"Why don't you change in front of us? We are all girls after all."
"Riya, you're really hairy"
"Riya, you've been gaining weight. You need to eat a little less"
"You need some proactive for the acne on your face"
"Get away from me you hairy woman"
"Why do you have hair on your stomach? I don't have any"
These comments, magazine covers, beauty pageants, the language used to articulate feminine beauty, the way people would look at me, the way they would gag at the sight of me(this actually happened)-they all swallowed me whole; they made me feel less of a woman.
I was diagnosed with PCOS a few months ago, but I have struggled with the symptoms my entire life. For those of you who have never heard of PCOS, it stands for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Symptoms include excessive hair growth and acne, weight gain, increased susceptibility to high blood pressure and diabetes, infertility, mood swings, and irregular periods; it affects about 1 in 10 women.
In other words, in a society that already places the unrealistic, unhealthy expectations on women to be polite at all times, have kids, have a slim figure and a blemish free face- women with PCOS feel like they don't even stand a chance.
Because my PCOS was undiagnosed for 18 years, I always wondered why I was different; I always wondered why I wasn't "beautiful".
I felt awful about the way I looked and felt anything but pretty. I would try to cover my body as much as possible because I was ashamed of it. I would compare myself to other girls all the time. I would cry when people would call me pretty because I was 100% convinced they were lying. I felt like I don’t belong, until recently.
I started following PCOS awareness accounts on Instagram, and came across some beautifully confident content creators. They were unashamed of their bodies and were using their uniqueness to spread awareness, and it inspired me to open up about my condition.
I took a bold step and confided in some of my friends about my PCOS symptoms and their responses were really heart-warming. They told me it didn’t matter if I looked different, because being different doesn’t make someone less beautiful. Their support was very different from the harsh criticism I received growing up from subtle societal messages and explicit commentary made by people who clearly did not care about my feelings.
I am now learning that beauty isn’t something found in one form or shape or size- it’s found in combinations of various, unique features; it’s found in everyone.
There are days I still feel down because of the way I look. I long for a day women with and without PCOS feel comfortable in their own skin, that they don’t feel the need to change for anyone.
All women are beautiful and deserve to feel beautiful.