuff inside me and it spilled out."
Within six weeks, she’d finished her first draft. The rest, as they say, is history.
Since 1969, Blume has written 29 books, including beloved novels like “Blubber,” “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing,” “Forever,” “Wifey” and “Summer Sisters.” Combined, they’ve sold more than 90 million copies and have been translated into 39 languages, per her website.
“I remember, once, somebody saying to me, ‘20 years from now, Judy, do you think they’ll be reading your books?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know and I don’t really care as long as somebody is reading them now,’” Blume said.
Retired from writing, Blume, 85, currently runs Books and Books, an independent bookstore that she co-founded with husband George Cooper in Key West, Florida. She said women of all ages regularly come into the store to meet her. Often, she said, “there are a lot of tears.”
“I think it’s because when they meet me, it’s their childhood,” Blume shared.
She said that the upcoming “Are You There God?” film, out on April 28, is for all women, but especially for those who grew up reading the book.
“First and foremost, it’s for the ones who will recognize, they’ll recognize where they were when they read it,” she said, “and they’ll remember.”
TODAY.com asked some of those women what “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” means to them and how the book impacted their lives. Here’s what they said.
Susan Evans, 52
When I was a preteen in the early 80’s, my friends and I all “found” Judy Blume. She spoke of subjects that were either swept under the rug or spoke of clinically or biologically. She spoke directly to us about teen experiences.
We started unofficial “period clubs,” anxiously awaiting growing up in ways that were special for girls. Some things from the book were already outdated — sanitary belts and giant pads! No way!
I was so delighted when I picked up the book again last year to reread it before the movie comes out and I saw that some of the out-of-date things were updated. She has and always will be a progressive author.
As a Jewish girl I was so excited to read about her experiences with Judaism with her grandmother. Now, as a mom parenting my Jewish children with their Catholic dad, I see it from a different, interfaith perspective.
As they say, “representation matters” and fiction books with Jewish characters are hard to find.
Karen Abad, 37
In sixth grade, I attended my school’s Scholastic Book Fair and picked up Judy Blume’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” because it had the word “God” in it and I felt like it would be a book my parents would approve of if they ever saw it in my room.
Growing up in a Catholic and Christian Filipino household, there were lots of conversation topics that were off limits, sex being one of them. So, it was a huge surprise to me when I started reading “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” and realized it was about puberty and sex.
I felt like I was in a secret club and I was learning about things that I wasn’t allowed to ask about, let alone, think about. It was also in many ways normalizing feelings that I had growing up, but could never explore or discuss.
I spent eight years of my adolescence living in Saudi Arabia, where I observed a very strong gender dichotomy. A lot of the concepts of the book were so foreign to me, like parties with boys playing spin the bottle and two minutes in the closet. For 8th grade, my family immigrated to California and for the first time I felt like I was experiencing the life that I had read about in the book.
As I’ve gotten older, I realized that “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” not only was a roadmap for me to navigate puberty, but it was also something that became important to me as I experienced the culture shock of moving from the Middle East to America. I am extremely grateful that the book exists and helped the weirdo in me feel just a little bit more “normal” when I felt like I had no one to confide in.
Erin Rehberg, 40
I am not much of a rereader, but I have read this book no fewer than ten times. Each time, I am transported back to the feelings that I had as a preteen.
I first read this book when I was around 10 years old. My mom bought it for me at a book fair at my elementary school, and the whole time I was reading it, I felt so seen as someone who was on the cusp of puberty.
I also wondered to myself the whole time I was reading, “Does my mom realize what this book was about?” I think the power of the book is that it took so many topics that felt taboo, at least at that time, and discussed them in a way that felt so relatable.
I think we all wonder if we are “normal” at that age, and Margaret helped me feel normal. “
“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” helped me realize that fictional stories are so powerful for helping us feel like humans.
It is so important that all people, but especially young people, have access to books like Blume’s that make us feel like our experiences, and the changes we make as adolescents, are part of a larger shared experience.
Sherri DePersia, 52
I will never forget my friend in second grade having that book out at recess. We would sneak into a huddle and read it. It was so funny. I’m still good friends with them and we still talk about it. I loved all her books.
Brittany Bustos, 27
My mom gave me “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret” to read when I was about 10 or 12, the same age she was when she read it.
When I read the book, I shared so much of what Margaret was facing: The idea of falling in love, the impact of puberty and getting a period for the first time, which was a big struggle for me growing up because I just didn’t understand it.
While I read other books that teleported me to other worlds, this book always will be a pinnacle in the timeline of my life. It was something I loved along with my mom, and it kept me realizing that I wasn’t alone in this big scary thing called growing up.
Jenna Scuteri, 31
I can picture “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” still sitting on the bookshelf in my childhood bedroom, a book I read many, many times.
My mother bought me the book around the time the nurse pulled the fourth grade girls aside for a “special health class,” where you learn about the female reproductive system, but mainly the upcoming and looming topic of the period.
The preteen time in life can be challenging and confusing and this book made you feel like you were not alone. As a Christian, I also enjoyed Blume’s insight into asking God for help during this time (and questioning), especially to be like her peers.
Julie Scaringella, 53
“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” is my all time favorite book. In fourth grade, my teacher read the class “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing,” and after that I read every Judy Blume book I could. I have read Margaret every year of my life since then. I know it by heart.
Christa and Caelyn Dean, 47 and 13
I read “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” in the mid ‘80s. Back in the day, moms didn’t necessarily have open conversations with daughters about a lot of these topics — boys, religion, body development, so it became a must-read for so many girls.
Just to know that Margaret, like so many of us, struggled with not understanding her feelings was a comfort.
I couldn’t wait to share this book with my daughter, Caelyn, who loved Judy Blume’s "Fudge" books (so did my son). I think I jumped the gun by giving it to her too early — she was mortified! But she picked it back up on her own and it became a favorite of hers as well.
According to Caelyn, “I didn’t want to read it at first, but my mom convinced me and now I love it.”
Joan Steven, 53
"Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret" was the first Judy Blume book I read. I went to a small private Catholic school and read it in third grade. I started talking with all my friends about bras and periods. At the time, I had no clue what a period was and I distinctly remember mispronouncing bra so no one had a clue what I was talking about.
With it being such a small school — I graduated with 37 people — teachers got wind of a bunch of third grade girls talking about periods and bras. That was not anything that was talked about that early in my school.
At the time, my mom was my Brownie troop leader and it one of my best friend’s dad was an OB/GYN. My mom arranged for my friend’s dad to come to a Brownie meeting and talk about the reproductive system to a bunch of third graders. I remember being so embarrassed but glad that my mom did this.
Margaret Lavallee, 56
“I must, I must, I must increase my bust.” Still my mantra all these decades later.
Throughout the month of March, TODAY.com is celebrating women across generations who have made history and continue to move the conversation forward by breaking stigmas, sparking dialogue and inspiring the next generation.