No Less of a Woman by Michaella White
Michaella White reflects on her experience as a woman with polycystic ovary syndrome.
“Does anyone have a pad or tampon?” someone would say as we crowded into the girl’s bathroom. Instantly everyone would look around in their bags searching for their sanitary supply. I would reach my hand into my bag, delving in to see if something had magically appeared. But I knew deep down that it was empty. I knew that I couldn’t provide for or even relate to that monthly sense of desperation felt by so many women.
I don’t have periods, but I am no less of a woman.
One morning, I had an unwelcome interruption to my morning makeup ritual. When resting my hand on my chin, I felt something sharp stick into my hand. I took a closer look to find something I’d never seen before on my face – a long, black chin hair. That one brought my attention to another lying beside it, then another, then another… small enough for a friend not to notice but big enough for me. Every week since, plucking chin hairs is part of my routine. Was this normal, or was this just me? I spend my mornings tweezing more than others, but I am no less of a woman.
I never thought I would feel a cool gel spread across my stomach until I was much older, ready to start a new chapter in my life. Yet here I am, lying on a bench awaiting pictures that show an unexpected ailment capturing possession of a place that I once thought was empty. These results would hang my future in the balance, either giving me clarity or leaving me further in the dark. My path to motherhood may not be smooth, but I am no less of a woman.
Nowadays, it is more widely accepted that there isn’t a particular “mould” everyone should fit into. Society as a whole is beginning to normalise unique and individual experience rather than pursuing a “one size fits all” mindset. However, the pressures of being a 14-year-old girl with no experiences of life as a “normal” young woman made me think that there was something wrong, that I was wrong. No friend or family member I knew had brought up any abnormality similar to mine. It was over two years later that I was diagnosed with PCOS.
PCOS, also known as polycystic ovary syndrome, affects how a woman’s ovaries work. The common features include irregular to no periods, excess androgen (a male-associated hormone) that causes physical signs such as excess facial or body hair and enlarged ovaries. It is thought that one in ten women in the UK have PCOS with more than half of these women never experiencing any symptoms at all. (1)
I had never heard of PCOS before I was diagnosed. Not only is it invisible in its physical presence, but it’s also neglected in societal conversations. This is not something that is taught in schools, nor something that comes up in those ever-popular “tween-going-on-teen” books. How was I supposed to know that my experience was felt by over 10 million (2) other women across the globe?
'This was the first time I felt that I belonged'
Over the past year, wider media coverage surrounding PCOS has brought its features to light in the mainstream more than ever before. Florence Simpson, who’s journey to self-acceptance took TikTok by storm, uses her platform to share
her experiences with PCOS. Reaching over 620k followers on TikTok and almost 60k followers on Instagram (3), her voice raises further awareness to the different symptoms that many women face while living with PCOS. Florence was the first person I had seen speak openly about their experiences and it caught me off-guard. I teared up. This was the first time I felt that I belonged, that someone else could relate to me. I was not only touched but inspired that there was someone with such a large platform who could be an uplifting voice for the PCOS community. Together, in every form that we may come in, we are women no less.
Despite the ever-growing momentum of the self acceptance and body positivity movement, the glorification of stereotypical female features dominates tv, film and other forms of media. This is extremely damaging particularly to young girls who look up to their favourite characters and influencers but are not able to identify their own experiences through them. At the age of 14, a time that girls are becoming women, I couldn’t help but feel behind, bewildered and betrayed. Being the perfectionist that I was (still am…), I hated not having control over my body and was annoyed that no matter how hard I tried I was unable to become a woman like I thought a woman would be.
With time, I’ve come to realise that there isn’t anything wrong with me at all. I am who I am for a reason.
I began to quite like the fact that I didn’t get periods as I didn’t have to worry about it arriving unexpectedly and scrambling to find a spare pad. I still struggle with the fact that motherhood might not come easily for me, but I am still no less of a woman for it.
Every body, every soul, every person is different and that is something to be embraced. I urge every person who feels unable to identify their experiences in social discussion to become the person someone can identify with. Whether you feel comfortable sharing your personal experiences online, engaging in conversations with family or friends or simply liking, following or signing petitions – you are part of the change. No matter how different your experiences might be to those around you, you are no less of a woman.
(3) @florence.simpsonn on both Instagram and TikTok