“Real Women,” PCOS & Body Image

by Golda Poretsky, H.H.C. on June 6, 2011

When I wrote this cranky post about the “real women…” phenomenon, I never expected it to resonate with so many women.

Image By Wyanne Thompson www.wyanne.com

It seems that fat, thin, in between, curvy, not curvy, in between, cisgender, trans, various gynecological surgeries or symptoms, or whatever, there’s a lot of crap that makes us feel like not so real women.

For most of my teenage/ adult life I felt like not very much of a real woman due to having polycystic ovarian syndrome (P.C.O.S. for short.)  (This is not something I write about much, but I feel on a deep level that sharing it will be helpful to some of you, so I’m going for it.)  For those of you who don’t know what that it is, it’s basically a cluster of symptoms that people who have it get to varying degrees, including irregular or absent periods, weight gain, hirsutism, acne, anovulation, infertility, ovarian cysts, and insulin resistance (with a higher chance of type 2 diabetes).  Some women get only one or two symptoms and they’re mild and some get nearly all or all of them quite severely.

Back when I was a preteen, P.C.O.S. was not on anyone’s radar.  I went on The Pill as a young teenager to regulate my periods, which worked for a while, but now some researchers think it only makes P.C.O.S. worse.  Over the years, I’ve treated this with everything from hormones to acupuncture to meditation to vitamins and supplements to dietary changes.  (Some of you, I’m sure, are going to comment that I just need to do X, Y, and Z to make it better, and I can assure you that I’ve probably tried X, Y, and Z multiple times.)  I used to blame myself horrendously for my absolute failure to heal the P.C.O.S., and truthfully, a big part of body acceptance for me was accepting that I’m not a horrible person for not being able to get a period regularly. Spending as much time around holistic types as I did, you can sometimes feel shame for not being able to cure something with the right amount of probiotics, Bach’s flower remedies, and meditation.

I also had to come to terms with the idea that I was “not less of a woman” for it. I think a big part of the fact that I mostly had guy friends until my late twenties was that guys don’t complain about menstrual cramps nor talk about how fat they are (although lately, I think that’s changed).  I always dreaded the periods and fat conversations. Having P.C.O.S. always seemed like a failure and something to be ashamed of.  Unlike fatness, it’s something that you can hide pretty well, until your roommate keeps taking your tampons and then notices that you don’t replace them very often.

Over the last few years, I’ve changed my internal discourse around my womanhood.  I’ve realized that I’m not “less of a woman” (whatever that might mean) just because I don’t get the requisite number of periods.  I want to make choices that are as healing as possible for me/my body, but one of those choices is choosing to let go of the stress and striving and worrying about this.

Have you struggled with feeling like a “real woman” due to P.C.O.S. or anything else?  Let me know what you think in the comments section below!

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Golda is a certified holistic health counselor and founder of Body Love Wellness, a program designed for plus-sized women who are fed up with dieting and want support to stop obsessing about food and weight. To learn more about Golda and her work, click here.

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