I recently participated in a “Human Library” program, where patrons check out people for conversations.
Participants who volunteer as “books” generally have a unique trait that, in most cases, is commonly misunderstood. I spoke with a lovely pansexual about her experiences coming out to people who have never heard of pansexuality. I watched as a member of a SWAT team teared up while talking about bravery. An ex-homeless punk sporting business casual and a “squatter’s rights” tattoo chatted with a non-evangelical vegan.
These “titles” drew curious people into the event, and the room hummed with lively conversation. Everyone who participated agreed that it was an inspirational event and exactly what we need during this tumultuous year.
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I volunteered to talk about polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and my weight. PCOS is a surprisingly common hormonal imbalance that causes acne, unwanted hair growth, weight gain, endocrine problems, and fertility challenges. When I was 22, I morphed from a pixie to a goblin in the span of a few months. I had never heard of PCOS, so I assumed that I was doing something wrong and that I needed to try harder.
I tried harder for 10 years. Many women are undiagnosed because we’re conditioned to feel ashamed about these symptoms. Instead of going to the doctor, we throw money at cleansers, peels, waxing, fad diets, Maybelline snake oil, and Cover Girl voodoo.
I’m a scientist, so I attacked the problem (me) using disciplined data collection. I tracked my calories, sugars, fat, and protein in a spreadsheet. I read about nutrition voraciously, and added new superstitions to my rulebook. I trained for six triathlons. My weight stayed about the same. If I tried very hard, and put all of my energy into self-improvement, I could be about 15 pounds lighter.
Once I sat down and made a compendium of all of the fitness superstitions and standards to which I was holding myself, it was an eye-opening experience and I realized how obsessive I had become.
Finally, a friend convinced me to speak to an endocrinologist, and I learned that I had PCOS, which, left untreated for so long, had led to hypothyroidism and other problems. I was in denial. I spoke with a few doctors, and they told me the same thing: studies are starting to show that much like hair color, eye color, shoe size and height, your body has a preferred weight range.
When I was first diagnosed, I felt like my body had betrayed me, and I was angry. Eventually, after a period of introspection, I decided to try something preposterous and experimented with appreciating myself as is. I’ve started getting massages. I use my right to bare arms and buy sleeveless shirts. I wear yoga pants at yoga. I’ll do the Cha-Cha Slide at your wedding. Now that I’m not hyper-focused on external self-improvement I have the time for internal growth. I volunteer more! I’ve written books! I’ve sent cookies to space!
I’m not going to pretend that I’m not overweight, and I’m also not going to define myself as some sort of body-acceptance pioneer. A patron who checked me out at The Human Library asked if I could still feel beautiful with PCOS. The truth is that I don’t think about my weight very much these days, as either a positive or a negative. My body is relatively healthy, it does what I need it to do most of the time, and that is a blessing. So while I don’t feel beautiful, I do feel comfortable, and that’s a good place to start.
“The Human Library: Durham” will be presented as part of the Durham County Library’s Adult and Humanities Programming from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30, at Southwest Regional Library, 605 Shannon Road.