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She was pretty

I used to hate looking in the mirror.

I used to have clear, good skin. Then the red bumps came in with a vengeance. I told myself it would get better—I was using the best cleanser and going bare-faced in school anyway, despite knowing how I looked. I had to endure the questioning, as if I had committed a crime with my hormones out of whack. Behind the scenes, I was doing everything: exercising like crazy, investing in my face, and basically living the same way I did before the changes started happening. It was a heartbreaking process. In the age of social media, I was good as done.

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I knew something was wrong when these changes became a sudden presence in my life, as well as the anxiety I harbored over my period being unpredictable. Despite constant trips to the dermatologist, my skin wasn’t doing me any favors. I felt like my body was betraying me. I figured I needed to find out if my suspicions were true. I met with an OB-GYN and was asked to do some tests. I went around clinics and hospitals to inquire about their rates so I could save as much money as I could. I did half the tests at our university health service for free, and the all-too-important ultrasound at a reputable clinic that offered it at a lower price point than others.

I did these tasks all by myself, not wanting to worry anyone or hassle them to sit through hours of waiting in hospitals with me. I was afraid of judgment, the prying questions, and the sinking feeling of being an additional cost to the family expenses. I told myself that it was my baptism into adulthood: learning how to process medical stuff alone, even emotionally. I managed to gather all my results, and I never felt more fulfilled and burdened at the same time. At the end of it all, I sat quietly inside Taco Bell and rewarded myself for being a resourceful 19-year-old.

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The OB-GYN told me it was PCOS or polycystic ovary syndrome. One of my ovaries had cysts, causing all my problems. It isn’t as serious as other cases, she said—as if it was any consolation to know that this is something some women experience, on top of everything else.

When you’re faced with a medical situation that you are told is fairly common but could also lead to complications like diabetes, infertility, high blood pressure, or uterine cancer, you try to make sense of it all in a fit of denial. In my case, it was a floating numbness; I tried not to cry on the cab ride home, finally succumbing to my sense of vulnerability as soon as I was alone again. Eventually, I told my parents.

I tried to deal with it the natural way at first: diet and exercise. I went to the OB-GYN as needed. It went well until it didn’t, and I was introduced to birth control pills that made my condition worse before it got better. I asked a dermatologist to address my skin problems, and I was told: There are no miracles, but we’ll take it day by day.

I’ve taken that advice and have become kinder to myself than usual. But there is no denying the change that PCOS has inflicted on me. Simply put: I’ve not been the same. I don’t look significantly worse, but I will probably never go back to the glow and body that I had when I was 18.

It made me realize how much of a fight it is to exist as a woman. The expectations crush us from the inside out—the harrowing experiences we go through in the name of beauty, the sense of vanity we inherited from a patriarchal society that ranks women according to how they look and what they bring to the table. You’re either a princess or a hag, wife material or undesirable. It’s exacerbated by social media—the hidden desire to have other people look at your feed and want the life you have. It’s a sick cycle I don’t want to participate in but unconsciously do.

When your body is fighting against you in any conceivable way, you start to appreciate it for the bigger things, like keeping you otherwise alive. You see other people for the way they are, separate from their online personas or the hidden beauty contest we partake in. You start to realize that beauty is subjective, but that everyone has it in unique ways that it’s unfair to pick yourself apart over things you can’t control.

Maybe, just maybe, there are far more significant things in this world to worry about. It’s okay to do what you can with what you have without thinking you need to become more. There is beauty in stillness. I will honor my feelings and choose how to move forward with what I know: PCOS does not define me, and it shouldn’t take control over my entire life.

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The only thing left to do with the woman in the mirror is to stare back. Over the years, it will show me versions of myself I’ve never even met, but I’ll love all of them, anyway.

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Marielle Fatima B. Tuazon, 22, is a fourth-year student taking up Philippine Studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman. She majors in creative writing and history, spending most of her time reading books, writing stories, and taking life day by day.

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TAGS: Marielle Fatima B. Tuazon, self image, Young Blood
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