Taking back my body – my battle with PCOS

A few weeks ago, I went to a party. My husband, John, had a quick shower, threw on a clean shirt and was ready to go. I set aside the whole day to get ready.

First of all, I took a long bath and painstakingly (and painfully) removed every hair from visible parts of my body. Then I covered myself in moisturiser, all the time trying not to cry as I noted every wobbly bit of skin, every mark, line, mole and imperfection. I blow dried my hair, curled it, smoothed it and styled it.

Then I started on my face – a moisturising mask followed by a cleanser, a toner, eye cream, moisturiser, lip balm, primer, foundation, concealer, powder, two different types of blusher, bronzer, highlighter, four different types of eyeshadow, carefully blended together, eyeliner, mascara, lip pencil, lipstick. Eyes – wider, larger, longer lashes. Cheekbones – higher, shaped, sculpted. Eyebrows – plucked – tidier – painful.

That’s twenty two facial beauty products just to feel like I can leave the house.

I painted myself a whole new face.

I did it because I hoped that if people were looking at my face, they wouldn’t be looking at my body.

And at the end of the whole beauty ballet, what did I do? I tried on every dress in my wardrobe and cried off my make up.

I thought I looked fat.

Sara Gibbs - vintage blogger - Darling Lovely Life blog (c) Richmond Pictures

In the spotlight – how I’d like to be seen. Image © Richmond Pictures

As a blogger, I’ve always sort of felt like it’s my job to present the most glamorous side of myself. I’ve done countless photo shoots with teams of hair and make up and (I’m ashamed to say) I’m often photoshopped to remove the imperfections I’m so insecure about.

But a recent diagnosis made me question all of that – is it really my job to look glamorous 24/7? Let me explain.

The truth is far from the glamorous, aspirational image of my life I try so hard to cultivate. I suffer from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) an illness that physically propels you in the opposite direction from the modern standard of beauty and femininity.

Where our society values stick thin women, PCOS makes you gain weight. Where society expects you to be bald from the eyebrows down, PCOS gives you excess hair. Where TV adverts show long, glossy locks, PCOS can cause you to lose the hair on your head, and certainly lose its good condition. And here’s the real kicker – where you’re expected to pop out babies the minute you get married, PCOS makes you infertile.

Having PCOS means I don’t stand a fighting chance of being the glossy, glamorous girl from the magazines. And until very recently I thought it was my PCOS making feel like I’m not a real woman.

Sara Gibbs at Madonna Inn USA - Darling Lovely Life blog

Talking to the girl in the mirror

But I’m not blaming my illness for my lack of body confidence any more – I’m blaming the all-pervasive culture that expects women to be as thin as possible (to take up as little space as they can manage) that expects adult women to have bald bodies (to infantilise and stunt us) to have to work, work, work just to feel worthy of leaving the house.

Twenty two products on my face, just to feel presentable.

When my husband only needs to throw on a clean shirt.

My PCOS isn’t to blame for the bullshit: the oppressive culture that values cookie-cutter beauty, high-maintenance standards and ridicules those who fail to meet them – that’s where I’m pointing my currently unmanicured finger.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying clothes, or make up, or expressing yourself with what you wear – in fact I often write about clothes and beauty products, and I enjoy using them, but it was only when I realised that I felt so pressured and harassed by the idea that I need every part of my body to be perfect before I can be happy, that I knew the way I saw fashion and beauty had to change.

I’m not trying to change the world (although it would be nice), or telling you to stop shaving your legs or wear make up (your body is not a political statement) but I am trying to change the way I see it. I can be part of the solution and lead by example.

I want to start by apologising for getting my job description so very wrong. It’s not my job to be the pinnacle of what our society deems to be glamorous and successful – it’s my job to show you that you’re already beautiful without having to try so fucking hard.

Sara Gibbs bride getting ready on wedding morning - Darling Lovely Life blog (c) Satureyes

Image © Satureyes

So no more hating myself because my life seems to be a constant exercise in hair removal and keeping my weight down. No more crying in front of the mirror. No more hiding behind a computer instead of going out and meeting people in case someone notices all the things I think are wrong with me. If I’m too ashamed to be seen as myself, then what kind of an example am I to my beautiful readers, who I always remind that they are wonderful as they are?

This blog celebrates beauty in all its forms. Beauty is the smile you get when you’re being mischievous. Beauty is the thing you’re most passionate about. Beauty is the spark of humour, the unique expressions we make. We can see that in others so why do we find it so hard to see it in ourselves?

This isn’t new, but it needs to be said again and again and again and again and again until we get the message (and this is so important that it needs to be in caps. Underlined.):

YOU ARE NOT A COLLECTION OF RANDOM, IMPERFECT BODY PARTS – YOU ARE A WHOLE HUMAN BEING WITH A CHARACTER AND A BRAIN – YOUR EVERY EXPRESSION, MOVEMENT AND ACTION IS A WAY OF CULTIVATING BEAUTY – YOU ARE A PERSON IN MOTION, INNER BEAUTY IS REAL AND IT WILL SHINE THROUGH IF YOU LET IT.

So here’s an experiment – I want every woman who’s ever felt like she can’t live up to the ridiculous standards of beauty our society imposes, to strip through all the rubbish and look deeper. I want you to tell me one thing (and the comment box welcomes anonymity if you’re shy) that you find beautiful about yourself. I’ll start. I am beautiful because deep down I am kind – it shapes everything I do. That has to be more beautiful than having a tiny waist or a hairless body.

Your turn.

10 Comments on Taking back my body – my battle with PCOS

  1. Anon
    March 3, 2014 at 5:25 pm (10 months ago)

    The one thing that I used to cry and cry and cry over, was the awful wrinkly tummy I was left with after having my two children. I was riddled with stretch marks during both pregnancies thanks to my 9lb+ babies and after losing my baby weight both times I was left with a sack of saggy skin, which used to get me so down! Especially when friends and what seems like every other person springs back to their perfect flat stomach with not so much as a mark on it. These wrinkles and saggy skin have been the reason behind many of my tears, until one day my little boy asked me ‘what are those crinkles on your tummy mummy?’ I explained to him that he’d made these ‘crinkles’ because he’d grown so big in my tummy and from that day I’ve never cried over them again, because without these ‘crinkles’ (I think the fact he didn’t call them wrinkles or stretch marks also helped!) I wouldn’t have either of my gorgeous children and now, although I don’t think their attractive, I’m not ashamed of them! My babies made my crinkles!! x

    Reply
    • Sara - Darling Lovely Life editor
      March 4, 2014 at 8:28 am (10 months ago)

      Thank you so much for the lovely comment. I really love your attitude – our bodies aren’t things for other people’s pleasure they are also a map of our experiences and you have two wonderful kids to show for yours. xxxx

      Reply
  2. Andie
    March 3, 2014 at 7:00 pm (10 months ago)

    I too have pcos and it is heart breaking when you get te diagnosis! I spent a year crying and hating my body! I try so hard to look thin and pretty and i always fail. The only part of me i ever liked was my eyes and even then i have to wear glasses. After a terrible year i went to thailand for a month. I decided to be who i really am and didnt care about how i looked! I had crazy curly hair, i danced like an idiot and what was the most special thing tht happened – a guy approached me, told me i had the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen and just ha to tell me before he disappeared into the night! We are all beautiful and thank you sara for sharing your struggles! You are amazing! Love you x

    Reply
    • Sara - Darling Lovely Life editor
      March 4, 2014 at 8:27 am (10 months ago)

      Oh lovely Andie, you do have the most beautiful eyes. I was on my Facebook and a picture of you came up, I had a friend next to me who literally gasped and said what incredibly beautiful eyes you have!!! I think we have to start realising that stick thin and pretty are not necessarily mutually exclusive! Love you xxxxxxx

      Reply
  3. anon
    March 4, 2014 at 8:32 am (10 months ago)

    So, don’t get me started on the waxing industry. Really. I cannot fathom that women supposedly ‘need’ to be largely hairless now, glad i am not dating as i think fashions have changed somewhat on past decade (in fact i know they have! Went for bikini wax pre holiday and they were horrified i didn’t want it ‘all off’. Jeepers, i have two daughters, what would that be telling them?).

    anyhow, i have struggled my life with my weight and crippling lack of self confidence. People who first meet me think i am an extrovert… Not so. But i read something in a chick lit book a while ago, and it helped. I paraphrase but it went something like: remember that no one in the room is looking at you, they are too busy worrying that you are looking at them.

    i worry about societies expectation of women to be all things at once, oh and thin and pretty too. We can’t be. But i have to say, the older i get, the more i realise that the pressure we feel is put on us by *other women*. Us. We do it to ourselves and our ‘sisters’.

    i have a great friend who is slim, always immaculate. Turns out she hasn’t eaten a whole meal in 10 years, and not in an anorexic way, but in a ‘society says i must be thin’ way. She would rather be a size 8 than eat nice food.

    i eat. I love to eat. I also exercise (yoga, what a middle class thing to say!). I am a healthy weight *just* after Xmas i always tip into a bmi of 25.5 so watch it a bit for spring.

    body wise. Love my ears. Seriously, that’s it. And my waist, well the fact i have a waist whatever my weight.

    time we all gave each other a break i think. Great post x

    Reply
    • Sara - Darling Lovely Life editor
      March 4, 2014 at 8:38 am (10 months ago)

      It’s a culmination of things I think but good point, we do it to each other. John and I had a male friend over yesterday and I was discussing my blog post with him. He looked at me, genuinely confused, and said “I just don’t notice things like body hair or how much make up women are wearing.”

      And it’s true, we’re so used to the oppression that we’ve started to do it to ourselves and each other. Maybe it really is time to put down the gossip magazines and stop examining our own bodies with a microscope.

      And ears are a good a feature as any to love – massive hugs xxxxx

      Reply
  4. Anon
    March 4, 2014 at 9:20 pm (10 months ago)

    Thank you for writing about pocs.
    Sometimes it is like no one else has it and I’m weird because it effects me and I let it. I’m determined to live a better life this year and love being me.
    I concentrate on my hair and nails, if I like what they are up to I know I’ll feel good! Silly really!

    Reply
  5. Andrea
    March 22, 2014 at 12:55 pm (9 months ago)

    Wow, what a beautiful blog post! First of all: We all are beautifully imperfect in our own unique ways – and don’t ask me how long it took me to accept this :-)
    I am suffering from and fighting against PCOS myself. Yep, it sucks, big time! At the same time this condition has changed my life in many (positive) ways… There is hope! :-)
    Thanks again for writing this great post!

    Reply
  6. Clareygib
    March 27, 2014 at 7:31 pm (9 months ago)

    I’ve recently been diagnosed with PCOS but known I’ve had it for years and felt like no body was listening to me! I can’t go out of the house without wearing make up due to the fear of someone saying something about my darker bits! The baby thing is my struggle at the moment but everyday it never gets any easier! Well done with your blog!

    Reply

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