PCOS comes with a heavy dose of male hormones, leading to masculine features. But, who defines feminity? Who defines masculinity? And who defines what womanhood stands for? 

PCOS or Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome affects 10 million women, globally. With changing hormonal levels and increasing levels of testosterone and androgen, women gain what is popularly referred to ‘masculine’ characteristics. Symptoms ranging from irregular periods, facial hair, acne, hair loss, weight gain, fatigue, diabetes, and common lifestyle issues take a toll a woman’s health severely, even leading to infertility in some cases.  Holistically, PCOS is a lifestyle disorder and usually treated with birth control pills and lifestyle changes thus, bringing the disorder in control. PCOS is not only a lifestyle disorder, but it also emerges from a hereditary lineup. Being an endocrine disorder, it is supposed to affect only the ovaries but affects the entire body, in fact, her mental health, like depression, anxiety and stress also get caught up in the vicious cycle of PCOS.

However, PCOS runs deeper than simply a disorder; from a societal point of view, it brings along a lot of flak to women for not subscribing to what is expected of them. The image of the ‘fat bearded lady’ gets all the laughs but poses a huge question mark to the idea of the ideal woman. Due to the excess of hair growth and facial hair, women are considered masculine and segregated for the problematic classification of being feminine. It is time we understand that attributing set definitions and norms to particular sex is simply a construct of society. The notion of being less-attractive always lingers around women who do not fall under the tall, slim, hairless and fair women.

Sharanya Vajjha, a student of Political Science, suffering from PCOS since the last 4 years says, “It has been quite a ride for me. With changing cities, changing doctors and changing ways of treatment, my body took a toll. Some blamed my genetics, while others blamed my habit of stressing things out. Gradually, my symptoms worsened, from gaining over 10 kgs to hirsutism (excess hair growth). The comments I get from people regarding my facial hair is traumatic for me. However, this illness has taught me how to be brave and how to stand up for myself and countless women suffering from the same.”.

We have set an image of the ‘attractive’ woman and see other women as lesser-beings. The building inferiority complex and insecurity due to the media-painted image of the perfect woman. Women with PCOS deal with a lot of internal and external inhibitions, ranging from incessant weight gain to ovarian cysts. It takes immense courage to fight back something which poses a threat to your entire appearance and existence.

As an individual combating the same, it takes support to hold yourself together, and not let society get you down. It is hard indeed to break down the societal conditioning of long tresses, free from acne prone-skin, hairless baby body and accepting your body. Harnaam Kaur a woman who kicked PCOS hard by breaking all barriers imposed on women, suffering from immense facial hair and beard growth, she decided to flaunt that gorgeous mane! PCOS makes one question what defines being an individual with ovaries?  When something as crucial as menstrual cycles messes up, it brings along chunk load of stress and anxiety. 

September is the month of PCOS awareness and it raises a pertinent question; something which affects such a huge number of women, why is the sensitisation and awareness of PCOS so minimal? There is no concrete research regarding the treatment of PCOS. Ranging from yoga to therapy, a lot is recommended to such women, but who can recommend how to deal with constructs of beauty and womanhood?

Feature Image Credits: Suppport Store

Anandi Sen

[email protected] 

There is a hypocrisy attached to the way society deals with women and their decisions about their own bodies. The recent incident of Instagram removing a picture showing a fully clothed woman with a small period leak is just one such occurrence in what is the general attitude towards women’s bodies. Although Instagram reinstated the picture (after removing it twice) following a furore on social media platforms, it is appalling to note the general idea perpetuating in society about controlling a woman’s narrative about her own body and it’s – to no one’s surprise – laced with double standards.

It is evident in the way the women’s breasts are objectified but the moment a young woman’s bra (everyday clothing for women all over the world) is visible, it becomes something worth debating and calling “over the top”. For instance, when the media thought it was a big deal for Taylor Swift to step out with her bra visible under a top. It is how women’s roles as life-givers are heralded but menstruation, a natural process influential to their ability to reproduce, is seen as something to be discussed in hushed whispers behind bathroom stalls. It is also about how society celebrates motherhood with pictures of new mothers serenely looking at their babies but banishes the very same mothers to breastfeed in bathroom stalls, which was talked about when a campaign When Nurture Calls was launched in Texas, USA to support a woman’s right to nurse in public without being bothered or disturbed. It is worrying to see how people jump on the bandwagon of Meghan Trainor’s problematic All About That Bass, supposedly talking about body positivity, but are unwilling to look at a woman over size 10 in a crop top with anything other than disgust and mockery. The message is loud and clear: Love your body and celebrate womanhood as long as it is aligned with our shiny perceptions of what women should look like and do.

The realities of femininity do not fit into the neat little moulds that they are thought to be restricted to. There are period leaks and unkept body hair and rolls and bends and imperfections. It is time to stop preaching body positivity with statements like “real men love curves” because that defeats the very purpose of loving your body for what it is and not because it might seem more attractive to others in a certain way. It is time for women to take back control of the narrative of their own bodies. To truly celebrate femininity, we have to celebrate all aspects of it- the beauty and the struggle, the perfection and the flaws. We cannot pick and choose things to be proud of and things to quash based on skewed perceptions because there is nothing to be ashamed of about normal bodily functions and nothing ugly about our bodies.

Shubham Kaushik

[email protected]