Shaving My Face Actually Makes Me Feel Super Fucking Feminine: A PCOS-inspired Rant

***WARNING: This blog post is going to deal with some touchy topics. Things like chronic illness, infertility, menstruation, body image, gender expressions, and societal expectations. If any of those things squick you, turn back now. Oh, also, bad language.***

I have this vague recollection from elementary school, circa maybe fifth grade?, of being really upset that I hadn’t gotten my period yet. Several of my friends had started, and I wanted to be a part of that club. Like monthly bleeding from my vagina would somehow make me a sophisticated woman instead of an awkward little girl.

Like a lot of the notions I had when I was a kid (see my previous blog post), I had no real clue about… well, anything.

Periods are not fucking fun.

shining-blood
No, it’s cool. I’ve got a wad of cotton. We’ll be fine.

The first time I got my period, I was thirteen.One night, I felt awful-nauseated and like everything hurt and I wanted to cry-and I was upset because I was in chorus and I didn’t want to miss the assembly at school the next day. The next day, it started.

I was both excited and embarrassed by my newfound womanhood. I got a bit of a thrill the first few times I got to say, “Ugh. I’ve got my period.”

Then, the reality of it set in. I often bled for 7 to 9 days.

Let me say that again.

Seven to nine days.

More than a week. On the reg. And I’m not talking about dainty spotting that can be handled by a thin little panty liner you barely even feel. More than half of those days were crampy, miserable, feel like you’re going to cry all the time, heavy flow blood baths.

But see, I figured that was just normal. Despite the times I would look at my friends and go, “Ugh. Period.” and share a knowing eye-roll, we didn’t really talk about it.

The period portion of sex ed was maybe five minutes long. There was mention of “sloughing off uterine lining” and a cartoon of some drops of blood.

No one was like, “Holy fuck, everything makes me cry but I also want to punch everyone. And I’ve been bleeding for six days and there are like CHUNKS of things in my underwear and WHAT IN THE FUCKING FUCK IS GOING ON?!

Talking about stuff like that was gross and unfeminine. Even though we were all going through it. Or something like it anyway. So I had no real frame of reference. When cramps made me curl into a ball in bed and cry my eyes out, I just figured that was how things were going to be every month for the next forty or so years.

Washing blood out of my underwear with the bathroom door locked so no one in my family would walk in was the new normal.

On top of that, I got fun new body hair! And because of my familial background (we’re sort of Heinz 57’s on both sides) I did not get wispy, downy blond fuzz. No, we are rather swarthy. So, while dealing with mood swings that made me feel insane, cramps, and rivers of blood, I also had to worry about shaving my legs and underarms. And Nairing my upper lip and between my brows (because, swarthy, remember?)

Welcome to Womanhood!

spacel

As miserable as it was, I was still excited about it. Because I was really looking forward to kids. Even at 13. My older sister had given birth to my nephew when I was 11, and I loved taking care of him. Snot, spit up, poopy diapers. None of it phased me. I was already excited about being a mom, and if I had to put up with some bullshit to get there, well, I was okay with that.

All through high school, I dealt with miserable menses and just chalked it up to the cost of being female.

When I went away to college, the situation got worse. Sometimes I would skip months for no reason. After the first few times, I even stopped having “OMG am I pregnant?” freak outs. (I still tested each time but always got a negative.)

And then I skipped 3 months in a row. I got so worried that I actually mentioned it to a friend, and she had just convinced me to go to the Student Health Center when The Period arrived.

It gets capitals because it was the worst one I had ever had. (Up to that point.)

I was in agony. There was a lot of blood and it was thicker and way darker than usual. I was sure I was dying. Rotting from the inside.

But when I went to ER – the first time in my life I had ever done that – they treated me like I was making a big deal out of nothing. They told me it was just a bad period. To go home and take some aspirin. So that’s what I did.

This went on for years. Until 2005.

By that point, my period was often irregular. I’d skip months. Spot for two weeks. Bleed for a week. Skip another month. There was no cycle to my cycle. And the facial hair situation had gotten embarrassing. Now, it wasn’t just my lip and between my brows. It was my chin and my fucking cheeks. I was becoming the bearded lady. And I had no idea why.

I was also gaining weight, even though I was watching what I ate and even going to a gym 5 days a week. And I was beyond exhausted all the time. I kept nearly falling asleep at the wheel while driving to and from work.

It was the exhaustion that finally drove me to go back to the doctor.

This time, I was lucky. My doctor diagnosed me with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) immediately .

(From The Mayo Clinic:  Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common endocrine system disorder among women of reproductive age. Women with PCOS may have enlarged ovaries that contain small collections of fluid — called follicles — located in each ovary as seen during an ultrasound exam.

Infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods, excess hair growth, acne, and obesity can all occur in women with polycystic ovary syndrome.)

They don’t really know what causes PCOS, but it’s characterized by an excess of androgens in your system. Androgens are “male” hormones. Hence the excess hair growth and problems with ovulation and menstruation.

As happy as I was to have a name for what was going on, that explanation cut pretty deep. I already felt gross, and hearing that my body was too masculine only made it worse. (Not that my doctor said that, but it’s what I heard.)

It turns out I also suffer from hypothyroid, which exacerbated the PCOS. Or vice versa. It’s a bit of a chicken or egg situation there.

My doc hooked me up with a really amazing OB/GYN with a string of letters after his name. The gyno was from South Africa, and a really nice man, which was good… because when he made it clear how difficult it was probably going to be for me to ever conceive, I started to cry.

Now, instead of just feeling gross, I also felt like a failure as a woman. I couldn’t even get knocked up right. Both my fiance (now husband) and the docs were upbeat and supportive. My family was wonderful. But I felt useless and shitty and horrible.

(Side note: This is why articles like the recent NY Post one criticizing Beyonce entitled ‘Having a baby isn’t a miracle and doesn’t make you a goddess‘ piss me right the fuck off. And why I’m not going to link to it and give its author any more hits.

Because, look bitch, for some of us, just getting pregnant IS a fucking miracle. And considering how prevalent PCOS is, probably a lot more than you’d think. So shut your fucking privileged gob.)

We tried, for about a year, to get pregnant. It didn’t happen. Based on my tests, my very lovely OB/GYN said it was unlikely to without medical intervention. And we couldn’t afford upwards of $20,000 a pop to attempt in vitro.

That was a really hard year. Not only did I have to come to terms with the likelihood that I would never give birth, but some preliminary test results indicated that the cells of my uterine lining might be cancerous… which meant that there was even a conversation about whether I would be able to keep my uterus at all. And as much as it caused me pain, the thought of a hysterectomy at 25 made me weep for days.

I’m ashamed to admit how much of my concept of my femininity and womanhood was wrapped up in the presence and function of my uterus and ovaries.

What purpose did I have, I thought more than once, if I wasn’t going to become a mother?

Typing it out like that makes me cringe. Because intellectually, I think that’s total bullshit. All I can say is that I had had an idea of what my life was going to be for so long that I had a really hard time coming to terms with the fact that reality had different plans.

Reality was that I had to take several prescription drugs to make my body function in a fairly normal fashion. Reality was that there is no real cure for PCOS. The symptoms can be treated or alleviated in various ways, but for most sufferers (like me) it’s something we have to deal with every day for the rest of forever.

One of the ways to alleviate or lessen the severity of symptoms is to lose weight. The Catch-22 of that is that having PCOS and hypothyroid makes it extremely difficult for me to do that. My body just doesn’t process things the way it’s supposed to.

At one point, when I was lamenting my lack of weight loss despite the gym membership I actually used, my Eastern European doctor told me, “You would have to work out perhaps 2 to 3 hours a day, 7 days a week, and strictly monitor your diet, to lose a significant enough amount of weight to make a difference.”

I think he was trying to cheer me up, but it was very disheartening.

When society sees someone who is overweight, the automatic assumption always seems to be that they’re lazy and have no self-control.

“Put down the donuts!” “Maybe go for a walk once in awhile, fatty!”

I felt like people who didn’t even know me were looking and me and judging me constantly.

And it felt completely unfair. They didn’t know that I worked out every day and agonized over every meal. How many of them do that? And yet they assume I am somehow worth less, that I brought my condition on myself.

I internalized a lot of that, and it made me feel even shittier. I was miserable most of the time. And as someone who hides and eats my feelings, this was not a healthy way to exist. But I didn’t know what else to do. When my husband and I moved from Georgia to NY, I lost my health insurance and there was no way I could afford any pricy medical interventions (some women with PCOS have great success with gastric bypass) on my own.

So I did the best I could, and hid how much I hated my body. I would wax my facial hair (swarthy, remember?) while locked in the bathroom to hide from my family. Just like when I used to wash the blood out of my underwear.

Oh, and the waxing? I hated that too. Going to a salon to have a stranger do it was humiliating. You want me to make small talk while you yank out hair that is a source of my shame? Really?

Doing it at home at least afforded me some privacy. Though, the downside is that for waxing to be effective, the hair has to be at least a quarter inch long. Which probably doesn’t sound all that long, unless you’re a woman and that hair is on your face.

Then it seems really long. NOTICEABLY long.

Not to mention, waxing is painful. Afterwards, my skin would feel raw, and I would often break out. And I felt like it was still noticeable. The pinkness of it even a day later screamed “BEARDED LADY!” to me.

But I didn’t want to shave. Just the idea of shaving my face made my insides twist. Because, again, shaving my face felt like such a masculine thing. I didn’t want to give up yet another aspect of my femininity. I didn’t want to feel like more of a failure as a woman.

(Though I never told anyone that’s how I felt. I barely admitted it to myself. Writing it out like this is fucking hard. I hate to admit it. It seems so fucking stupid and wrong-headed and yet it felt so important. So true. So very much a part of me.)

So, for years, I waxed and hated myself and said nothing.

Recently, to save money when my husband was out of work, I decided to stop buying the wax strips I used for my face. I couldn’t justify the cost when there were easier and cheaper ways to deal with the same problem. Like shaving.

I can’t really say I made the decision because I’m more enlightened now, although I’d like to be. But I do think I’m in a much better place when it comes to how I feel about my body than I’ve been at any time over the last decade. Maybe even since I went through puberty.

A few months ago, I shaved my face for the first time. I did it in the shower, with the razor and soap I use for my legs and underarms. It was weird, and awkward, and my hands shook. I even cried a little.

But then I had this memory from when I was very small. Maybe six at most. Before I had a concept of what it meant to be a man or a woman.

I would stand beside my father in the bathroom of the house I grew up in, right in front of the big mirror. He would put shaving cream on my face, just like it was on his. And then, while he shaved, I would take the lid of my white plastic Tinkerbelle soap case and “shave” the cream off along with him. And I loved it. I was super excited to shave with my dad. It was fun and silly and messy and great. I love that memory, and I loved that time with my father.

And then another weird thing happened. After shaving, I exfoliated my face to avoid bumps. I’d never really done that before, the exfoliating, because of how I felt about my appearance. Why bother when I was gross? It would be pointless.

When I got out of the shower, I used some aftershave conditioning gel, because the skin wasn’t used to being shaved and it had been awhile since I’d waxed.

It was more gentle care than I’d taken of my skin in years. And my skin was soft and clear and awesome.

So that’s how I am sitting here now, typing all this out, telling you all this story… about how shaving my face made me feel more feminine. More beautiful. More content in my own skin.

Not that I think my road is easy from here on out. I’m sure there will be many more ups and downs. But I’m so tired of hating myself for not meeting standards I assume other people have of me. Or that I have of myself. And I feel like a big step in getting passed that, dealing with it, is admitting to them to begin with.

So that I can officially say “fuck off” to them.

Fuck off to the idea that there is any one thing that makes you feminine, or a “real” woman. Fuck off to the notion that there is any “right” way to be a woman, or any one thing that defines womanhood.

And a seriously big fuck off to not talking about all the messiness and heartbreak of being human.

On April 30th, I will turn 36. I’ll have been “officially” a woman for 23 of those years. And I wasted so much time. I’d like to be done with that now.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for listening. This wasn’t easy for me to write, but I feel a lot better for having done it. And if this resonates with anyone out there, I hope you are in or get to a place where you can love yourself too. You’re fucking beautiful.

~xxxM

shower-selfie
Fresh out of the shower. No makeup. No filters. Just me.
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22 thoughts on “Shaving My Face Actually Makes Me Feel Super Fucking Feminine: A PCOS-inspired Rant

  1. Thank you. Just… thank you. I don’t have PCOS that I know of, though my daughter does. But I have facial hair (and hair in other places that are “unfeminine”, and I do shave. And I struggle with it. And it helped to hear someone else does this, too.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for commenting, Allyson. Whether you have PCOS or not, I think body image is something a lot of people have issues with. It is nice to know we’re not alone. I’m glad my post helped, even if it’s only a little. ❤ M

      Like

  2. Yes to all of this. Especially, the big ol’ “fuck you” to people who think they know more what you have to do to care for your body than you yourself, who has lived your whole life in it.

    I got a diagnosis of PCOS last year after a period of rapid and unexplained weight gain. I also am struggling to find a doctor who can help treat my endometrial hyperplasia and dysfunctional uterine bleeding without perscribing birth control that makes me want to die (literally, kill myself). So I totally related to all of this, and am so glad that you are being brave and putting it out there. Thanks for sharing ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Birth control does seem to be the standard response, unless you’re wanting to try and get pregnant. I hate the way I feel on BC too, though it’s not as severe as what you’re talking about. But I still vetoed that option. I hope you find someone who will listen to your wants and needs, Quinn. ❤

      Like

  3. Hello Elektra, thank you so much for this! i wonder how i got tthis article , wich i just needed wright now. just got diagnosed with PCOS from my Doctor on Monday! and everthing you said Sound sooo familiar. My doctor wants me to take medication :.
    Feminac 35 Metfin 850g Clavella I am so not shure if i shoud take Hormons. i dont like the idear !
    what is if i dont eat anyrthing containing sugar? please help. grettings form switzerland

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Tanja! I’m glad you found this post! When I was first diagnosed, my doc put me on progesterone, metformin, and synthroid for my thyroid issues. Personally, aside from the thyroid medicine, they didn’t help me very much. I do better monitoring my starch and sugar intake and exercising. It’s really hard, but I feel better than when I was on the medication. Currently, I’m not taking anything and my symptoms are less of a problem now than they used to be.

      I can’t tell you what to do, but I would give the medication a try. It might really work for you. If not, you can always go off it. Hopefully, your doctor listens and works with you to find the best solution for you personally. Everyone is different, and everyone’s PCOS experience is different. Best of luck! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Morgan, I really loved this post, I read every single word. I’ve been dealing with PCOS for over a decade and so much of this rings true to me, I have shaved my face once when /i was younger.
    Here, in India, a lot of women tend to have excess facial hair (even without PCOS). I don’t know a single woman here who doesn’t go to the salon to get rid of excess hair on the eyebrows, upper lip, chin and sometimes the rest of the face too. Waxing is done here too, but more commonly, we get our facial hair threaded. I’m not sure you have heard of it, Its easier to control the removal and you can give a nice shape to your eyebrows too, In my experience, hair grows back a lot slower and less thicker with threading.

    Here’s a DIY if you’re interested:

    its not easy to learn, but so worth it if you can get the hang of it! Nothing wrong with shaving though, just thought i’d tell you about another option if you hadn’t heard of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have heard of threading before, although only for eyebrows. I never considered it for anything else. I will take a look at the video.

      Thank you so much for commenting! It’s really nice to know there are other people out there experiencing similar things. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, yeah, I’m sure it does. When I was waxing & plucking the upper lip was always the most sensitive area! It’s one of the reasons I’ve found I like shaving. So long as your razor is sharp and clean, there’s no pain and I haven’t experienced anything near the skin irritation I had from waxing/plucking.

        Like

  5. This really resonated with me. I also have PCOS and I began to gain weight about 3 years ago after being a stick for so long. I got hateful comments by some close to me about how my “metabolism had finally caught up with me,” as though going from being a shapeless woman with no feminine curves to being a chubbier girl was easy and something to make jokes about. I wish more people knew about these effects of PCOS and I absolutely love how honest you are about your journey. I am also transparent about it with those around me just because I want to help make this an easier place for girls down the road. Finally expecting a daughter of my own, and as common as PCOS can be, she may need people to be gentler in the future. Let’s make that a reality.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sorry you had to go through that from people who were supposed to be supportive. No matter what your body type, PCOS can do a number on you. And of course, there’s often judgement no matter how we look or act. Too skinny, too heavy, whatever. It’s one of the reasons I hate those ‘Real women have _____’ memes, or the ‘In a world of ____, be a _____’ ones. They’re all about establishing what’s deemed acceptable for women and it’s toxic.

      Hopefully, by talking about it and opening the dialogue, we can help move the conversation forward so the situation isn’t so bad for future generations.

      Thanks for commenting. And congratulations on the baby! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi, Morgan! I was diagnosed with PCOS when I was 15, so I’ve had it for 17 years now. Once in a while I’ll google/wordpress search/etc blogs and websites and info about it. I’m glad I ran across this because a) you’re a good writer, and b) you’re honest & I identify with you. The hair on my face had always been my biggest insecurity and I remember how it felt to hide my face every morning in high school and college to not reveal razor burn or 5 o’clock shadow…or, even worse, the actual hair. When I was 22, is started laser hair removal and it’s literally changed my life. I only have to pluck a few hairs now, and it’s amazing compared to what it used to be. It’s awful. I’m on the birth control, taking biotin to help my hair grown, levothyroxine, too, and the typical metformin. I want babies, but I’m so conditioned to believe I can’t have them, without even having tried at this point in my life. But my boyfriend and family are supportive, which is incredibly helpful, but I come to blogs like this to find understanding.
    So, thank you.

    Last year, I wrote about my PCOS experience, if you care to read:
    https://wordpress.com/stats/day/thelocalnomadsite.wordpress.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for commenting and sharing your experience with PCOS. I’m glad you found my post. I read yours as well, and it sounds like we had some similar challenges. I especially identified with the bits when you mentioned going through periods of not caring. I struggled with that a lot. I still do, honestly. It’s a constant battle. But it is easier now than it used to be, and hopefully that trend will continue. At the moment, laser hair removal isn’t monetarily feasible, but it’s something I would consider in the future, so hearing about your experience with it is heartening.

      And don’t give up yet on the idea of having babies. It does happen for women with PCOS. But even if it doesn’t, there are plenty of others ways to be a mother, if that’s something you want to be. Either way, I’ll be thinking of you. ❤ M

      Like

  7. Thank you for this post, thank you for sharing and for summing up all the awkward and contradicting feelings you often feel about your femininity and feelings of being a let down and a failure. For being so honest and for sharing things that people like myself with my PCOS and I’m sure many other women with the condition needed to hear.

    I’ll admit I got emotional reading this, as I too feel I have shared many of the same thoughts. Wishing you all the best for the future with your condition x

    Like

    1. Thank you. And back at you. It’s nice to know we’re not alone, so I’m glad to be a voice that says, “Me too!” for anyone who has similar struggles. And I’m thankful for you and the other commenters who have taken a moment to express that I’m not alone either. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for this! Especially where you vent about that awful article claiming “babies don’t make you a goddess.” THEY ABSOLUTELY DO. I was able to conceive my son after a year and a half of struggle, frustration, miscarriage… and you know what? He is a f***ing miracle. So yeah. Thank you for being honest about all of it. It’s so comforting to read.

    Like

  9. I know this post is several months old, but i want to tell you that i shave my chin and moustache. I have for years. So does my wife. Im pretty sure that neither of us has PCOS, but we were both very overweight. I had gastric bypass 19 months ago and lost 200 lbs. My facial hair did not go away and i still feel fat. But, guess what…I’ve been working out lots and just noting how my body can move after not moving for most of my life…I’m 51, is empowering. I am so happy to see this post as most women would never admit ti shaving their faces.

    Like

  10. I was diagnosed with PCOS at 17 and always had facial hair, but the past two years I’ve had to shave my “beard” every morning and night or else it will grow back instantly. I am so insecure about it, and it’s gotten to me lately along with other issues about my appearance. But this post makes me feel so much better and gives me so much inspiration to just say screw it and not worry about shaving every damn day. Thank you!

    Like

    1. I’m so glad it made you feel a little better! I know how we feel about ourselves can be an everyday struggle. Some days we do better than others. Writing this blog helped me, and comments like yours help too. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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