Don't Blur the Truth: A Woman's Struggle with PCOS and Adult Acne
By Miriam Brait
Julia is a portrait photographer. Her job is to analyze the human face and capture that exact moment when each line, each pore plots for a peak of visual expression. Her portraits now tell a riveting story, but it wasn't always this way.
A Tough Road Ahead
After graduating from high school 7 years ago, Julia decided that it was time to move away from her small town and become a professional photographer. She chose to serve tables so she could afford to purchase a professional camera and use it to offer photo shoots to young women on campus.
The demands of her clients often made her believe she was hired to deliver an earlier, more sophisticated version of the selfie.
“Many cheerleader material girls were coming up to me. I felt that my work was a mere reflection of their vanity,” said Julia.
Julia’s early gigs weren’t making her happy. She felt alienated as she interacted with girls that would’ve never uttered a word to her if she didn’t have a professional camera.
Despite her perseverant and ambitious personality, Julia was fighting her own demons. But her hell began many years before, at the age 13.
“My face was unrecognizable, covered in pimples and blackheads that looked like black holes drilled in my skin,” she recounted.
As she grew older, Julia’s skin condition impacted her social life greatly. A once jolly teenager soon became an isolated, melancholic girl.
A Common Ailment
Although 1 in 10 women suffer from PCOS, there is very little social awareness about the issue. The ailment manifests itself trough a hormonal imbalance that affects the reproductive system. The most noticeable effects are on the hair and the skin. Left untreated, it can lead to devastating ailments such diabetes, ovarian cancer, and infertility.
Beyond the serious complications that can occur, most women who suffer from PCOS experience low self-esteem levels and often have to deal with the stigma that comes with hair loss, hair growth in unwanted places, and dark patches/acne on the skin.
Acne is one of the most obvious symptoms that these women are forced to counter. Waiting is often encouraged, but a 2012 study published in the Journal of Women’s Health recruited nearly 3,000 women ages 10 to 70 and found that 27 percent of adults had clinical acne, while an additional 29 percent had mild acne.
A New Beginning...Or Is It?
Suffering from red, painful pimples and a skin that always looked to be bathed in oil, Julia found it painfully difficult to make friends. She delayed seeing a specialist in her teen years because she was thought that during puberty “it was expected" for her skin to look that way. However, once time passed, as she entered in her early adult years, Julia figured out that her oily skin and the inflamed pustules wouldn’t go away on their own.
Many women around the globe are suffering from the same problem as Julia, and age is not a factor. They try to find it's cure, with many turning to cosmetic products that give empty promises for clear skin, but they cannot seem to find a reliable solution.
To combat this, some women become experts in camouflaging the issue, and Julia was no exception. At the age of 23, she became become addicted to makeup. By that time, Julia’s bathroom cabinet was armed with expensive foundation, concealer, and powder in order to make sure that every pimple and every scar was well covered.
However, they were cracks in the masks—a rainy day, humidity, the sweat in the gym. You can only do so much to keep your makeup. One day, in the search for a cure, Julia finally went to a specialist.
On every date she went on, Julia was obsessed with the fact that her makeup might not last long enough and someone would see through her mask. She was convinced that nobody would like her without the foundation on—after all, this is what the high school years taught her.
One day, Julia was sitting in the doctor’s office, waiting for another cream. This time the cream was a prescription. Julia was in for a shock. She learned that she was suffering from a syndrome that affects her body in so many ways, and acne was just the tip of the iceberg.
The doctor immediately put Julia on the pill, which is the classic, no-questions-asked treatment for PCOS.
For many women, the pill is the magical cure for acne. After a few months, Julia seemed to be one of those lucky women; her acne disappeared completely, along with her oily skin and hair.
As a result, her attitude began to change. She was flourishing and everyone seemed to notice her. One huge fan of her new attitude was Jack, who proposed 11 months after their first date.
Money doesn’t bring happiness, but it seemed like clear skin was all Julia needed to happy. Dreams are sold at a price.
The Winners Are the losers
At 26, Julia decided she wanted to be a mother. However, she soon discovered the ugly side of birth control pill and PCOS. Immediately after she gave up the pill, Julia’s acne reappeared. Worse, she found out she was infertile. Julia, like many women, realized that the pill was just masking the underlying issue that was never treated.
She played the Russian roulette of the pharmaceutical industry, and she lost.
Marketers earn a living on women’s eagerness to do anything. They are well aware of the reality that women will swallow any pill that makes them pretty, sometimes going as far as needles and knives to address a perceived flaw.
If you ask about the risks that synthetic hormones expose you to, or simply read about them, you will find side effects from weight gain to stroke and ovarian cancer. Julia was just one of the many unfortunate ones.
After years of tricking her body into believing she is already pregnant, using synthetic hormones, Julia discovered that her PCOS and medication turned out to be a disastrous combo. Julia learned she was infertile.
In a desperate search for relief, for not only for acne but also her fertility issues, Julia started researching alternative treatments that might help her become a mother.
Soon enough, she discovered a huge online community of women who were going through the same struggles (i.e. fertility, body image issues, and treatments that simply don’t work).
Julia described her newfound existence as one stripped from its ego. She realized that her biggest source of agony was not her neighbor; rather, it was her own unrealistic standards.
While experimenting with diets and exercises, drinking herbal teas, and following every guideline on treating PCOS, Julia became deeply “humbled” by the whole experience.
The acne reappeared, and she could no longer hide it. Her husband was with her every day, near her, supporting her. Meanwhile, she was waiting terrified, waiting for something to happen.
“I wanted to see a change in his behavior, anything, as If I would’ve begged for him to say something, to look at my screwed up face,” said Julia.
Well, It didn’t happen. Instead, her husband stayed there for her, hoping for a miracle. As Julia changed her diet, her skin started to clear up slowly, and a year after going off the pill, Julia got pregnant.
“My face isn’t as clear as it was on the pill. But I’ve changed a lot. Before, I just couldn’t accept myself with imperfections. I eventually realized that I had to stop fooling myself into believing that it was so important to keep everyone interested in me. And trust me, when it comes to lying, most of the lies we tell to ourselves are while believing we are honest,” remarked Julia.
Don’t Blur the Truth
Julia’s journey didn’t end there. Over the years, she became successful in managing her syndrome and finding inner peace. And as time went by, Julia slowly made herself a name in the world of photographers. She went from doing photo shoots of girls on her college campus to finally finding a way to reflect her life in her photography.
Julia now takes portraits. She doesn’t seek unusual faces, or odd beauties for that matter. Instead, she just takes photos of men and women as they are—the average Joe’s without photo editing, with just their natural skin in front of the camera.
Recently, Julia launched her campaign, along with “The New Faces of Womanhood”, that features women suffering from common skin disorders, as well as women willing to help their peers in their fight with themselves, expectations, and egos.
The campaign is titled “Don’t Blur The Truth”. But Julia reminds us that she did the opposite for years, like many other women. However, the goal of her campaign is to let women, not just those suffering of PCOS or skin diseases, know that they are not alone, and to remind them that together they’re far more powerful than they were led to believe.