Updated: Jul 24
The thing about being bodyshamed is that everyone else expects you to take it as a joke and swallow your rage. Hop in the time machine as J recalls the body issues she encountered before and after she got diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Disorder or PCOS*.
18:00 – 28th of August, 1995 Overweight.
The average baby girl would weigh somewhere between 6 to 7 pounds , yet I came out crying my 8.8-pound ass off. Even as an infant, I knew I was designed to exceed the average.
16:22 – 3rd of October, 1998 Ugly duckling.
This was the first book I remember reading as a toddler. Of course, I would always ask my mom occasionally what the words meant and the 5-minute book would be stretched to a 30-minute vocabulary lesson. And we still weren’t able to reach the ending. My mom had to go back to cooking dinner to celebrate her and my dad’s wedding anniversary. I distracted my hunger by trying to read on my own. I ended up scanning the pictures. The gray duckling with messy feathers turned into a majestic white swan. And that’s when everyone else became her friend. I wondered, “When will I become a swan?”
10th of April, 2002
“She’s almost pretty but she’s too fat.”
I overheard my mom talking to my cousin Riva’s mom. They were making boring conversation while Riva and I were playing with robots and dolls. I didn’t care to hear anything they were saying until Riva’s mom just called her own daughter fat.
A part of me felt proud that I don’t hear anyone talking about me using half of that sentence. It would just end with “almost pretty."
But for Riva, it was a resounding “too fat."
Like it’s impossible to be both pretty and fat at the same time.
15:15 – 24th of August, 2002 “Eat cake.”
Yes, I know there’s some in the back. I am just full with the 2 plates of spaghetti and barbecue I just devoured. I mean, didn’t I just hand you the empty plate? Of course, I couldn’t have said that to my aunt. She and a few other guests were at our home for the celebration of my 7th birthday. Since my actual birthday fell on a school day, my mom decided to celebrate it in advance. It seemed that a girl’s seventh year of age was expected to be celebrated; I just didn’t know why. But, as a shy kid, it was uncomfortable seeing extra people around. And they all wanted me to eat cake. I like cake. Especially the ones with shredded chocolate toppings. The spaghetti-barbecue combo just had my tummy preoccupied.
“Eat cake, it’s delicious.”
“Isn’t this your favorite? One small bite, come on!”
“A slice will make you pretty and sweet!”
“You’re thin as a twig ‘cause you don’t eat cake.”
I took a bite.
4th of June, 2007
Beauty secret? “I won’t tell anyone but you have to tell me.”
Okay, so I wouldn’t say I had any but to shut my classmate up, I told her I ate a lot of vegetables (even okra) so that must be why I don’t have a pimple. This was the first day of high school. Almost everyone tried to hide their own insecurities by pointing out other people’s imperfections. I had medium brown complexion which was consistent with the average Filipina skin tone. My hair’s almost always messy but I try to keep the straight strands in a neat ponytail. A few of my teeth were crooked. And while most of my classmates were getting teased about their fatty arms and legs and tummy, I seemed to have inherited my mom’s metabolism. She had a 23-inch waistline up until she gave birth to my younger brother. I never complained about weight nor my hair but I wished I had lighter skin. I never said it out loud, though. And that remained a secret.
29th to 31st of March, 2018 “You got fat.”
This pretty much summed up what relatives said to me during the long weekend. Maybe it’s because Lent meant fasting and I didn’t look like I fasted at all since I was gaining weight. A few weeks before, I was so happy because I finally reached my target weight. I ticked off the highest item on my bucket list – donate blood! I always thought it was impossible since I was underweight from age 2 to 22. I am at 5 feet and 1 and a half inches tall. Within those 20 years, I never exceeded 45 kilograms. And after barely reaching my target weight of 50 kilogram, suddenly, I am “fat”. And I hated feeling fat. Like they took away my chance on beauty when they said I got fat. Like fat and pretty can’t be used to describe the same person.
10th of April, 2018
“Don’t take this the wrong way.”
An old friend, Jerry, and I decided to meet up for coffee. We haven't seen each other for at least 5 months due to our busy work schedules. As usual, I was fifteen minutes early. I was basically violating the stereotyped Filipino time. But I always thought time is precious and being late meant being disrespectful. My mom always used to say, “Don’t think your time is more important than that of others.” As I was sipping through the foam of my cappuccino, Jerry arrived. Eyes all big in surprise, he said, “Yo, don’t take this the wrong way, but…” Cutting him off, I laughingly blurted, “Yup I got fat! Amazing, right?” “Oh no, look at you!” he sat down looking at me like I got cancer or something.
“Okaaaay… look at me why?” I tried so hard not to tell him to piss off then and there.
“How many times a day are you eating now? Five? Ten?” Jerry said in between playful chuckles.
How could I not take it the wrong way, then?
3rd of March 2019
I rarely get sick and almost never end up having to worry after routine checkups but there’s always a first time for everything. I had the extra time after my annual executive checkup (cool benefit of working for a well-established corporation is that your health benefits are covered extensively) so I decided to see my OBGYN. I complained about irregular cycle and extreme pains even when I wasn’t on my period. After some tests, I have been diagnosed with PCOS or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Apparently, I ticked off two out of the three major symptoms: irregular periods and presence of follicles on my ovaries.
Like any other millennial, I looked up what it meant to have this thing and what I should do (not advisable though, ALWAYS better to consult a health professional when you can). The weight gain, hair loss, the weird and painful period cycle, the chronic fatigue… there’s finally an explanation. I was scared at first because most cases of PCOS lead to infertility or miscarriages. Also, because of the hormonal imbalance, mood swings become worse and the healthy weight becomes harder to maintain. Additional weight usually aggravate the symptoms, according to the OBGYN.
I was advised to go on a plant-based diet, avoid sweets, and exercise at least 3 hours a week. There was no need for medications since my case was still manageable if I started early on the lifestyle change. Biggest dealbreaker with this sickness? No more binge-eating on sweets.
I was walking into the office like I usually do after I ate my lunch in the pantry. Suddenly, a workmate, Dan, thought it was such a great joke to comment loudly about how my arms were getting thicker. I told him the weight gain was because I had PCOS. After which he could only mutter, "Oh, okay then."
To be honest, there were a lot more comments like this including an old college friend who praised my weight gain because he said it also gave me a boost on the boobs and butt. Other relatives started pointing out my weight with the aftershock comments on how I should "stop here while it's not too late."
I have ranted a lot about this on my personal social media and our TFFs Instagram stories, but it just never gets old. I just don't get why the first thing to use as a conversation starter is to joke about a body you do not own. I've been on both ends of the fat joke and needless to say, I've learned a valuable lesson. That everyone has a story you don't know anything about. That body issues are difficult to deal with, especially with all sorts of people feeling entitled to tell you what they think about the changes your body undergo.
It was difficult having to deal with the cycle of loving and hating my body. Sometimes the hateful voices of other people grow louder than my own. Having to upgrade a size in all my clothes also was a challenge. I tried to still keep the old ones even when I knew they won't ever fit anymore. But, I am proud to say that I have learned to be at peace with my new body. Why wouldn't I? My legs are able to walk miles on rocky mountains and grainy beaches. My arms support me whenever I have to stand in buses during my daily commute. My tummy is a soft piece of fluff for friendly dogs and my kid nieces or nephews to lie their heads on. And it deserves to be nourished and thanked for the wonderful things it lets me do.
How did I get here, ten months later, when everything else seems a bit better but also not? I still experience the worse side of the symptoms but it's easier to cope. I have supportive friends and a rediscovered sense of love for myself.
For my fellow PCOS-diagnosed sisters, here are a few tips:
1. Find a way to have a better relationship with food. Food is nourishment. While having PCOS means needing to be more conscious about weight, the important thing is to eat healthy and at the appropriate times throughout the day. I found out I enjoy doing meal plans and trying out recipes. I even started bringing my home-cooked lunch to work which also saves some money. Two birds, one stone!
2. Know the right type of exercise for you. A famous dietician, Tallene, also known as @pcos.weightloss on Instagram, has a lot of advice on exercise and diet. But my key takeaway is to focus on low to mid-intensity workouts which will help us #PCOScysters to really lose the weight we have to lose. As for me, I am already into yoga, pilates, some weight training, and swimming!
"We need to do what's right for our bodies and get to a weight we're comfortable with, and that doesn't mean you have to look like everyone around you." —Tallene
3. Get enough sleep. Around 6-8 hours of sleep daily could help with the fatigue and mood swings. Just trust me on this one.
4. Visit your OBGYN regularly. Even if 6 out of 10 women of child-bearing age are diagnosed with PCOS, its medical cause is still unknown and there's no cure yet, but the symptoms can be managed. There's no better substitute than the advice of a registered medical professional. If you have the means to do so, try to have a regular checkup with your OBGYN to check your progress.
If you want to know more on PCOS, you may visit the following websites.
Donations and Support Group: PCOS Awareness Association
Types of PCOS: Indiria IVF
Disclaimer: Names were altered to give anonymity to the people mentioned in the stories.
This post is sponsored by Simula PH.