A few years ago, a new dentist told me I should see a dermatologist. I’d never had concerns about my skin and I certainly hadn’t brought up any at this appointment, so at first I felt confused. He kept talking, and I realized that the dentist, a middle-aged white man, was telling me to see a dermatologist because there was a moderate amount of hair growing on my face and that was unacceptable to him. That hair was near my mouth, where my teeth are, so I suppose he felt like that made it appropriate for him to comment on. Today I have lots of words for people who tell me that things about my body are wrong. But I was younger then and I wanted the conversation to be over more than anything. I told the dentist I’d look at what dermatologists were covered under my insurance, knowing I would never do that. He replied, “Well, that’s not something we can help you with here. A lot of people also just wax.” Making it abundantly clear that his concern was aesthetic, not medical. That his perspective was classist and misogynist, not helpful or supportive.
The fact that hair grows on my face was not nearly new news to me. I was in my early twenties when this happened, and hair had been growing on my face for about a decade. For that entire decade, I’d been half-heartedly trying to figure out how to deal with it. I sometimes shaved or depilated or waxed, but inconsistently enough that hair was usually still visible. I felt pressured to care but could never quite summon up the energy to fully do so. I’m an AFAB person, and I’ve done a lot of work on accepting my facial hair as part of my beautiful body and as a way tofuck with my gender expression. On my best days, I no longer see anything about my body as something to deal with.
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This wasn’t the only time a man told me what to do with my body or the hair that grows on it. It wasn’t even the only time a medical professional told me I should wax my face. Last year I learned that facial hair was a sign my body was presenting of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. PCOS is incredibly under-diagnosed and under-researched, in part because the signs and symptoms that come with it are hugely stigmatized. I can easily imagine a person experiencing what I did with that dentist and not only never going back to see him again (I definitely didn’t) but avoiding other medical care as well.
My diagnosis came after seeing a naturopath for the first time, years after this incident. My naturopath noticed the signs, ordered some testing, and diagnosed me. She discussed what the diagnosis meant and made a plan for how to minimize the risks of PCOS for me. She noticed the same signs that dentist had seen and that other doctors had seen. Instead of frantically recommending expensive methods to make my body more acceptable, she looked at me as a medical professional looks at a patient who has things going on in their body. I am grateful daily that I went to see her and, maybe counterintuitively, that I was diagnosed with PCOS. The diagnosis knocked some things into place for me. It explained a lot about my mysterious periods, chronic pain, and depression. It gave me a succinct way to talk about what’s happening in my body and options for what to do about the real risks of living with PCOS.
The real health risks of PCOS are things like diabetes, cancer, and heart attacks. I think about and sometimes worry about those things. The plan I made with my doctor mitigates these risks, and I’m happy about that. I often worry even more about the less documented risks of living with PCOS are being stigmatized or ignored because of its signs and symptoms.
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I’m still incredibly angry at the doctors who saw this happening in my body and only offered me costly ways to hide it. I’m angry at the culture that tells doctors that’s their job. I’m angry on behalf of people who are shamed in doctors’ offices and hospitals, who do hide their signs of disease because they are shamed, who live for years or forever without a diagnosis, and who suffer because of it.
Our bodies are worthy of love and care. The medical establishment doesn’t often see that. Seeking out supportive care and listening to your own intuition is a practice and it is paramount.