How drag queens taught me to embrace my PCOS and my femininity
When I was 22 years old, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). If you aren’t familiar with PCOS, chances are someone close to you might be — according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it’s estimated that 1 in 10 women have the gynecological disorder. And PCOS comes with some really crappy symptoms — irregular periods, fatigue, and trouble losing weight, to name a few.
I have had all of those symptoms and more. But one symptom really did a number on my self-esteem: hirsutism or excess facial hair. And I’m not talking the little peach fuzz that we all get. Hirsutism makes women grow male pattern facial hair on the chin, jawline, and neck.
I didn’t feel like a woman.
My self-esteem was non-existent. I dressed plainly, avoiding unique hairstyles or colorful clothing for fear that it would draw attention to me. I didn’t get pedicures or manicures. In my mind, those things were reserved for “real” women.
I know now that I wasn’t being fair to myself because of a narrow-minded concept of femininity. But at the time, I was convinced that watching other women strut their stuff and living vicariously through them was the closest I’d get to feeling confident.
That’s around the time I first saw RuPaul’s Drag Race and absolutely fell in love.
These statuesque queens with hair to the heavens, prancing around on stage in killer outfits, were everything I wished to be: funny, self-assured, daring, and absolutely gorgeous.
I was always infatuated with the show’s host, RuPaul. I first saw him when I was five years old through his role as sweet school counselor Ms. Cummings in the warped-but-hilarious A Very Brady Sequel. She was un-clockable — a term used to describe a queen so feminine in appearance that they look like a “real” woman. To my little eyes, she was like no other woman I’d seen before.
When I got older and realized that Ms. Cummings was really RuPaul, and RuPaul is really a man, I was blown. away. How could someone adopt the mannerisms of a woman so well and exude such confidence and femininity?
I’ve been hooked on Drag Race since its premiere back in 2009. Season after season, so many beautiful queens display *ahem* Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent on the runway.
They vary in height, size, race, and fashion sense -- but are all incredibly fierce. So why couldn’t I be?
I watched the show religiously, hearing the constant messages of self-love and positivity aimed at the viewers. In fact, RuPaul ends each episode with this mantra:
If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?
But I didn’t understand it. In my mind, self-love had to come from the outside in. Basically, I thought that in order for me to feel my best, I had to look my best. That just wasn’t possible with my PCOS struggles.
Through so many life events, including my own wedding, I continued to put minimal effort into my appearance. With a spouse now in the picture, my anxiety about my appearance skyrocketed. It was a never ending cycle of wanting confidence, but feeling like I didn’t deserve it.
I finally realized why my concepts of femininity and confidence were wrong after binge-watching RPDR one night.
Behind each fabulous queen was a man with a story. Some got into drag for the fashion and glamour, others for the fame. But I noticed a lot of them looked for sources of confidence and strength that they otherwise lacked.
Doing drag alone didn’t change their outlook. Being poised, grounded and having the self-esteem to dress up in the first place is the key to their confidence.
Ru was right all along. I had to love myself. To do that, I had to tell myself three things:
1. I am very much a woman, and having PCOS doesn’t change that.
2. I have the right to be confident.
3. I have the right to dress up and be beautiful.
Committing these facts to memory have unlocked a whole new me. I couldn’t get rid of my drab wardrobe fast enough. I experiment with different hair colors, lengths, and textures. Manicures and pedicures are now a must.
And, much like the guys on Drag Race, I don't let a little stubble stop me from beating my mug. (For non-drag racers, that means wearing elaborate make-up.)
RuPaul recently won an Emmy for Drag Race, and he deserves it. Ru and the 100 queens who have appeared on the show have inspired and encouraged so many to sashay down the runway — or hallway, in my case.
I proudly confess that drag queens have made me a better woman, and one who knows her worth.
From a woman who has struggled with self-confidence to anyone dealing with the same, I have one thing to say:
YOU BETTA WORK