Karen’s Story

I grew up like a lot of girls in the 1960’s — a little sheltered, a little confused by the world in general, but mostly, I was a happy kid.

But then one winter afternoon when I was 10, as I sat in my mother’s lap, my head resting on her shoulder, her body became very still. I didn’t know it at the time, I just went and got my father, but she had passed away quietly from an incurable heart condition.

The days and months that followed were a blur of overheard whispers and misunderstanding. I knew nothing of her condition, and in an effort to protect me, no one told me what had happened or what would happen next. It was a very different time. My father was a hard worker and provider, but he didn’t really know how to grieve and care for me at the same time. And almost overnight, my boring, typical childhood turned into a revolving door of nannies and strangers. In all the ways that really mattered, I was alone. And as my body began to grow and change, and I needed guidance and nurturing, I felt the loss of my mother even more acutely.

I had lost the only person who could have helped me truly understand what was about to happen to my body just as I started experiencing the first pangs of puberty.

greenchairstudio-karen-o-087-webResThankfully though, for a time I did have Barbara, a very British, very professional nanny. Mary Poppins, with a lot less singing and smiles. But what Barbara lacked in maternal instinct, she more than made up for in practicality, which resulted in her giving me one of the greatest gifts of my young life. It was a simple thing. But to a confused little girl, it meant the world: She filled a small brown paper journal with everything I needed to know (as she understood it) about my body and about what to expect as I entered puberty. She gave it to me with a quiet word that if I had questions, I could ask.

I poured over that little book. Tracing the rough drawings over and over, trying to make sense of every word she wrote.

But nothing in the book could prepare me for the actual, physical experiences of becoming a woman. When I got my first period, my father and I went to the store to buy the necessities, but nothing could help the intensity of my periods. At fourteen, the parade of nannies had ended and I was on my own. I didn’t have anyone to turn to for comfort, understanding, or answers.

I was all alone during my transition into womanhood. But no girl should have to be.

Every day, the work I do through Body Basics heals me as much as it helps the girls I teach. Helping them to understand their bodies and their womanhood, helping them make this transition with poise, clarity, support, and deep understanding, is the greatest gift I can both give and receive during my time here on earth.

Today, I am a retired elementary school teacher and mother of three beautiful and talented young women (Mia, McKenna, and Keeley) who have each had a hand in the work I do. Raising them – learning to be their mother, their teacher, their guide – is a journey into exploring my own ideas and definitions of womanhood and motherhood. At every turn, I think about what I wish I’d had in a mother, and did my best to be that for them.

In my life, I have been fortunate enough to travel all over the world. From Pakistan to Africa, and finally to my home in Oregon, I have met women and girls from all walks of life. And I am always in awe of the universally beautiful strength women carry inside them.

It is my heartfelt belief that every girl, everywhere, deserves to have people in her life to show her that:

  • She can be strong.
  • Beauty can mean a thousand things.
  • Her body’s changes don’t have to be scary and confusing.
  • She has the power within her to meet the world with compassion, intelligence, and confidence.
  • And that she has the right to feel good about herself and her body no matter what.

Since I started Body Basics in 1998, I’ve been fortunate to work with hundreds of girls while developing and honing our programs. Today, many of our students have grown up to become mothers themselves and it is a special honor to welcome the second generation of Body Basics students. Watching my work become a legacy for mothers and daughters to share has been truly fulfilling.

I created Body Basics to:

  • Help parents bridge the communication gap that often starts to widen as our daughters grow up.
  • Normalize the puberty experience, by providing a safe place for girls to share their feelings, excitement, and fears about this transitional period.
  • Educate mothers and daughters (and dads too!) about girls’ bodies and how they are changing, what to expect, and how to face those changes with as much ease and understanding as possible.

When girls understand how their bodies work and why, they are empowered to become women who lead from this place of wholeness and confidence. I invite you to join me in raising the next generation of girls to know that they are beautiful, strong, and special.

To learn more about the Body Basics story, click here.

Karen’s Credentials:

1982  Graduated from Southern Oregon University, BA in Elementary Education

1983-1993  Multi-age teacher, grades 1-5, Lincoln Elementary school, Ashland, Oregon

1996-present  Body Basics and Beyond, grades 5-8, founder and teacher

brand and site design by Makeness Media LLC

copyright © 2015 Body Basics & Beyond | Karen O'Dougherty