Yesterday, I talked about the realities of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and that it is actually a big mess of an endocrine problem and not a “lady problem.” It has serious ramifications that go way beyond having ovarian cysts develop and rupture, things like diabetes, high cholesterol, organ dysfunction, etc. So why doesn’t anyone talk about it?
Shame… Embarrassment… Harassment… Bullies.
Having PCOS has taught me the value of the phrase fuck off. Because random strangers want to give me advice on how to treat my adult acne and how to treat my facial hair (I shave it, it’s easy and it’s a complete myth that hair grows back darker and fuller… if it was real, I imagine men who keep themselves clean shaven would have to take a chainsaw to that shit by the time they were in their 50s).
My very first instance of being bullied happened because of PCOS, not because I’m creative and a little weird. I was in 7th grade! I had been in puberty for a while and I was attractive for a teen with lots of boobs, which is why I started dressing like a nun. Girls who weren’t as developed had lots of nasty things to say to me about my chest and guys couldn’t focus on anything else. However, the real dandy, the one that shattered what little self confidence I might have had at 12 years old, was because of a guy.
He was a 9th grader and a friend of my cousin’s. One day, he used duct tape to stick a can of shaving cream and a razor to my locker door. Over both of them in a giant note written in Sharpie were the words “Girls Shouldn’t Have Moustaches”.
He should have just stabbed me, it would have been nicer. Not only was I aware that I was developing a moustache, but my doctor had told me it was normal for my condition (which hadn’t been given a name by him, he just called it an endocrine disorder) and that I shouldn’t worry about it for a few more years and that bleaching would be the best option as I got older. But now, everyone who had passed by my locker was acutely aware that I was developing a moustache too. I faked a migraine, it was easy enough, I already had a history of them and left school early that day. I went home and shut myself in my darkened bedroom and cried. And then I cried some more. And then I cried some more. About a month later, I started shaving my moustache. It did not grow back darker or thicker, but as I have gotten older it has done both. Of course, I don’t ever let it get noticeable anymore. I’m still insecure about it. Waxing bothers my skin, so I shave it. Daily. Whether I actually need to shave it or not, I am so aware of it that I can’t stand to not run a razor over it once a day. All because some jackass teenage boy pointed it out to me and I didn’t even like him as a person before he did that.
That was the beginning of it. I wish I could say it was just teenagers being assholes, but it didn’t stop when I stopped being a teen. A guy once broke up with me because of my excess body hair, I was in my 20s and he was a few years older than me. That was pleasant. A female friend of mine once decided to tell a prospective date about my personal hair problems and so we didn’t have a date. Another friend decided to give me a few sessions with a personal trainer to deal with my weight and while I appreciated the thought, the personal trainer just didn’t get it when after three months of her program, I had lost exactly zero pounds and I hadn’t gained any weight, so I wasn’t putting on muscle. Since her program wasn’t working, she actually told me I was just fat and lazy and she couldn’t do anything with me.
Random strangers comment on the peach fuzz that makes up my sideburns. They also comment on my weight, especially when I’m grocery shopping. I once had an older lady stop and tell me I needed to try ProActive because of my adult acne. I have, it made it worse, it created giant under the skin black pimples that had to be surgically opened. A fucking doctor once suggested I remove my nipple hair and gave me suggestions on how… It left scars and the hair was back within a few days. Shaving my legs and underarms is depressing, because if I shave on Monday, I have stubble on Tuesday, by Wednesday I need to shave again, by Thursday I’m starting to look like it’s been weeks since I shaved, and by Friday I have as much hair as a guy on my legs.
And I hate to put on a bathing suit. Not because I’m overweight. I’m actually not insecure about that, although I probably should be. No, I hate it because most women with PCOS don’t have a bikini line because it actually starts on the legs where it is completely uncovered in a bathing suit. So we have to remove that hair somehow and it isn’t leg hair, it’s the thick, coarse shit that grows in beards and nether regions. So you shave it. Then there are massive bumps from the razor burn. Or you wax it and you get ingrown hairs and the skin is so sensitive and the hair so coarse that it creates massive bruised whelps that require a needle or a doctor to get rid of and then you just pray it doesn’t leave a scar, because you don’t want to have to explain it.
See, that’s the other thing. Most women, they shave, pluck, tweeze, wax, whatever and there’s no problem. But I find a large number of the PCOS women I talk with do those exact same things in the exact same areas have much different results. Hormones play a role in hair development, not just its existence, but the type of hair. So, Sally who doesn’t have PCOS can get a Brazilian and laser hair removal, but Jane with PCOS does those things and the follicles become damaged and create fold-over scars and the laser just thins it a little because we don’t have soft, thin girl hair, we have coarse, thick guy hair.
By the way, mentioning any of this to us, is never okay. Because I assure you, we are acutely aware of our cosmetic issues and most of us have tried everything on the planet to make it better. Sometimes, it makes it worse, like the aforementioned attempt to remove the hair recommended by a doctor. One of the women I know decided to try laser hair removal on her back. She didn’t have much hair there, just enough to be self conscious about it. She also had back acne, which is common with adult acne, especially hormone induced adult acne like with PCOS. After two sessions, she still had the hair, her back acne had gotten really bad, and she had some scarring starting and she was not fair skinned, the doctor swore it wouldn’t be a problem. It was.
What most people don’t realize is that every so often, a woman with PCOS looks in the mirror at her nude self and just goes What the Fuck?! Because we all know the cosmetic capabilities of our friends without PCOS and we can’t attain them. I’m not talking about make-up here either, I’m talking about the general, overall look of a woman who has just stepped out of the shower. She might have shaved her legs a week ago, but she only has stubble. Her armpits are still smooth. She’s not looking for fresh, sharp razors to get as close as possible to the chin or upper lip (plucking hurts and often makes the acne worse when you have a lot of hair). Her bikini line doesn’t look like it has got measles. And we aren’t even going to start on the hair where we shouldn’t have it, because that’s a lost cause.
So the cosmetic horrors of PCOS stop us from talking about PCOS. It’s hard to tell every idiot that comments on our weight or moustache that we have an endocrine problem that creates it, all though I have told a few of them in very unpleasant terms exactly what they could do with their opinion. But in the big picture, the cosmetic side is only one small part of the battle. Yet it’s the only side anyone sees so we are embarrassed, ashamed, and bullied. Which brings us right back to the What the fuck? problem. We won’t even be honest with ourselves or other women who have PCOS because we’re embarrassed and ashamed, yet we have a disorder that kills us.
Therein lies the rub; this disorder is about more than infertility and body hair, it really is a killer… but when all anyone ever sees or knows about it is that those women are fat and hairy and can’t have kids, then of course you hide your head in the sand and pretend that a razor and some fertility treatments fix everything, despite the countdown in the back of your head just ticking away the minutes until you pass out and learn that you now have Type 2 diabetes or you have a heart attack at 45 because your cholesterol is high despite the medicine they put you on and the extreme diet changes you made.