While Margaret spends plenty of time mulling over big, abstract questions—like, say, Are you there God?—when it comes to growing up, our girl's got some very concrete and tangible concerns. And by that, of course, we are referring to bras, pads, and deodorant.
With a main character on the brink of becoming a teenager, it makes sense that she's interested in the various accessories that accompany bodies as they shift from kid to adult. Just like the pressure she feels to join a particular religion, the changes Margaret's body goes through are all new terrain—and key to growing up (for more on religion and growing up, be sure to check out God in the "Symbols" section). And just like her responses to church and temple clue us in to where Margaret stands in her struggle with religion, the ways that she relates to bras, pads, and deodorant throughout the book clues us in to where she is developmentally. Cool, right?
Let's compare two passages to really see what we're talking about here. The first one is from when Margaret and Janie muster the courage to buy a box of pads—not because either of them has actually gotten their periods yet, but so they'll be prepared when they do. Janie and Margaret can hardly believe they're brave enough to pull such a purchase off, and we see that Margaret's perplexed by the normalcy with which the cashier handles their transaction. She says:
Janie didn't move. She looked like she was cemented to the floor. She had this dumb expression on her face-between crying and smiling. So I grabbed her boxes and headed for Max and the cash register. I plopped everything down in front of him and just stood there not looking at his face and not saying anything either. He added it all up and I motioned to Janie to give me her money. Then I said, "Two bags, please." Max took my money, gave me some change, which I didn't bother to count, and presented me with two brown bags. That was all there was to it! You'd think he sold that kind of stuff every day of the week. (22.27)
The first thing this passage clues us into is that Margaret is more mature than Janie. Our girl's growing up and taking charge, which is really clear in contrast to Janie's deer-in-headlights reaction to actually completing the transaction. But we also know that Margaret has a bit of maturing left to do since she is amazed at Max's nonchalance over the sale—she says, "You'd think he sold that kind of stuff every day of the week." Newsflash, Margaret: he does. Because it's his job… and because ladies get their periods all the time. In Margaret's world, though, a period is still an exceptional development.
But now let's look at what happens when Margaret finally gets her period. She immediately knows what's going on, and calls her mom to tell her the news. Her mom needs some proof—she asks if Margaret is sure, and Margaret shows her her underpants—and then assumes that Margaret will need some help figuring out how pads work and such. But Margaret's totally on top of the situation, and while she has a question for her mom, it's not about how things work. She says:
When she came back I asked her, "Is it that Private Lady stuff?"
"No, I got you Teenage Softies."
"Good," I said. (25.35-37)
The only thing Margaret's concerned about now is whether or not her mom got her the right brand of pads—and she's not at all uncertain about how to use them (which is good, since she's been practicing for quite a while). Check it out:
I locked the bathroom door and attached a Teenage Softie to the little hooks on my pink belt. Then I got dressed and looked at myself in the mirror. (25.41)
Whereas earlier Margaret couldn't believe the ease with which she could buy pads, she's perfectly able to believe that the time has come for her to use them in earnest. She's not freaked out or unsure of herself at all—Margaret's been anticipating this moment for a long time, and the clarity and calm she possesses during it let's us know her mind has grown up just as much as her body.
These are just a few small examples of how accessories represent Margaret's growth—physically, yes, but also emotionally and mentally—and there are plenty more peppered throughout the book. If you keep your eye out for pads, bras, and deodorant, you'll find a handy little road map for measuring how much Margaret grows up.