Written by Jana Marquez.
Art by Callum Skelton.
I felt defeated after trying on the third dress of the week after my failed previous attempts. My senior homecoming dance was in two weeks, and nothing seemed to fit me right.
Maybe I can do a quick detox cleanse to shed a few pounds, was the default thought in my brain. Or maybe I can just cut out carbs? Do the military diet? Although eating nothing but a plain hard-boiled egg, canned tuna, and five saltine crackers didn’t sound appealing in the slightest, I was getting desperate to make a change.
The reality of my senior year of high school was that I was trying every fad diet possible, depriving myself of carbs, and pushing my body into a dangerous routine. I was scolding myself every time I gained even a fraction of a pound. It was mentally exhausting being in a constant battle with my mind, negotiating every little bite, and then feeling so much remorse each time I gave in. It didn’t occur to me that I am not supposed to be made to fit certain clothes, clothes should be made to fit me as my body grows and changes.
I was gaining a drastic amount of weight despite my extreme diet hacks, which were nowhere near sustainable. My time of the month was about three months late. At first, I tried to rationalize. Perhaps the stress of my upcoming changes in my senior year, such as applying for colleges, perfecting test scores, or planning a future, threw me off balance. Everything would be back to normal the second I got a handle on some things, such as losing those pesky pounds that were keeping me from enjoying my dream dress. I never once considered that something else might be going on inside. Yet all of my harmful habits caught up to me and my body was finally starting to tell me that something was wrong.
An endocrinologist, labs, and testing confirmed that I had polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS, and I had it to thank for all of the stressful changes my body was undergoing. It is a chronic hormone imbalance disorder and a pretty common one at that, affecting nearly five percent of all women living in the U.S. Most who have it have no idea that they do until they start getting jarringly noticeable symptoms, and even then, they all too often get brushed under the rug.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a hormonal disorder causing enlarged ovaries with small cysts on the outer edges.
My diagnosis was a wake-up call, one that I had the privilege of being enlightened with. I had to start being kinder to my body and take sustainable and concrete steps toward changing my lifestyle. That meant no more habits like depriving myself of nutrients and getting mad at myself every time I indulged. My hormone imbalance was an indication that I needed to create a balance before more serious problems occurred. I had to redefine my relationship with food and my own body.
It was a step towards concrete answers, a step towards improving my health overall. It is an explanation of sorts and one that gave me insight and perspective. I feel lucky to have had a doctor who advocated for my overall health, and was not looking to shame me, my choices, or my size. However, many women who struggle with PCOS are rarely given answers, and are often turned away by professionals, written off as lazy or unwilling to just do the “work” to lose the weight.
As I continue my ongoing health journey of adjusting to PCOS, I think of the possibility that there may be millions of other undiagnosed women about to enter dangerous territory, one paved with disordered eating and harmful methods. I know firsthand the feeling of your body betraying you and then fiending for desperate measures. How many women are about to embark on a two-week juice cleanse that will yield nothing but starvation and stagnancy?
My battle with PCOS is one that nearly 12% of women in the U.S are currently fighting. As many as 5 million women are fighting what has been regarded as the most common endocrine disorder, yet it continues to be ignored and highly overlooked. How many times have women been dismissed by health professionals because of their weight and were given toxic and ineffective methods of losing it? How many women blamed their own selves and bodies for not being able to lose weight and process foods the way told to simply just lose it, being left with the frustration of not being able to, and then ultimately blaming themselves because they have no other explanations?
This dismissive attitude discourages women from wanting to make a lifestyle change or seek help in the first place, overall harming themselves while PCOS continues to wreak its undetected havoc.
In the era of highlight reels, where “that girl” reigns supreme on social media, with her empire of elite morning routines and fitness habits, I am happy to slow down and meet my body where it is at. I move it as a way to celebrate all it does for me, and fuel it so it can keep doing the things I enjoy.
I hope that others out there who might be going through frustrating changes, and have been turned away, are empowered and emboldened to advocate for their health and answers. While my hormone imbalance is an added obstacle, it cannot control or define me. PCOS snuck up on me. It is not curable, but it can be treated and maintained, and those who are living with it unknowingly deserve to not give up on their bodies.
About the Author
Jana Marquez was born in Chicago, IL, and is a journalism and prelaw student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She is a major foodie, kpop stan, and an advocate for taking hot girl mental health walks. She’s passionate about writing, storytelling, and fashion, and is always looking for a cool new restaurant or cafe to lounge in.