Rhea Singh writes about being diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and how she found her own beauty.
‘Abnormality’ is a word I am intimately familiar with. For most of my life, I saw abnormality in myself — with my irregular period cycle, skin discolorations and excessive hair growth. With these symptoms all so heavily entrenched in my daily routine, my abnormality was something I was forced to face every day when I looked in the mirror.
I thought things took a turn for the worse when I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). According to the Canadian Women’s Health Network, PCOS is a hormonal disorder that impacts approximately six to 10 per cent of women in Canada. Many of those who are affected are unaware of the condition despite it leading to miscarriages, diabetes, constant weight fluctuations, unwanted facial hair and patches of dark skin.
Abnormalities, like an increase of body and facial hair — which I became more aware of over time — were completely out of my control; they reinforced my feelings of being damaged. But having PCOS is like a game of chance. You either have it, or you’re lucky enough not to.
I felt as though life had played a practical joke on me and I was constantly comparing myself to my untouched friends, making me feel as though I wasn’t truly a woman at all. As I would stare at my reflection in the mirror, all I could think about were the changes I needed to make in order to fit my idea of beauty. Soon enough, my world became a revolving door of doctors' appointments, waxing sessions and thoughts of laser hair removal.
As a second-generation Indian-Canadian, I often look at the social stigmas that are placed upon young Indian women and how a disorder like PCOS can make it difficult to conform to the norms.
Gabrielle Lowe, a first-year performance dance student at Ryerson University was also diagnosed with PCOS. When discussing her experience, she told me about the pressures she felt society placed on her.
“In [our] society, girls are told to be hairless all the time, and that makes me feel less confident if I compare myself to others,” says Lowe. “I was pressured into removing my hair because I got made fun of for it, and I felt because I was being called out for it, I had to remove it.”
Lowe’s experience reminded me that self-acceptance leads to happiness. To achieve happiness, I needed to stop believing that PCOS controlled my life.
Dr. Emily Bennett, my naturopath, told me that talking about my syndrome would eventually help me become more comfortable with myself, and it did. It helped me understand that living with PCOS didn’t need to stop me from feeling beautiful — I could find my own beauty.
I found that moving from the United Arab Emirates to Toronto, specifically to Ryerson University, helped me cope with my condition. Ryerson’s diverse culture, which strives for inclusivity, has played an important role in changing my mindset that PCOS controlled my life. Events like the Body Positive Fashion Show held during orientation this year have helped to foster a positive environment for students struggling with body image. These events encourage people like myself to understand the different types of beauty in everyone.
Parts of myself that I had once thought to be abnormal became less of a disorder and more of a learning experience. I slowly learned that comparing myself to women who didn’t suffer from PCOS was an additional symptom I had created for myself, and I consequently created an unhealthy perception of my self-image.
I also realized that doctors, schools and communities should be more responsive and sensitive to PCOS and those who have it; there should be more groups and organizations to provide this aid. For young women at Ryerson, counselling at Ryerson’s Medical Centre is available as a resource. My weight group sessions hosted by Ryerson Student Health and Wellness provide both comprehensive care and assistance when directing women to improve physical and mental health.
PCOS should not be a disorder that is simply ignored, nor should it be something that defines women who have it.