Season 2 of Big Mouth digs even deeper into the many uncomfortable truths of going through puberty. But one of the most powerful stories this season involves the introduction of Gina Alvarez (voiced by Gina Rodriguez), who is slut shamed after her body develops faster than the other girls' and she begins a short-lived romance with Nick. Gina's story can feel achingly familiar to many women who have had to grapple with their bodies changing long before their friends', and Big Mouth handles her story sensitively in way that acknowledges that growing into a sexualized body can be both terrifying and exciting.
There's almost always at least one "girl who grows boobs seemingly overnight" in middle school, Big Mouth co-creator Nick Kroll tells Bustle. But he wanted to do more than simply examine how Gina's chest affects the other characters. Of course, Gina's boobs prompt Nick to want to get as close to her as possible and make Missy and Jessi feel insecure in their less-developed bodies. But Kroll says he and the writers were careful to make this story about Gina's changing body from Gina's perspective first and foremost, giving her a voice while the other characters objectify her.
“[We thought], how does that affect the girl Gina herself, who's all of a sudden getting all of this new attention, some of it wanted, some of it unwanted? And what's it like to be overnight sexualized in a way and what does that lead to?" Kroll says. "And in our case, it led to a story for us to be able to begin to talk about slut shaming."
Nobody notices Gina until her breasts suddenly appear; once they do, both the boys and girls begin to objectify her, with the boys vying for her attention while the girls covet the attention she gets. While both Andrew and Nick ogle her, Nick is the one who gets closest, feigning a friendship as a way to get closer to her. But after he decides to actually become her friend and get to know her for who she is, Gina develops feelings for him and wants him to touch her breasts. But as Nick gets all the glory for being encouraged to make this move, Gina faces bullying from the other girls for allowing Nick to touch her.
Through Gina, the showrunners were able to explore the double standards that come with gender, particularly that men are allowed to act on their sexual desires, while women are shamed for doing so.
“I think an interesting distinction that isn't really talked about that is part of the cultural framework that's slightly changing is the idea that the boys are supposed to push forward, and the girls are supposed to resist,” Kroll says. “And that it's a question of when the girl acquiesces finally or doesn't versus the idea that a boy and a girl may both decide they want to go to second base or a girl might decide she wants to have her boobs touched and that's okay if both the boy and the girl are on the same page.”
Kroll also says that Big Mouth wanted to show that puberty doesn’t just make teenage boys feel intense sexual desires; teenage girls feel them, too. “I don't think in general popular culture girls’ puberty is dealt with, but it's really almost always about their period stuff,” Kroll explains. “It's really not about them masturbating or being horny and all that stuff. So we started that in Season 1 and we were excited to talk about that kind of stuff.”
In order to ensure that female puberty was depicted as accurately as possible, the showrunners spoke to and researched the work of sex educators who focus on teaching enthusiastic consent, as well as how experiencing those sexual desires in puberty varies according to gender.
“In continuing those conversations, we spoke with Shafia Zaloom, who's a sex educator out of the Bay area. And in a separate way we really read and absorbed Brene Brown who talked a lot about shame. And she did a TED talk about shame that became a major influence on the Shame Wizard, on the formation of the Shame Wizard,” Kroll adds.
The Shame Wizard, a new character introduced this season, doesn’t discriminate when he makes the kids feel embarrassed about themselves and their hormone-ridden actions. But he particularly affects Gina, who feels shame over being a “slut,” while Nick gets to experience being seen as a hero for getting to have the coveted experience of copping a feel.
But, through Big Mouth, teenage girls who can identify with what Gina goes through will learn that there’s no reason for them to feel ashamed of their sexuality. “It's been really nice to hear from middle school girls to high school girls to college girls to grown women to have a frank discussion of their puberty and sexuality discussed in a frank manner,” Kroll says.
By being so detail-oriented when it comes to women's experience with puberty and sexuality, Big Mouth is not only showing girls that they’re not alone in their experiences that they might feel are still taboo to discuss, but it’s also showing teenage boys how important it is to be aware of the gendered double-standard and what they need to do to help change it. Call it effective — and entertaining — sex ed.